Peter Arnett’s famous quote, “It became necessary that destroy the town in order to save it,” was made during the Vietnam War. However, it has a macabre application for Ukraine. The combination of American stupidity and Russian arrogance will create a grease patch where Ukraine once was. It was tragically and utterly unnecessary.
In 2008, and on many other occasions thereafter, I argued that Ukraine should allow its citizens to vote for divorce. This was the same as what the Czechs, Slovaks, and Slovaks did. We chose to keep Ukraine’s NATO option open, knowing this would be a red line for Russia. It doesn’t matter that Putin is a wicked man; he is a predictable wicked fellow with a well-defined understanding of Russian national interests. His response to Ukraine’s potential NATO membership was completely predictable.
Three months of almost unanimous media predictions about the fall of Russia have ended. Now it appears that the Russian army may be in control of the Donbas. It will be difficult, if not impossible to extricate it. Henry Kissinger at Davos suggested that the end result would be, eventually, a peace where Ukraine cedes territory to Russia. We will feel even worse if we don’t appease Putin and Hitler. We shouldn’t feel so bad. This was a huge mistake.
Our pathetic outpourings of sympathy for Ukraine helped to hide the fact that Russia has better strategic arms than we (hypervelocity rockets and S-400/500 anti-air defense systems). While the Russian army is certainly corrupt as Western commentators assert, it is not as corrupt as our Pentagon which spends a lot of money on obsolete weapons, while Russia and China invent. While the Javelin, Switchblade, and Stinger are great toys and useful tools, the West continues to be afraid of Russian nuclear weapons. Because the Biden Administration fears that Ukraine could use long-range missiles against Russia to attack targets deep within Russia, and thus avoid a wider war, it won’t send them.
Below is the question I asked in February 2014. It includes citations from an essay by “Spengler” published in Asia Times in 2008. We could have divided a peaceful, intact Ukraine. We now have to split up the ash heaps. Shame on us.
Ukraine Should Vote for Partition
Western countries are celebrating the fall of Viktor Yanukovich (a Russian ally) They might underestimate Vladimir Putin. Russia has the option of hastening Ukraine’s fall into chaos and waiting until the helpless European Union allows for, if not demands, Russian intervention.
The West is left with very few options. First, do nothing and let the country spiral into chaos with Russia as its eventual beneficiary. The second option is to go deep within its pockets to find US$20 million or more to purchase near-term popularity for a pro-Western government. This is unlikely. The third and most realistic option is to steer Ukraine toward a constitutional referendum, including the possibility of partition.
Russian media coverage suggests that Moscow has already gotten rid of Yanukovich. Russia Today jokingly noted that Yanukovich had lost the sangfroid Mikhail Saakashvili (the former president of Georgia, and an ally to the West), on February 22.
Yanukovich could have also dispersed protesters and maintained order in the country, despite any criticism. In 2007, this is exactly how Mikhail Saakashvili (the Georgian president at the time) acted. In 2007, he brutally suppressed peaceful protests and called for an early presidential election. He won it, rather than a parliamentary election as the opposition wanted and his party could have lost. Yanukovich, unlike the Georgian leader, did not hesitate when the Ukrainian protest made Kyiv a battlefield.
Moscow doesn’t need any allies with weak stomachs. It will not accept the $15 billion offer for Ukrainian debt purchases or subsidies for natural gas exports, and it will leave the country in ruins to the Western minions. Russia is telling us to be careful what we wish for.
Anton Siluanov, Russian Finance Minister, stated that Ukraine should receive money from the International Monetary Fund. “We consider such a situation to be in Ukraine’s best interests and would help the country move forward with major structural reforms.” We wish them all the best in this endeavor and in stabilizing the political and socio-economic situation.
Siluanov is being mischievous. The IMF has suspended promises of loans to Ukraine twice in the last six years after it refused to reduce salaries and pensions and increased energy prices. Russia offered a loan with no conditions. Any money that the West offers will need to be enforced by the Ukrainian government, which is incapable of enforcing austerity measures.
