2 December 2021   Leave a comment

US Secretary of State Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Stockholm and a good part of their discussion centered on Russian intentions toward Ukraine. The discussion takes place in the context of a Russian build-up of troops (estimated at about 90,000) which seems similar to the build-up that preceded the Russian invasion, and ultimate annexation, of Crimea in 2014. The rhetoric continues to be somewhat heated, although Blinken was careful to only mention economic sanctions in case of a Russian invasion, but hinted at possible stronger measures.

“So as we’ve been in recent days, in recent weeks, in the meeting with the foreign minister, I was very clear that there would be serious consequences for Russian aggression toward Ukraine, including, as I said, high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from taking in the past.  We’ve been, will continue to be, very clear about those consequences.  I think Moscow knows very well the universe of what’s possible.  And we had a detailed conversation as well about the concerns that we have, and these include both the potential for renewed aggression with military forces, as well as some of the efforts that we see Russia taking to try to destabilize Ukraine from within.  Both are cause for concern.”

The Russians are worried that Ukraine will fall further into the orbit of powers hostile to Russian interests, and are particularly unnerved by the possibility that Ukraine will be invited to join NATO. Even though there are no current efforts of which I am aware of inviting Ukraine to join the alliance, that fear motivated Russian action in Georgia in 2008 and resulted in the Russian seizure of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But there is little question that Ukraine and NATO have been moving closer since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. The New York Times reports: “The United States provides Ukrainian forces with training and antitank weaponry in Ukraine’s fight against Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east. Six thousand Ukrainian and NATO troops held joint exercises in September. Mr. Putin has expressed particular irritation at NATO activity in the Black Sea region, including what he said were approaches as close as 12 miles to Russian borders by Western nuclear-capable bombers.”

But there is a deeper motive behind Russian activities and it is worth reading the article President Putin published in July 2021 on the historical relationship between Russia and Ukraine entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians“. In that article, Putin asserted:

“Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory – from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov – were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, still largely determines our affinity today….

“In essence, Ukraine’s ruling circles decided to justify their country’s independence through the denial of its past, however, except for border issues. They began to mythologize and rewrite history, edit out everything that united us, and refer to the period when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as an occupation. The common tragedy of collectivization and famine of the early 1930s was portrayed as the genocide of the Ukrainian people….

“Step by step, Ukraine was dragged into a dangerous geopolitical game aimed at turning Ukraine into a barrier between Europe and Russia, a springboard against Russia. Inevitably, there came a time when the concept of ‘Ukraine is not Russia’ was no longer an option. There was a need for the ‘anti-Russia’ concept which we will never accept.”

Given Putin’s obsession with Ukraine, every statement by the US and its European allies about Ukrainian sovereignty is bound to heighten Russian fears. The Guardian outlines the risk of Blinken’s rhetoric:

“In confronting Putin over Ukraine, every policy option available to Biden is fraught with risk.

“In a statement on Wednesday commemorating the Holodomor famine in Ukraine of the early 1930s, Biden restated ‘our unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine’. Such statements of support are meant as a deterrent, but each time they are repeated they heighten the dilemma that Biden will face if Putin calls his bluff.

“’What I am worried about, frankly, is that if we, the United States, continue to make ironclad commitments to Ukraine and get ourselves in a position where we are obliged to defend it, or not to defend it and look completely weak, we will be putting ourselves in a very difficult position,’ said Rajan Menon, a professor of political science at the City University of New York.”

Both sides should tamp down the rhetoric and try to create conditions which can preserve Ukrainian independence but also addresses Russian fears. The West should simply say that Ukraine will not be invited to join NATO if the Russian military build-up is scaled back considerably.

Posted December 2, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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