Ukraine and the war that threatens to end peace (again)

Posted March 4, 2014 on 6:15 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

And so the Crimean crisis seems to have settled down a bit. The Russian military has taken control of the Crimea, encircled Ukrainian army bases on the peninsula, and warned the two Ukrainian war ships out on the Black Sea to not even think about confronting overwhelming Russian power at its naval base in Sevastopol. Russian solders show no sign of leaving an area the size of Sicily in which 70% of the population speaks Russian and welcomes their presence. There is no doubt that if a plebiscite were held, which the Russians are demanding , the people of the Crimea would vote to join Russia. Needless to say, this is a complicated situation, demanding patience and knowledge.
Meanwhile Putin says he has called back the dogs of war out on the Russian-Ukrainian, where 150,000 Russian troops happened to be holding training exercises near Russian-speaking cities in eastern Ukraine, which might well also vote to join Russia. These areas pose a much greater threat to stability in Europe if Russian troops move in “to protect a Russian minority in a former USSR republic” stranded there by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has no treaty connection with western Europe and has no chance of joining the EU or Nato in the near future as some really ignorant commentators in the west seem to think. But Estonia and Latvia do an d include with large Russian populations still unhappily stranded after twenty years of living in independent Baltic states. They are both in the EU and Nato and any Russian movement to recover them would automatically bring all EU nations into a military confrontation with Russia. For many this will recall the way that Europe stumbled unknowingly into a carnage that killed 60 million people exactly a century ago in “The War that Ended Peace (the title of Margaret Macmillan’s fine new book on the topic) would make a lot of experts who know the complicated history of Eastern Europe very nervous indeed. If Russia should cross the Russian-Ukrainin=an border near Donetsk or Kharkov, it is unclear what might happen, and nobody is taking bets on the future of the Crimea, but Estonia is another matter. That would bring war.. And so the poobahs are assembling again, this time in Kiew, which has proven to be a very unwelcome place for good government, no matter who won the democratic elections, in the twenty years since Ukraine became free. Western commentators have found it easy to forget (or not know) that the recently deposed Prime Minister of Ukraine, who even the Russians don’t like, won an election that was deemed to be fair and square by the UN observers. He may have acted like a corrupt despot when in power, but he did win an election in which the current temporary Prime Minster, got 7% of the vote and seems to be unimpressing almost everyone.

But here they come to lay flowers , deliver some platitudes and hopefully solidify votes at home. The Canadian foreign minister John Baird does his job well, knowing there are i,3 million ethnic Ukrainians in Canada and that Ukrainian affairs play an very significant role in the settlement of the Canadian prairies,,an d the determination of elections. But before he leaves, he does mention that Canada is not considering any kind of military response. (The US might consider recalling their ambassador to Canada to give them insights into the history of Ukraine but they can’t do that since they haven’t had an ambassador in Canada for many months). John Kerry, the US Secretary of State follows Baird by several days but takes the same trail and states that Russia will have a price to pay if it doesn’t stop its aggression. Unfortunately a tired and confused-looking Kerry cannot answer any questions about what that price would be. Lat time Obama used football talk to warn about crossing a line drawn in the sand in Syria the result was no response from the US when someone did precisely that and a very clever chess move from a surprisingly wily Putin. The US certainly cannot be contemplating a military response, but it doesn’t exactly want to admit it. Putin knows it and looks like a cat who swallowed a canary in his press conference. H e also know that while the US can’t do much but bluster, he can cut off the fuel lines which heat most of Ukraine and a great deal of western Europe. How do you like dem chops? Let’s hope Putin is also a pragmatic figure and knows that he too certainly does not want a war, and that he steps back and considers what to do on the Crimea.. And th at will take serious negotiations by a number of parties. One figure who seems to be placing himself and his country in a position of mediation is German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Whether he likes it or not, he may have to step in and play a big role as this (very fine) German Foreign Minister has a unique insight into the dangers that come up like ghosts from the past when countries get carried away thumping nationalistic big sticks out on the borderlands of Eurasia.

4 Comments

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  1. In the collective imagination of the American press the United States has a huge moral edge which unfortunately disappears when held up against historic realities. Secretary of State John Kerry’s opening salvo on the Russian intrusion into Crimea – stated without apparent irony – says it all:

    “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests … This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.”

    The Europeans may have more at stake in the region as it struggles to balance its need for Russian energy, and relatively high trade with Russia against any moral claims it might make. But any discussion of the Ukraine must consider the real strategic interests of Russia and the costs to the West of initiating economic sanctions which will not go unanswered. Already Gazprom has threatened Ukraine with a shutdown of its gas supply until and unless it pays an overdue bill of some $2billion.

    It will play out and hopefully Kerry, Steinmeier, Sergey Lavrov and their respective bosses apply some needed wisdom to find a resolution that works for all concerned – including the Ukrainians.

    Comment by jeff — March 7, 2014 #

  2. If Kerry had heard of Granada or Cuba, he couldn’t have made his statement seriously. So it must be irony. On the other hand, Kosovo is the recent case that is beyond irony. How come breakaway Kosovo was fine with the US, (It sure wasn’t with motherland Serbia) but the same thing in Crimea brings up bizarre comparisons with Hitler and the Sudetenland? How much history can you afford not to know?

    Comment by Olee O'Leahy — March 11, 2014 #

  3. Hey, Olee, what about Iraq, the mother of all phony invasions. Kerry voted for it, as did future President Hillary Clinton. End of the day, history is irrelevant to most politicians because it is irrelevant to most of their constituencies. The problem with experiential learning is that we don’t get a chance to redo the experiences after we learn from them.

    Comment by Jeff — March 11, 2014 #

  4. The famous scientist/humorist Tom Lehrer sang it best in his song over 40 ago, “when someone makes a move of which we don’t approve send the marines, we’ll send them all we’ve got, John Wayne and Randolph Scott.” Tom Lehrer was writing this at the time when the American involvement in vietnam was just beginning and his lyrics apply today even more so. Sad isn’t it?

    Comment by Preacherbbb — March 26, 2014 #

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