My Thoughts on the Ukrainian Crisis

Portrait of "You Know Who" hanging outside of Kiev City Hall, December 2013. The building was occupied and used as a dormitory by the Maidan protesters.

Portrait of “You Know Who” hanging outside of Kiev City Hall, December 2013. The building was occupied and used as a dormitory by the Maidan protesters.

I want to offer some quick thoughts on the situation in Ukraine, and the USA’s response to it.

Last weekend saw two large regions in eastern Ukraine hold referenda on sovereignty with a wink and a nod toward a goal of joining the Russian Federation. This follows on a similar referendum in the Crimean Penninsula and its accession to Russia several weeks ago. Loud noises have been made in the West about these developments with the Western governments accusing Russia and its president, Mr Vladimir Putin, of attempting to destabilize and dismember Ukraine. The USA has announced two rounds of economic sanctions against Russia, and has buddied up to the current Ukrainian regime which is quite surprising given that it is unelected, and infested with neo-nazis. Ukrainian Jews already have their bags packed although little mention of this has been made in the Western press.

The USA has no strategic interests in the region, and the West in general has no understanding of the current situation and no ability to do anything about the situation except to make it worse.

Those who follow Ukrainian news know that their politics is a rough and tumble affair with fist fights and riots regularly breaking out on the floor of their legislative assembly. It’s gone on like that for years. A look at any political map shows the territory of Ukraine split down the middle along ethnic lines. The latest crisis started when the recently ousted Ukrainian president Yakunyvich steered Ukraine away from from tighter integration with the European Union and NATO. This upset a large number of Ukrainians in the western part of the country who speak Ukrainian and face westward toward Europe unlike the majority of the people in the East who are native Russian speakers and consider themselves Russians. The political and demographic situation in Ukraine is hopeless, and the best outcome may possibly be a “velvet” divorce much like what happened in Czechoslovakia when the Czechs and Slovaks peacefully agreed to go their separate ways.

It’s quite certain there is a complicated political agenda behind this crisis area because I can’t believe that the USA Department of State has no one in its ranks who understand’s Russian and Soviet history and culture. Any graduate student with a history degree must have figured out the situation weeks ago, and we know that to understand the politics in play, you first need to understand several important things about Russia and Ukraine. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the USA remained as the sole worldwide superpower and expected that the emergent Russia could be contained and controlled. It was expected that Russia would behave like a bigger version of France which is allowed some liberties while it nurses its wounded pride and a nostalgia for past glories. Little thought was given to the idea that Russia might have its own legitimate security concerns and interests.

They’re all the same people.

Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians share a common origin in a kingdom called the Kievan Rus. This statelet was destroyed by Asiatic invaders called the Tatars about 800-years ago. The Tatars occupied the region for about 250-years until they were weakened and eventually overthrown. The result was that the Kievan Rus was broken up into people’s that began to form today’s Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians. Russians consider the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to be the mother of all Russian cities, They speak mutually intelligible languages, and share the same major religion of Orthodox Christianity.

Ukraine did not exist on the map until the middle of World War I. It was basically an invention of Germany and Austria-Hungary who used it as a means to destabilize the Russian Empire of which much of eastern Ukraine was a part since the Middle Ages. Ukraine was never independent as a modern nation until 1991. The imperial title “Tsar of ALL THE RUSSIAS” is a reference to Russia, Ukraine, Belarussia, and even the Carpatho-Russians who are in the far western corner of Ukraine and southeastern Poland.

This is a fight among family members, and the West does not have anything to gain, but much to lose.

To sum up, to understand the current situation, you need to understand the following about Russia and Russians:

1. Ukraine is part of the historical territory of Russia. Russians consider Ukraine to be part of their historical heartland and being Ukrainian as just another expression of Russian culture.

2. Russia was an absolute monarchy and an empire which covered 1/5 of the Earth’s surface as recently as 97 years ago. One man ruled it as his own.

3. An argument can be made that the Russian Empire is still in the process of disintegration, and the Soviets helped the process along by erecting internal borders.  There were no internal borders inside the Russian Empire.

4. Psychologically, Russians still live in a monarchy and they expect great things from their leaders whom they expect to be strong and imperial with little accountability. Vladimir Putin currently enjoys astounding levels of support among Russians, and was greeted like a rock star by the population in Crimea after it voted to leave Ukraine.

5. Ukrainians and Russians are kinfolk who share a history, linguistic, and cultural roots.

6. Russia considers Ukraine a buffer between itself and the west, and what happens in Ukraine is of vital concern to Russia and its own security. The very word “Ukraine” is construed to mean “frontier” or “borderland” in Russian. Think of how the USA reacted when the USSR sent missles to Cuba in 1961. A better example might be if Russia were to enter into a military and economic alliance with Canada.

7. When the USSR and the Western powers agreed to the reunification of Germany, it was also agreed that the NATO would not expand to the east. That promise was quickly broken.

8. The USSR, of which Russia and Ukraine were both a part, was invaded from the West just 73-years ago and fought a major war on its own territory. Together, they lost at least 16-million people and saw their major cities, industries, and society devastated. That trauma and its aftermath is still within living memory of many Russians and Ukrainians.

9. The Russians are not going to let that happen again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s