The future of American-Russian relations and the balance of power in Europe will – at least in the short run – depend on a resolution of the Ukrainian conflict.
While President Trump expresses the desire to have good relations with Russia, his UN envoy Nikki Haley stated, “The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea.” She added, “Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine”– the administration unaware, apparently, that the historical experience of “return” is hardly a Russian specialty.
Impervious to political reality, the Trump administration refuses to recognize that Crimea has turned its clocks to Moscow time, both literally and figuratively. It has joined Russia, and regardless of Western sanctions and condemnations, there is no turning back of this historic clock; Crimea is irreversible and non-negotiable. But the Eastern Ukraine is open to negotiations and an amicable resolution.
This is one of many ethnic conflicts that have become increasingly common after the Cold War period. As the rivalry between the superpowers receded and the security concerns of the peoples that had allied themselves with either camp took the stage again, nationalistic aspirations created potentially explosive environments. In Ukraine, resentments and grievances suppressed by the power of the Soviet state broke out into a civil war.
Usually in conflicts, each side is pursuing an outcome incompatible with the strategic ambition of its adversary, but this saga has an interesting twist to it. President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, totally ignorant of how this Eastern European game is played, were deceived by both their “sworn friend” Petro Poroshenko and their professed adversary Vladimir Putin. Despite their differences, Poroshenko and Putin converge on one important aspect: neither of them wants Eastern Ukraine.
The rulers in Kiev are not motivated by “one country, one destiny”; they are not motivated by concern for the stability and integrity of Ukraine; rather, they are moved by billions in financial aid. The aspiration of Poroshenko and his associates is to become in some sense the Palestinians of Europe, victims of Russian aggression, just as the actual Palestinians are perceived as being victims of Israel. Defeated by superior force, they want the EU to adopt them and make Ukraine a black hole for billions of dollars and euros, with no end in sight.
The fact is that despite international support, Kiev lacks the means to preserve Ukraine as a unitary state. Therefore, Poroshenko’s survival is predicated on defeat. Just as in the case of the Palestinians, whose every defeat functions as a catalyst to attract worldwide sympathy and international donors, the continuation of hostilities, for Poroshenko, is an inevitable necessity.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Poroshenko almost is asking, “What is our aim? It is defeat, defeat at all costs.” The more that Eastern Ukrainian cities are turned into Aleppos and civilians are killed, the less likely it is that Eastern Ukraine will accept any kind of reconciliation with Kiev. The greater the territorial losses, the more Ukrainian soldiers killed, the more victimized Ukrainians are perceived, the better for Poroshenko politically. With little subtlety, he is inciting and manipulating the rivalries between Russia and the United States on behalf of his own agenda.
Putin does not want a devastated Eastern Ukraine as part of Russia either; nor can he afford it. Although two million Eastern Ukrainians have already voted against Kiev with their feet, seeking refuge in Russia, unlike predominantly Russian Crimea, which voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, the binational population of Eastern Ukraine will be hesitant to replace the Ukrainian mess with the uncertainty of joining the Russians’ bedlam and the inevitability of a military draft of their sons into the Russian army. Therefore, integration of Eastern Ukraine into the Russian Federation may be costly and problematic.
Within this context, if the West accepts Crimea as part of Russia and recognizes the independence of Eastern Ukraine, paradoxically, all sides will achieve their respective objectives. The populations of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine will acquire national identity; no more Ukrainian language taught in schools, no more Russian movies translated into Ukrainian and no more worthless Ukrainian hryvnia used as legal tender. Putin gets the United States as a powerful ally in the war against radical Islam. Western Ukraine becomes an orphan of Europe, and Poroshenko and his cronies, who provoked the conflict by declaring their intent to join the EU and NATO, get their payoff – and the EU has to adopt a much smaller country.
Woodrow Wilson would have no difficulty endorsing this approach. Wilsonian principles of national self-determination should apply to Ukraine just as they were applied to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Scotland, the Falkland Islands and Cyprus, where, in a very similar situation, restoration of the status quo ante proved to be impossible. Nevertheless, the peaceful coexistence of Greeks and Turks was achieved by partitioning the island. So, the central question in the current situation becomes why do we care if there are two Ukraines – or even three or four?
The West should be open to a genuine reconciliation with Russia as it prepares to play a major role in the global balance of power. Whether that role is constructive or destructive will depend on whether the vanquished enemy is finally accepted into the family of nations or continues to be treated as the heir to the Soviet Union.
Alexander G. Markovsky (www.alexmarkovsky.com), author of "Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It," was born and educated in the Soviet Union and now lives in Houston, Texas. He holds degrees in economics and political science from the University of Marxism-Leninism. He is a contributor to FamilySecurityMatters.org and New York Daily News, his work also appears on American Thinker, The Hill, RedState.com, Israpundit.com and WorldNetDaily.com.