The Ukrainian conundrum
Not since the end of WW2 have the pieces on the international chess board so rearranged themselves.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be looked back on as a fundamental break with a precarious but fundamental post-WW2 order. That order has had a fairly long run, but over the years there have been more stress points than it was ultimately able to absorb. Whether it was Russia and Ukraine or any other crack in the foundation, perhaps in time some break was bound to occur that was big enough to bring down the house. Its foundation was not carefully enough tended to, by pretty much anyone.
There is certainly enough blame to go around, and that includes the United States. For years we’ve been encouraging Ukrainian behavior that posed a threat to Russia’s sphere of influence; any American can appreciate that if Canada or Mexico aligned itself with Russian military interests, we would cry foul to say the least. Something similar to that occurred in 1962 when President Kennedy stared down Russian Premier Krushchev and demanded he turn back his nuclear missiles headed for Cuba. No superpower wants the guns of another superpower pointed right at it from only a few miles away.
For every action there’s a reaction, a point of physics too little appreciated in the world of geopolitics. Russia doesn’t want to live under threat from the West, and the West doesn’t want to live under threat from Russia either. Russia doesn’t want to live with NATO at its borders, but European democracies don’t want to live under the specter of a constant risk of Russian hegemony. And that’s basically where we are today. What had been the flexing of muscles on the part of both sides of the argument has now turned into serious economic, political and military confrontation. No one is laughing, thousands are dying, a million or more refugees are fleeing, and there’s no telling where things will go next.
But the last few days have been extraordinary. While a quick Russian takeover of Ukraine was once considered a given by serious observers, something very different has materialized: a fiercely contested war. The Ukrainian David has held the Russian Goliath at bay with a courageous show of “Don’t fuck with us,” whether those were the actual words said by soldiers on Snake Island or not. That has certainly been the Ukrainian’s message and it has reverberated around the world.
In the final analysis this has less to do with your opinion or mine, and more to do with the opinion of the world. And the world has decided in which direction it’s headed. Tens of thousands, possibly more people - literally all over the world, even in Russia - are out in the streets showing their support for Ukraine. Europe is demonstrating a collective muscle it hasn’t displayed since WW2, providing massive economic and even military support. When Germany is sending artillery and even the Swiss are freezing Russian assets, the road ahead has already been chosen. Even Orban in Hungary, himself an autocratic despot, is siding with the Europeans against Russia.
Is this a dangerous situation? You bet it is. Is it a conceivable run up to WW3? That’s not a ridiculous question. But neither is there an easy answer to how to deescalate now. It’s undeniable that we poked the bear, but the bear is still responsible for its actions. There’s a central debate at the core of this struggle, and which side wins the debate could have repercussions for the entire next century. Does the world capitulate to Putin’s ruthless invasion (the Okay Vladimir, we get your point; just don’t go any further argument) or do we stand up to him now (the Appeasing Hitler was a huge mistake because he had no intention of stopping there argument)? Those who want to capitulate assume he’s a rational actor who will live up to any diplomatic agreements he now makes; those who want to stand up to him do not. Again, it’s not like the United States has lived up to all of our agreements either.
Many on the left believe that the current posture of the West has more to do with market share for the military industrial complex; others believe it has more to do with Europe and America responding to the lessons of history. This is not a moment when the answers are easy, or clear. We can argue whether or not it’s a time for further fighting; what’s inarguable is that it’s a time for prayer.
Dear God, please bless us all.