Save West Ukraine

John Wohlstetter
Family Security Matters
March 18, 2014
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Eastern Ukraine is now a Russian lake....

Latest News.  Crimea's referendum favored reunion with Russia, final Russian "count" at 97 percent for, but the choices were rigged, in a display of the 19th-century cynical geopolitics SecState John Kerry thinks obsolete. In West Ukraine, people are scared of Moscow but also angry at the West for its tepid response to Russia's land grab. Former world chess champ Garry Kasparov eviscerated the West's feckless non-response:

It's one thing for academics and pundits to calmly sympathize with Putin and his "vital interests" and his "sphere of influence," as if 50 million Ukrainians should have no say in the matter. It's quite another thing for Barack Obama, David Cameron and Angela Merkel to fret about the "instability" and "high costs" caused by sanctions against Russia-as if that could be worse than the instability caused by the partial annexation of a European country by a nuclear dictatorship, carried out with impunity.

President Obama & allies vow that Russia will not keep Crimea, warn that Putin better not send troops elsewhere in East Ukraine, and say that new sanctions will be imposed.

Implications.  Vladimir Putin's Russian troops in East Ukraine are there to stay.To observe this is simple geopolitical reality. Put simply, there is no way that Putin, an unreconstructed Cold Warrior who called the 1991 collapse of the former Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century," will allow all Ukraine to nestle securely in Europe, either in the European Union or in NATO. We should sympathize with Ukrainians who desire a unified country, free of Russian control. But Putin is not among that group, and his tanks and troops are deciding that issue on the ground. What remains, then, is one central question: Can Putin annex West Ukraine as well?

Putin's power play came partly upon arranged invitation by pro-Russian elements. It was a replay of what transpired in March 1939. Then it was the infamous Sudeten German invite to Adolf Hitler to occupy the Czech province of Sudetenland. Hitler took that region and more; he brokered with British prime minister Neville Chamberlain the surrender of all Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

The stakes are enormous. It has been said that with Ukraine Russia can be an empire; without Ukraine Russia cannot be one. Ukraine is the hinge of Europe. A Ukraine dominated by Russia will pull Eastern Europe away from the west and in equipoise with Moscow. Nominally the eastern countries will remain in the EU and NATO. But the failure of the West to protect western Ukraine will force the one-time satellites of the former Soviet Union to genuflect to Moscow's influence.

Ukraine, the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union, is the prime "near abroad" target for Putin's bid to reconstitute much of the former Soviet Union. Its economy consists of 60 percent services, 30 percent industry and 10 percent agriculture. Much of the industry is in the east, and produces goods for Russia. It imports 75 percent of its oil and gas, with Russia its supplier; in 2010 Ukraine cut a deal with Russia to stabilize prices, in return for a long-term lease (to 2042) given Russia for the Sevastopol naval base on the Crimean peninsula. In all, Ukraine ranks a dismal 139th in per capital GDP (purchasing power parity) and 188th in GDP growth rate.

East Ukraine cannot escape Russia's embrace. Its population is 60 percent Russian, 25 percent Ukrainian and 12 percent Crimean Tatar. Deposed president Viktor Yanukovich has been given sanctuary there, and has declared the Maidan Square, Kiev revolution illegitimate. Absent a military pushback by the West, simply not in the cards, Russia's position in east Ukraine is secure. No doubt there will be empty verbal condemnations of Russia's action, but Putin cares not one whit. Russia will use its veto in the United Nations Security Council to block any UN sanctions resolution, as it did last week.

History's Grip.  Beyond that, there is another factor that will drive de facto partition: a unified Ukraine dates from December 1991, all of 22 years. A thousand years ago Kievan Rus was the center of the emerging Russian state-the latter dates to 988 AD, when Price Vladimir of Novgorod converted to Orthodox Christianity. Kievan Rus eventually joined the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. In the 17th century a Cossack state arose, the Hetmanate (the name comes from hetman, chieftain of the Cossacks). Cossacks, nomads who eventually settled in the southern parts of Ukraine, became the Tsarist Praetorian Guard and elite cavalry. In the late 18th century Empress Catherine the Great moved Russia into Ukraine, in search of a warm water port on the Black Sea. In 1854 Tsar Nicholas I, whom Putin idolizes, started the Crimean War to secure its position in the Crimea. For a brief period, 1917 to 1920, Ukraine became independent. But the Bolsheviks reconquered Ukraine and inflicted genocidal slaughter. The Holomodor of the 1930 saw 8 million Ukrainian deaths, as Marshal Stalin carried out a liquidation of the kulak peasant landowner class. Ukraine suffered comparable casualties fighting on the Russian side in World War II. Periodic peasant uprisings were crushed. In 1954 Russia ceded the Crimea to Ukraine.

Thus, Ukraine's desire for independence is hardly rooted in its long, turbulent history. Rather it reflects the desire of most Ukrainians to live in a free society that is not under Russian imperial rule. That desire is especially fervent in the Ukraine west of the Dnieper River, a natural dividing line between east and west. Such a line would leave the port of Odessa in the west, giving free Ukraine a warm water port on the Black Sea, one whose history links it closely with Europe.

West's Options.  What can the West do, given that military action is not a real option, to check the Russian advance and save West Ukraine from Moscow's bear hug?

First, outbid Moscow's $15 billion aid package-double, even treble it. Attach conditions to minimize corrupt rake-off and to spur economic growth. Avoid imposing austerity on an economically destitute people, which could unravel the post-revolution government.

Second, unleash the full power of America's booming "fracking" industry, to drive oil and gas prices down, and limit Moscow's ability to pressure Ukraine and Europe, already diminished since Moscow's 2006 and 2009 cut-offs of natural gas.

Third, cut Russia off from financial credit markets, expel her from the G8 economic diplomacy forum.

Fourth, prepare to supply West Ukraine with military equipment, to raise the cost of any Russian attempt to annex West Ukraine, or key parts of it (notably, the vital port of Odessa in the south, whose residents supported Ukraine's recently ousted pro-Russian president).

These steps can curtail Russian imperial aspirations.

Bottom Line.  Not much of this is likely to happen.  And what transpires thus likely will not force Putin to disgorge East Ukraine. Not one of the planet's sentimentalists, he will pursue geopolitical advantage until checked. Checking him requires a unified America and Europe acting to shore up West Ukraine. It seems intuitively unlikely that Putin can swallow Ukraine whole. But he might well try, unless the West checkmates Tsar Vlad the Bad.