More on Ukraine

August 15, 2008 7:42 p.m.

From TPM Reader OA

I want to say something about the polling data on NATO and Ukraine–I am a historian who has worked and visited Ukraine many times, both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the biggest mistakes made by the U.S. and its allies after 1991–and I thought so at the time–was to retain the name “NATO” even as the mission was redefined. In the Soviet Union, every citizen was taught that NATO was the enemy. It’s a name that continues to carry the most negative connotations. It’s as if U.S. citizens were polled on whether they thought the country needed a KGB.

In other words, the situation is more complicated than you allow. Ukraine, after all, elected (and will likely reelect) a President in 2004 who favoured integration with NATO and the European Union–even as polls then showed that most people were opposed to Ukraine joining NATO. The problem for Ukraine and Ukrainians is how to prevent the interference of the West AND the Russians in domestic politics. The previous President–the one who was ceremoniously dumped during the Orange Revolution–followed a “multi-vectored” foreign policy, essentially playing off the Russians and the West. That didn’t work out so well. Conceding Ukraine to Russia’s sphere of interest would be a disaster for Ukraine–it would surely lead to civil war and would destabilize all of Eastern Europe (the Poles and the Balts aren’t going to sit idly by); but having Ukraine join NATO in the current political climate would be no less of a disaster and would be seen by the Russians as a provocation of the highest order.

Ultimately, the only hope (for all) in the long run is to repair U.S.-Russian relations. What has happened in Georgia is the result of the incompetence of the Bush administration. It’s a terrible black eye for the U.S., though no one in Washington is willing to say it out loud at the moment. The November elections can’t come quickly enough, as far as I am concerned.

As I told this reader in my private response, I don’t think we’re very far apart. In fact, what he says sounds extremely sensible to me. His point that the Ukrainians are electing leaders who favor integration with NATO is a very good one.

Yesterday I read a blog post at another site that summarized my position as a Realist stance believing that we should concede all of the states of the former Soviet Union and perhaps some of the former Warsaw Pact countries to a Russian sphere of influence, and simply be done with it. Needless to say, that is not my position at all. And I think it is a sign of how dangerously monochromatic this discussion has become that there is apparently only the option of allowing the complete Russian domination of Eastern Europe and the Soviet successor states or driving our military alliance right up to what are still in many cases Russia’s disputed borders. I think we can mobilize a lot of our and Europe’s soft and hard power to insure that these states remain independent, open economies — existing on the model of interstate relations of contemporary Western Europe rather than some ugly amalgam of late 19th and early 20th century Europe. But I also don’t want to see bad actors of the Scheunemann and McCain variety get us jacked up into some enduring and dangerous posture of confrontation with the Russians over a couple separatist regions of Georgia — something that I don’t think is either necessary or at all in our interests. The truth is that the US screwed up here in a big way. This isn’t to excuse the Russians. But we pumped the Georgians up as our big Iraq allies, got them revved up about coming into NATO, playing all this pipeline politics, all of which led them to have a much more aggressive posture toward the Russians than we were willing, in the final analysis, to back up. So now they’ve gotten badly mauled. And we have to decide whether to double down on the moronic policy (McCain position) or try to unwind and loosen this knot, walk this thing back to something like the status quo ante and then try working the whole nestle of problems in a very different way. Like I’ve said a few times, see the last paragraph of this post by Greg Djerejian where he discusses a difficult but sensible way forward.

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