By Adam Stromme
“Ukraine has not yet Perished,” such is the dark if fitting name of the national anthem of a country currently embroiled in a massive, if artificially perpetuated, civil war. Yet as Russia cuts off all supplies of natural gas to the country, while the United States mulls over sending more arms to the region, it is becoming increasingly clear that the course of the conflict is being decided hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from the battlefields.
Why is this? What is it about the Ukrainians unique place in the global community that makes closer ties to Russia untenable, and attempts at reconciliation with the West impossible?
In a Q&A session with former Undersecretary of the UN Lord Mark Mulloch Brown back in March, Strommuses brought up the provocative thesis of International Relations scholar John Mearsheimer, who pinned the blame for escalation in Ukraine on the West, and asked for a comment. In responding Lord Brown agreed, stating: “The West needs to understand that the outcome for Ukraine is not a pro-Western Ukraine, it is at best a neutral Ukraine which guarantees to live peacefully with its Russian neighbor.” Contrasting a policy of de-escalation with the “hubris” of the post Cold War world, Brown warned of future strife should both countries continue to view Ukraine as a prize, and nationalism– both Ukrainian and Russian– as a weapon.
Yet the former Soviet Republic has become the victim of a new Cold War. Nestled between the decaying remains of the the U.S.S.R to the East and the unstable liberal-democratic alliance to the West, Ukrainian independence continues to be a geopolitical impossibility.
The primary reason is the fact that Ukraine and the former satellites serve as an invaluable buffer for Russia. Russia, while now a limited regional power at best, continues to feel threatened by the aggressive expansion of NATO into its traditional sphere of influence: a sphere of influence that offers very little geostrategic buffers beyond national boundaries. Like NATO, whose existence stretches beyond its mandate of combating the Soviet Union, Russia has become increasingly possessive of its traditional allies, including Ukraine, to shore up its defenses against NATO and simultaneously draw attention away from its horrifically corrupt kleptocracy.
By this account, an independent Ukraine cannot coexist alongside Russia. But at the same time, creating closer ties with the European Union– and naturally NATO– fails to create a recipe for stability either, as Mearsheimer makes clear. Although hardly blameless, a comparatively weakening Russia can ill afford to be the cause of these sort of provocations with what is undoubtedly its military superior. At present, its incursions into Ukraine are best read as a desperate, last ditch effort to keep a hostile military alliance from literally sitting on its own border, rather than a declaration of all out war.
Thus, Brown also rebuked claims that military interdependence with Ukraine could avoid conflict, stating:
“I remember back when he [Paul Nitze, famed Cold War warrior] was saying that NATO [is] going to regret this push ever further eastward. It is madness to be talking about ever letting Ukraine into NATO. His argument being that, you know, NATO is very clearly a self-defense organization where once you’re a member [and] once you’re attacked the rest of the membership has to come to your defense. And the idea that NATO was ever going to be willing to project its force to the border of Russia itself, was, when you stopped to think about it, deeply implausible.”
History hardly provides civil precedents, even for the United States, for regional incursions into the sphere of influence of a military superpower.
While Russia and the United States both continue to vie for control over Ukraine, Ukrainian independence itself, the spark of the revolution, grows increasingly distant. Instead, it continues to be replaced by partisan factions that will to rip the country apart at the seams. Without an international solution, free from the power politics of the great powers, one cannot help but wonder: will there even be an independent Ukraine to perish in the first place?