The events in Ukraine shows Russia's stout resolve in maintaining influence in the former USSR.
It looks like there’s a massive showdown brewing in Ukraine. After the overthrow of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich, and the seizure of power by his opposition, it seems Moscow has decided to intervene. The epicenter, as of now, is the mainly ethnic Russian Crimean Peninsula. What is unfolding is nothing short of a potential disaster in the former Soviet Union.
The situation is very serious, from a geopolitical standpoint. Much of what I am writing here, is the geopolitics of what is happening in Ukraine. Russia has ordered some of its troops to intervene in the breakaway Crimea. I say breakaway because that’s why Russian troops are intervening. Crimea is a somewhat complicated province inside of Ukraine, and has a long history of close ties with Mother Russia.
Crimea first became a Russian Province under Catherine the Great, who helped found the principal city of Sevastopol. Today, Sevastopol remains the base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and also is a city that is majority ethnic Russian. The Crimea as a whole is majority Russian, with Ukrainians and ethnic Tatar Muslims making up the other groups.
Crimea has sought reunification with Moscow since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and for the most part, the peninsula does not have very close history or ties with the rest of Ukraine. While separatist attitudes existed, they were mostly kept contained by Ukrainian governments who promised not to stray too far from Russia. With the overthrow of Yanukovich, the revolutionaries that have seized power in Kiev are pushing a hard-line stance against Moscow and want to ultimately enter NATO and the EU, wedging Ukraine from Russia once and for all by becoming an effective protectorate of the West.
Now, after researching this a bit, I have come to understand both sides of the argument in Ukraine. The Western leaning Ukrainians are spiteful to Moscow mostly because of the bloody history. Ukraine has suffered in many occasions under Russian rule, and obviously Putin sees Ukraine as a piece in a geopolitical game. Yet, the flipside is, so does the West.
Look, sorry to upset people, but I just don’t by the damn okie-doke that the United States and NATO countries say when they claim that their ambitions and expansion plans are for the best of everyone, and somehow they are safeguarding democracy. Obviously, NATO and especially the United States have designs to expand their reach anywhere they can. I’m not stupid.
Also, we have to understand that, in essence, Russia has far more at stake in losing Ukraine than NATO does. Russia shares a border and deep cultural history with Ukraine. Russia obviously feels that if it loses Ukraine to the West and NATO, Russia’s influence in its own backyard will become further eclipsed by an ever expanding NATO.
NATO has expanded rapidly since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. It’s ironic, due to the fact that the U.S. assured former Soviet leaders that NATO would not seek expansion into Eastern Europe if Moscow allowed the Eastern Bloc to breakup and Germany to reunify. Well, since then NATO has absorbed pretty much all of the former Eastern Bloc countries, including nations in the Balkans. The United States did not keep its promises, and instead took advantage of a weak Russia without regard for anything other than policy interests.
Of course, I’m not defending Putin or his designs, which obviously are based in geopolitics. Russia has huge interests in maintaining Ukraine as a Russian friendly state. Russia can’t afford Ukraine or its immediate neighbors to be anti-Russian. The United States doesn’t necessarily need Ukraine for anything specific.
Remember, the protests in Ukraine that toppled Yanukovich are causing this breakup and Russian intervention. The protests were about a trade deal with the EU that Yanukovich backed out of, instead signing a deal with Russia. The protests were not about corruption, but about whether or not Ukraine would side with the West or with its former master Russia. Ukraine is divided deeply over the issue.
Moscow holds the cards here. Despite President Obama and his Administration’s warnings to Putin, which now includes a 90 minute phone call between the two of them, America has no real assets to throw at the situation in Ukraine. Think about it.
The United States and the West is obviously not going to militarily intervene in Ukraine against Russia. That’s just not going to happen. America holds no vital interest worthy enough to cause World War III over Ukraine or the Crimea. Just like Russian military action in Georgia in 2008, the U.S. will make big threats but ultimately can’t do much to harm Moscow.
They mumble about sanctions. Okay? For one, Russia and America does not share a deep economic relationship. What sanctions can be taken would serve mostly as nuisances for Russia, rather than crippling. Only sanctions from the whole of Europe would hurt Russia deeply, but it would also hurt Europe deeply. Europe and Russia have deep trade relations, and no side will seriously damage that over a spat in Ukraine.
What is happening in Ukraine is a repeat of Russian assertions like in 2008. Russia is basically saying that it’s still a serious power, and should be taken seriously. Its an attitude no different than what the U.S. has done or would do in similar situations.
I don’t defend Putin as being just necessarily, but I also see where he’s coming from in regards to geopolitics. It’s a tough call, but honestly, is Ukraine that important to the United States to risk a conflict with Russia? Of course the U.S. will have its responses, but it will ultimately serve nothing useful. Russia will assert its assets in its spheres of interest. If you poke the bear in his cave, well it won’t be pretty what follows next. Keep your eyes on Ukraine in the coming days.
*UPDATE 3/2/2014, 9:20 AM: Ukraine’s new government has ordered the mass mobilization of its Armed Forces, with possibility of a further escalating conflict on hand. Ukraine’s new defense minister has admitted that the Armed Forces might not stand much a chance against Russian troops.