A good friend, who is an emeritus professor of Political Science, prepared a fine list of questions about the Ukraine for a discussion group. I decided to puy my responses on my blog. My answers to the questions are in italics.
1. Is there merit to the argument that our policies and those of our allies in the wake of the Cold War, in some way “drove” Putin to take the actions he did in Georgia and in Ukraine? To what extent was the expansion of NATO and the EU into Eastern Europe, the Baltics, etc., perceived as a threat by Russia?
The proposal to give the Ukraine NATO membership was probably the stick that poked the sleeping bear. It was an asinine thing to propose and representative of the neo-conservative wing of the establishment (both R and D) in the US. The same applies to our screwing around to bring “democracy” to the Ukraine.
Putin doubtless has had his eye on the Crimea and Ukraine for a long time but this was a direct slap at him and that’s how he saw it.
2. What role does Russian nationalistic fervor play in all this? For instance, what about the argument that Ukraine and certainly the Crimean peninsula has historically always been part of Russia and should be part of Russia?
It’s all about nationalism and Putin’s personal popularity. I don’t think of it in terms of should but instead of could. The US was as much as any nation responsible for the principle that very strong large powers consider it their prerogative to interfere in and even annex nearby weaker territories.
3. What about the counter argument, that a lot of the explanation for the Russian move in Ukraine is far too nuanced and laced with social-psychological mumbo jumbo. This was a blatant aggressive act by a leader with obvious authoritarian traits. It was a pure power move as part of a long-range plan to re-establish what were the parameters of the old Soviet empire.
Probably. So what? Do we really care?
4. Was (or more properly is) the response by the United States along with its European allies appropriate? To weak? To strong? What options did we have?
Once you start this kind of thing there are no good moves. Remember all politics is local. Obama has done too much to be able to back down on the Crimea but the Republicans are going to goad him on further and we have a critical election in 7 months.. The American people will agree, as the current hysteria by the establishment shows.
To stabilize the situation there has to be a way for Putin to save face at home It’s difficult to see how that can happen with him backing down on the Crimea. Or for Obama to agree to its annexation.
It’s ironic that this is happening in 2014, the hundredth anniversary of a similar fiasco that led to a world war no one wanted.
5. If over time it becomes obvious that Russia has absolutely no intention of negotiating some sort of withdrawal from the Crimean peninsula, how long should the west maintain economic sanctions? In perpetuity like we have in the case of Cuba?
No good answers, so it will probably be long term, although that will be bad economically for all.
6. Is there an inevitability about the worsening relationship with Russia? Do the policies of both sides reflect a self-fulfilling prophecy?
No. We don’t have to try to run the world. The Hitler example is what is driving a lot of the hysteria. But we have no evidence that Putin’s aims go beyond Russia’s conventional sphere of influence. The problem isn’t policies on both sides, it’s politics.
7. If we are heading for a new Cold War and one of the manifestations of that phenomenon is continued Russian policy to regain “lost territories” from the old Soviet empire, what should U.S. policy be? Is our reduction in defense spending and Obama “light footprint” foreign policy appropriate?
Whatever we do, don’t do anything that would keep us from letting it go at that. This may be un-win able without military action. That’s a leap into the unknown.
This is a gift to the Mil-Ind Complex.
8. What role do you think China might play in all this?
They’re probably laughing, pleased that our “turn to Asia” will be soon forgotten, and probably keeping their eye on their border with Russia.