06 March 2014

Thoughts on the Ukraine situation

I have noticed that most of the people who are inclined towards interventionism, or at least agressive diplomacy, with regard to the Ukrainian situation tend not to be historians or people with deep knowledge of Russian history and culture. Josh Marshall, who qualifies on both counts, is urging more caution than is currently in vogue, and I think he's quite right. Here. We Americans are in a tricky position, having invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are relatively close to Russia, within the past decade plus. Of course we should look for a diplomatic, negotiated solution that helps the Ukrainians retain their sovereignty (supposedly guaranteed by the Budapest Memorandum, which Russia signed), and succeed in ridding themselves of the almost unbelievably corrupt and kleptocratic Yanukovych legacy, but we need to be realistic. Ukraine clearly is in the Russian orbit; it has historic ties to Russia going back to Putin's namesake, Vladimir the Great, who converted to Christianity in 988 in Kiev. Which was the largest city of Eastern Europe and the capital of Rus'. So ignoring the "special interests" the Russians have always felt towards Ukraine and other peripheral or buffer regions between the Russian heartland and Europe is just to ignore reality. These factors simply have to be taken into account in devising a way forward.

Clearly what is not helpful is allowing an escalation of tit for tat isolative measures directed towards Russia. We must think long term here. This crisis will pass, and we will continue to have to deal with Russia. It is not in our long term interests to reignite the Cold War or try to militarily isolate Russia. Roger Morris has also commented along these lines, and I believe he is right as well: America should tread lightly, urge a reasoned and negotiated resolution, while respecting Russia's long term historic interest in the area. 

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