Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ikraine, Ukraine, we all scream for...

Crimea, Kerch - Shutterstock

Ah, the Ukraine - home to one of the more fetching politicians in recent memory, along with a few thousand Russian troops that have suddenly taken up residence in the Crimea. So, what should the United States do about it?

Well, before we answer that question, let's establish some background information:
  • The Ukraine, or more specifically, Kievan Rus, is a foundational part of Russian identity. It was the power center of what passed for the Russian state before the Mongol invasion in the 14th century.
  • The Ukraine, in its current form as a national entity separate from Russia, didn't exist until after the Treaty of Brest-Livotsk created it to better secure Ukrainian grain supplies for the German military.
  • Russia has fought to secure and retain the Crimean peninsula more or less constantly since the 16th century, starting with the Russo-Crimean Wars that initially secured the peninsula from the Tatars (Turks, more or less), followed by the Crimean War, which didn't go well for anyone involved but definitely didn't go well for Russia, then followed by the Crimean Campaign in World War 2 and the counter-invasion.
Conceptually, the Ukraine's existence, at least in certain Russian minds, would be similar to how Americans would feel if the British "liberated" New England in the War of 1812 and it eventually turned into its own country. The story of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock is a key part of the history of the establishment of the United States, along with the battles of Lexington and Concord - even if New England somehow became its own country, even if New England really wanted to remain its own country (and, after the Holodomor, the Ukraine really wants to remain its own country - that's a big part of the reason there were so many Nazi sympathizers in the Ukraine to begin with), it'd be very difficult for the rest of the United States to really respect that or see things that way. This would be doubly true if the United States built a rather important naval base in, say, Rhode Island and built a "company town" around the base that was filled with Americans.

Now that we have the mindset established, it shouldn't be hard to understand why Russia doesn't take Ukraine's independence particularly seriously, along with why Russia feels perfectly comfortable invading the Ukraine's version of our hypothetical Rhode Island. It also shouldn't be hard to grasp that, if someone were to attempt to guarantee the independence and integrity of our hypothetical New England, we probably wouldn't take it well - from our position, New England is an integral part of the identity and territory of the United States, regardless of how our hypothetical New Englanders might view the situation. If a few Bostonians want to riot against our cause, well, tough - they're supposed to be Americans, damn it, and if they think we're going to let anyone help them forget that, they're going to be in for an unpleasant surprise. A nuclear surprise, if necessary.

This is why Ukraine is screwed. 

Russia cares about the Ukraine far more than anyone else in the world does, including us. Russia - or at least those currently in power in Russia - are willing to go all in to get what it wants out of the Ukraine because, from their perspective, the Ukraine shouldn't be a country in the first place. Since Russia doesn't have the means to occupy all of the Ukraine, they probably won't, but they'll definitely "liberate" the parts of the Ukraine that are more or less amenable to Russian rule (the Crimea definitely fits) and there's not a thing the Ukraine or anyone else will be allowed to do to stop it. Putin will happily endure any embargo, any diplomatic tut-tutting, in return for bringing the Ukraine back into the fold - and by "happily endure", I mean Putin will happily remind everyone that if they even think of crossing him in any meaningful way on this subject, he'll make it his personal mission to make everyone else on the planet miserable. Russia, for all its myriad problems, still possesses the means to make the world an obnoxiously difficult place - I wouldn't put it past him to release a few nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea, or at least threaten it behind closed doors should anyone suddenly feel brave enough to stand up to him on this.

To answer the original question - what should the United States do about this - we need to ask ourselves, How far are we really willing to go? In my mind, unless we're willing to go all the way to DEFCON 1, which we're not, we should just close our eyes, cover our ears, and accept that not all stories have a happy ending. Besides, it's none of our business anyway.

1 comment:

  1. A partition of the Ukraine might actually make for the most stable situation. In "The Clash of Civilizations" Samuel Huntington discussed how Ukraine is roughly divided in half between a western half that has more in common with the West and an East that is more Orthodox in terms of its civilization. I think the seesawing of politics in the past decade is partially a result of this. If you look at a map of any of the country's elections you'll see the geographic line running right through it.Другий_тур_2010_по_округах-en.png

    A western Ukrainian state might make for a stable democracy that could easily fit into the EU.