Posts Tagged ‘russia’

Originally published in The Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus

February 22, 2015

What is going on in Ukraine today and why it is happening goes back to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent disintegration of Soviet control over the buffer states that surrounded and “protected” the old Soviet Union.

Throughout its existence, the Soviet Union assiduously asserted or consolidated control over the states in Eastern Europe that separated it from the Western Europe countries that had invaded and plagued Russia for centuries. During that period, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, the Karelian peninsula and Eastern Germany became part of the Soviet sphere of influence in Europe.

This Russian sensitivity extended to Central Asia where Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan fell or remained under effective Russian control. When the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, all of those previous Soviet appendages reverted to various sorts of local, non-Soviet control.

We, the United States, then proceeded to reward Russia for forsaking communism by arranging to invite, for no apparent objective reason, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, all formerly under Soviet hegemony, to join NATO, which they promptly did.

The Russians, understanding clearly that NATO had originally been formed to oppose the Soviet Union, could not understand why, since the Soviet Union was finished, these former appendages of the Soviet Union, now independent, needed to join NATO. The message was absolutely clear. They were incorporated into NATO to oppose Russia. What else could a good Russian understand? And how else could we have expected them to take it?

Apparently, the NATO recruitment operation wasn’t sufficiently provocative for the Bush administration, so they launched a new approach, which was designed to set up a European missile shield to intercept long range missiles, ostensibly coming from Iran! It seemed to the Russians that it was Russia, not Iran that was the target of this plan!

The sites for this shield were in Poland and Romania, old Soviet satellites. Planning discussions began in 2002 and did not end until 2009 when the newly elected Obama administration terminated the plan altogether, much to the relief of the Russians.

Additional evidence of the Russian compulsion to reconstitute its old perimeter “buffer zones” can be seen in its handling of Georgian nationalism and independence. As the Soviet Union began to fail in 1989, Georgia was clearly heading toward independence. This was apparently sufficiently threatening to the failing Russian regime that they began to encourage South Ossetian nationalism against the Georgians. This came to a head in 1991 when Georgia declared its independence from the Soviet Union and conflict broke out with the South Ossetians. Conflict between Russia and Georgia was ended in 1992.

This same kind of scenario broke out between Georgia and Abkhazia in 1992. In both the Ossetian and Abkhazian cases, Russia’s goal was the reestablishment of influence in Georgia and even its reintegration into Russia.

It is highly significant that at a Bucharest NATO summit in 2008, President Bush offered a path to NATO membership to both Georgia and Ukraine. President Putin said (not unexpectedly, given Russia’s well-known paranoia) that expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders “would be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country”.

Russian relations with and policies toward the former Soviet countries now surrounding Russia have been tense since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This has provided the West with graphic evidence of Russian concern about its borders and its ongoing vulnerability to foreign attack. And yet, US policy has continued to be aggressive ever since. It’s almost as if the US has found it morally necessary to stick its thumb in the eye of the former Soviets whenever possible.

Think how we felt when Russian missiles were installed in Cuba. Think how we would feel if a potentially hostile foreign country installed missiles in Mexico or Canada.

So, when you see the Russians running roughshod in Ukraine, don’t forgive them or make excuses for them. What you must do and what American policy needs to do in the future is recognize that we are dealing with what the Russians see, whether rightly or wrongly, as an existential threat that concerns their national interest. That fact puts Ukraine in a totally different and, for us, dangerous ball game.

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