So, I’ve been making more of an effort to understand this whole Ukraine mess, more so than I usually do with foreign affairs. (Maybe its because my great-grandparents, who’s real name I don’t even know– lucky for me, it was changed to Greene at Ellis Island- are from Odessa). Anyway, I have read a number of really interesting pieces I wanted to share. And, also, I just have to say, this is so, not about America and Obama. Anybody who suggests that it is, is simply putting their ignorance on full display.
First John Cassidy:
For more than a decade, Putin has been embarking on a campaign to restore what he—and his people—regard as Russia’s historic greatness. Attempts to depict him as a leader in the Soviet mold are misguided: he isn’t a Communist, he’s a Russian nationalist. Consider some of Putin’s most audacious moves: jailing some (but not all) of the oligarchs who had looted the Russian economy; crushing the Chechen separatists; invading parts of Georgia, and effectively taking control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia; crushing internal dissent; cultivating ties with former Soviet allies, such as Syria; hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi; and now unleashing his forces in Crimea. It’s all part of the same game plan: restoring to Russia whatever power and pride could be grasped from the wreckage of the nineteen-nineties. [emphases mine]
I’ve heard similar takes from many quarters. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot in the calculation here, but what Obama did/did not due in Syria is not really part of it.
Big Steve on 1) the lack or useful options for the US; and 2) the fundamental asymmetry of interests:
That is to say that there are very few policy options on the table for the U.S. and NATO. How could they punish Russia? Given that Russia is a central player in so many dynamics, there is little it can be excluded from. Europe is dependent on Russia for oil and gas, meaning their interdependence is uneven, with Russia probably having, in the short term at least, more of a hammer than the Europeans. The use of force is off the table because our interests in Ukraine, which are fairly modest strong, are not worth a war with Russia.
Indeed, this is one core dynamic that cannot be overlooked – that Russia cares far, far more about Ukraine than the U.S./Canada/NATO does. The crises mentioned above were all in areas within the Soviet Union’s and then Russia’s sphere of influence – places where outcomes are vital to the national security. Sorry to say, Ukraine does not matter to the West in any real way. The only way it would matter is if it was a member of NATO, which would mean that commitments would have to be kept.
Great Adam Gopnik with some great historical perspective:
People who, a week ago, could not have told you if Crimea belonged to Ukraine—who maybe thought, based on a vague memory of reading Chekhov, that it was Russian all along—are now acting as though the integrity of a Ukrainian Crimea is an old and obvious American interest. What they find worse than our credibility actually being at stake is that we might not act as though it always is. The ins and outs, the explication of Ukrainian specificities—the expulsion of the Crimean Tatars, Khrushchev’s gift of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954—must be left to those who know them. But certain historical continuities appear at once to anyone with a memory of history’s grosser follies.
Russia, as ugly, provocative, and deserving of condemnation as its acts may be, seems to be behaving as Russia has always behaved, even long before the Bolsheviks arrived. Indeed, Russia is behaving as every regional power in the history of human regions has always behaved, maximizing its influence over its neighbors—in this case, a neighbor with a large chunk of its ethnic countrymen.
In response, we should be doing what sane states should always be doing: searching for the most plausible war-avoiding, nonviolent arrangement, even at the cost of looking wishy-washy. [emphasis mine]
TNR’s Julia Ioffe was a guest on the Slate political gabfest and I was really intrigued by the depth of her knowledge on Ukraine. This piece at TNR hits some of the key points that have been overlooked everywhere else I’ve seen:
The real split is generational. Unlike Cherkashin, his students were all born after 1991, in an independent Ukraine, and they see their country’s close relationship with Russia very differently than their older professor. In fact, Cherkashin’s own research confirms this division. The younger a citizen of Donetsk, the more likely she is to view herself as Ukrainian. The older she is, the more likely she is to identify as Russian. And this is the crux of it all: What we are seeing today is the reverberation of what happened more than 20 years ago. This is still the long post-Soviet transition. And this is what it’s like to wander in the desert, waiting for the old generation to die off.
Ukraine the country has existed for only brief spurts. In the nineteenth century, as nationalism spread through Europe, Ukrainian language and culture—as well as the new idea of independence—became fashionable in Ukrainian cities. Before that, the area was a fluid mix of languages and ethnicities. The Ukrainians, southwestern Slavs who escaped Tatar rule in the Middle Ages, developed independently of the Russians. (Their language, for instance, was heavily influenced by Polish, and their religious affiliation was, for a long time, partly Catholic.) Then it was absorbed into the creeping sprawl of the Russian empire.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, though, Ukrainian speakers were mixed throughout the country, and the language divide was more socioeconomic than geographic. For the most part, the Ukrainian speakers were the peasants, and the Russian speakers were the city dwellers, a blend of Russians, Tatars, and Jews. When industrialization came to the region, those who worked in the new factories were also mostly Russian.
To this day, language in Ukraine follows these same socioeconomic lines, rather than the east-west axis
There you go. Now you, too, hopefully know some useful stuff about Ukraine.