By: Leo J. Schenk – Political Science
The civil war in Ukraine has been going on for almost a year now. It is an absolute economic and social tragedy for the people of Ukraine affected by it. The West, spearheaded by the United States, says Russia instigated this situation. Russia, of course, claims that the original ousting of Viktor Yanukovych (the former Ukrainian president) was itself an act of aggression formulated primarily by the CIA. Many news sources are painting the U.S. and the West as innocent while Russian-heavy military units were seen entering Ukraine, but the West, in the form of NATO, has expanded farther East than at any other time.
Let’s also not forget that many Russians view Ukraine as integral to their pride as a nation. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings shot up to 80 percent when he decided to push against the United States, showing the population’s support for these strongman actions. Despite general prices in Russia doubling as a result of economic sanctions imposed by the European Union and several independent countries, his ratings have not dropped much. His actions show he either has no belief in any real repercussions coming to him and his country or they show that he will continue despite them.
Russia is a nation that has spent 50 of the last 70 years vying for the top geopolitical spot in the world. It spent the last 20 in abject poverty, watching its empire join its former enemy, with its country being sold as raw materials for the growth of Western, liberal democracies. Putin is not willing to give up Ukraine, or what they have called “Little Russia,” to the West.
Last week President Obama called the Russian president to discuss the Ukrainian conflict. According to Russia Today, both the White House and the Kremlin supported a peaceful solution through dialogue, with an implementation of the peace accords agreed to in Minsk, Belarus, in September. CNN reports the phone call as including a threat from Obama, “If Russia continues its aggressive actions in Ukraine, including by sending troops, weapons and financing to support the separatists, the costs for Russia will rise.”
Of course, this is exactly what Putin desires. The Russia Today article ends with a note from the Russian presidential press secretary stating that “nobody has ever talked to the president [Putin] in the tone of an ultimatum – and couldn’t do so even if they wanted to.”
It’s telling that America is not at the most recent Minsk peace talks, being the only Western Power keeping the option of lethal military aid on the table, as France and Germany have ruled out even a proxy war with Russia over Ukraine. Our allies do not view the value of Ukraine as high enough for war, and all that is desired is to stop the bloodshed. The Guardian published an article Wednesday as the peace talks were beginning, with a quote from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who said, “Either the situation goes down the road of de-escalation, ceasefire … or the situation goes out of control.”
These two quotes from Obama and Poroshenko are totally intertwined, even though not said directly to each other. If these peace talks fail, and if America decides to arm Ukrainians, this will become the largest bloodbath Europe has seen in 50 years.
Assuming the U.S. doesn’t listen to their European counterparts and arms Ukraine, the Ukrainians may start believing that the U.S. would defend them from direct Russian aggression, instead of just against separatists. This of course will not happen. No one in the West is willing to risk an all-out war with a nuclear power, especially not one in the midst of Europe. Ukraine would still be unable to defend themselves from a determined Russian assault, and, since Putin believes this to be a strategic necessity for his country, it will come.
It’s time for the West to decide if it is more important to prevent Ukrainians (and potentially thousands of others) from dying or stop part of Ukraine from being oppressed by Putin. Because without direct Western intervention, a revolution against Putin or a complete global economic meltdown, there aren’t really any other options.
Of course, we may just wind up with all three anyway.