For years, I have argued that Ukraine should be partitioned. It was never a country, but a collection of failed empires-Russians, Austrians, Lithuanians, Ottomans-which were merged into a Soviet “republic” which was then thrown adrift by the fall of Communism. Lviv (Lemberg), a German-speaking town, was once part of Silesia. Before World War II, 25% of the population were Jews. Two-fifths (25%) of Odessa’s population were Jews.
Ethnic Russians make up a fifth of the population. Uniate Catholics comprise a tenth of the population. They have held a special place in Catholic policies since John Paul II’s papacy. Ukrainian nationality is just as suspect as Byelorussian: neither one of them had a dictionary until 1918.
It is also a poor country. At the current fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman, the country’s 47 million inhabitants will be reduced to just 15 million by the end of the century. The number of Ukrainian women between the ages of 15 and 49 is currently 11 million. However, many are working overseas. By the end of the century, this number will drop to just a 2.8million. When Communism collapsed in 1989, there were 52 million Ukrainian citizens. At $157 billion, its GDP is about a fifth of Turkey and half of Switzerland. Ukrainians would prefer to join the European Union over Russia in order to emigrate. It has no strategic, economic, or demographic significance to the West.
Victoria Nuland (Assistant Secretary of State), whose “F*** The Europeans” comment earned her 15 minutes of fame recently, should be fired because she is plain dumb. While I admire European diplomacy, Europe will be responsible for paying a large portion of the cost of Ukraine’s problems. I don’t think Congress will offer $15 billion to Ukraine to help with its foreign debt, as Russia did last month. They won’t leave Ukraine, which they consider part of their territory, and they won’t abandon Russian speakers who were “orphaned” after the fall of the Soviet Union. What does Ms. Nuland suggest: Land paratroopers What offer are we making to the Ukrainian opposition? American policy has been characterized by indifference and ineffective posturing. For its sheer stupidity, the Nuland tape was a painful listen.
It is impossible to ignore the humanitarian catastrophe in any European country. The idea that we could influence the outcome by supporting one or more opposition leaders, such as in the Nuland tape is absurd. There is something we can do, however: Propose a referendum in which the people of Ukraine can choose constitutional alternatives-partition, confederation, or status quo. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, should be acting for the West for several reasons. She is credible, second, she has the guts (she got into politics via East Germany’s democracy movement); third, she can speak Russian and understand Vladimir Putin; fourthly, she has more brains in Washington than anyone (a doctorate in quantum chemistry).
Russia will not allow Ukraine to join NATO. If it did, Russia would use force and the West would continue to curse. Russia will accept half of the deal, which is a Russian-allied Eastern Ukraine. No matter what we do, Ukraine’s slow and painful slide into oblivion will not be stopped. Diplomats have the grim duty of managing this fall with minimal friction.
This argument has been mine for many years. From my 2008 essay, “Americans Play Monopoly, Russians Chess”:
Vladimir Putin, the then-Russian premier, and president watched the news from his Moscow dacha. People who witnessed Putin’s anger at the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine that night reported his disbelief. Putin bitterly reacted to the United States’ lies. “I won’t trust them again,” Putin said bitterly of the United States. The Russians still don’t understand why the West offered a possible strategic alliance for Ukraine. They underestimate the stupidity and incompetence of the West.
I will make the claim that Ukraine’s destiny is partition.
Russia’s survival is not dependent on its birthrate, immigration, or even potential annexation. It is dependent on the preservation of the principle that Russia was founded. Putin couldn’t abandon the Caucusus’ pockets of Russian passport holders. Russia’s history is tragic. Its nation-building principle, brutal and sometimes inhumane, is another matter. Russia’s tragedy is our tragedy if it is not averted.
Ukraine is the place to avoid tragedy. Russia will not allow Ukraine to drift towards the West. It is not clear whether a country that has never been independent before the fall of communism should be the symbol of national self-determination. There are two options for the West: trade Ukraine to Russia or draw a line around Ukraine.
My proposition is simple: Russia’s assistance in containing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and terrorism there is infinitely more important to the West than Ukraine’s questionable self-determination. The West should pretend that 2004/2005 “Orange Revolution” never took place, and seek Russia’s help in Iran’s nuclear problem and energy security in exchange for understanding Russia’s existential needs in the near future. This sounds too cynical. Spend a week in Kyiv.