Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and Ukraine’s future

I don’t know Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine, but I don’t see anything that threatens the United States or is worth risking war over.

_77307916_ukraine_voters_regions_624mapUkraine held elections Sunday which evidently were won by anti-Russian, pro-European parties.  But the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk districts did not take part, and will hold their own elections this coming Sunday.

The government in Kiev objects to the Donetsk-Lugansk vote, but spokesmen for the Russian government say they’ll honor its results.

A smart Ukrainian-American friend of mine said Putin’s policy to Ukraine is the same as Hitler’s policy toward Czechoslovakia.  Hitler’s demand was to annex the Sudetenland border region, where Germans were in the majority.  But Hitler went on to annex the whole of the country and then to attack Poland, launching the Second World War.

In the same way, he said, Putin’s aim is to first annex Donetsk and Lugansk, then take over the whole of Ukraine and then move against Poland and the Baltic states.

worldaccordingtoputinAnother friend, who speaks Russian and watches Russian television, agrees with this assessment.  She said Putin is an extreme Russian nationalist and imperialist.  Russians despise other nationalities, and especially look down on Americans as naive and weak, she said; it is important to stop Russia in Ukraine and nip Putin’s ambitions in the bud.

My impression of Vladimir Putin is that he is a tough and ruthless, but realistic.  He may lie, but he doesn’t deceive himself.  As a Russian nationalist, he no doubt regards himself as the protector of Russians wherever they are, including Russians in Ukraine and northern Kazakhstan.  Putin is trying to organize something called the Eurasian Union, an economic bloc consisting of the republics of the former Soviet Union, as a rival to the European Union.  No doubt, like all Russian statesmen before him, he thinks it essential that Russia have access to the Baltic and Black seas.

I don’t see anything in this that threatens the interests of the United States or the European Union, and certainly not anything worth risking war over.

ENGLISH GRAPHIC - DER SPIEGEL 48/2009 Seite 47I remember how in 1956 the United States government stood by while Soviet troops crushed the brave Hungarian freedom fighters.  The alternative was to risk nuclear war, which would not have benefited anybody, including the Hungarians.  Russia is still a nuclear power, and nuclear war is still a real danger.

I don’t think the Russian Federation is the sole aggressor here, or even the main aggressor.  It is true that Russia’s annexed Crimea by armed force. [1] But it was a bloodless coup, and evidently representative of the wishes of a majority of the residents of Crimea.  This is in contrast to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed in the unprovoked U.S. invasion.

It is true that Russia has aided the Donetsk and Lugansk separatists, with supplies and “volunteers”.  I suppose someone on active duty in the Russian military could be a volunteer to serve in Ukraine.  But then the U.S. government engineered the breakaway of South Sudan from Sudan [2] and of Kosovo from Serbia.  The principle of self-determination applied equally as much, or as little, in these cases as in eastern Ukraine.

Russia is not the only country interfering in Ukraine’s affairs.  The crisis was brought on by neo-conservatives in the U.S. State Department whose aim was to draw Ukraine into an anti-Russian alliance, which they have largely succeeded in doing.  Even if Russia’s annexation of Crimea holds, and even if Donetsk and Lugansk retain autonomy, Russia is worse off than when the crisis began.

I remember a remark of Bertrand Russell to the effect that the mistake most people make is to assume that, if A and B hate each other, one is good and the other is bad.  I think extreme Ukrainian and Russian nationalism are both disturbingly fascistic, but I don’t see either as something that I as an American have the power to do anything about.

The best interest of both Russia and Ukraine is for Ukraine to be politically and militarily neutral, and to have good relations with both Russia and the European Union.  The best interest of the United States is to avoid confrontation with Russia on questions that don’t concern us Americans.


New Rules, or a Game Without Rules, a speech by Vladimir Putin to the Valdai International Discussion Club.   Important.

Pro-Western Parties Win Big in Ukraine Elections by Priyanka Boghani for PBS Frontline.

Ukraine Crisis: Russia to recognize rebel vote in Donetsk and Lugansk by BBC News.

The case for an anti-Russian alliance.

Wake Up, Europe by George Soros for the New York Review of Books.

NATO and EU expansion didn’t provoke Vlaidmir Putin; American triumphalism isn’t to blame for Russia’s aggression by Anne Applebaum for Slate.

The case against.

Red Lines in Ukraine and Elsewhere by Noam Chomsky for TruthOut.

How to start a war and lose an empire by Dmitry Orlov.

I agree more with Chomsky and Orlov than I do with Soros or Applebaum.

[1]  The world accepted India’s annexation of the Portuguese territory of Goa in 1961 and Indonesia’s conquests of West New Guinea in 1969 and East Timor in 1975.  Probably there are other examples.

[2]  Independence of South Sudan was a good thing, not a bad thing.  Some secessions are justified.

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3 Responses to “Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and Ukraine’s future”

  1. Holden Says:

    One of my favorite journalists (a real journalist) is this guy named Matt Lee who is the State Dept Correspondent for Associated Press.

    I heard a clip of him recently grilling Rear Admiral Kirby over NATO butting up against Russia and not the other way around. I think you’ll enjoy the back and forth banter. It is entertaining.

    [audio src="http://adam.curry.com/enc/20141019161655_mattdingskirbyonhagelsbullcrap.mp3" /]


  2. peteybee Says:

    It seems like the Ukrainian oligarchs have been alternately playing both sides (Russia/Nato), and often unsuccessfully. Three previous oligarch-presidents, Yanukovich, Tymoshenko, and Yushenko, suffered for their power. Something tells me Poroshenko is in for a rough ride too.

    But they’re certainly not afraid to try, and the corrupt brand of politics, similar to Russia in the 1990s, is pretty much always to the detriment of ordinary residents.

    Russia’s path out of that fix — strong nationalist leader like Putin “winning” the power game and thus creating a somewhat autocratic stability, not to mention huge natural resources, military power, and institutional experience of at the global level — none of that is going to happen for Ukraine.

    Another way to defuse the situation would be to allow Ukraine to split up into an “east” and “west”, as is actually happening. The existing “map” is as random and arbitrary as any in Europe, no need to worry about that. If you let several Russian provinces leave, it will stabilize the political balance in the rest of the country. No more flipping allegiance between Russia and NATO every 4-8 years. You also take away the pro-Russia question at each election, and the dominant issue can be something more locally relevant.

    Once that settles down, you take away “foreign help” as a lever for politicians. I think that’s good because “foreign help” often means a bunus for the most aggressive players, which is often disastrous.

    Also I think suspicion that Russia is trying to annex western Ukraine is alarmist nonsense.


    • philebersole Says:

      I think you’re right. I think Putin probably wants eastern Urkaine to be autonomous in fact even if legally under the jurisdiction of Kiev—much like Iraqi Kurdistan in relation to Baghdad. That would be in the best interest of everyone.


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