Another cease-fire has been negotiated in the conflict between Ukraine and the seperatists. Tell me if any of this seems familiar to you. It should because we’ve been down this road before with a previous cease-fire and the firing never ceased. There’s an airport sitting in Donetsk that contains all the physical evidence one would possibly need about how effective these cease-fires have been. Why did anybody think this would work in the first place. In fact, reports have indicated that the fighting has only intensified since the Minsk Agreement.
Recent events this week have made me reflect on the idea of history often repeating itself. It’s not that I think that the countries involved in this struggle don’t know this, but I wonder if they are really learning the right lessons from history.
The United States
Obama is reportedly thinking about giving “lethal aid” to Ukraine to aid in their fight with the seperatists. Other officials in government have called for the same thing, but now that Obama is thinking about it, it may become a reality.
And why not? US military aid to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan during the 80’s was effective in driving out a Soviet invasion and possibly facilitated the Soviet Union’s collapse. It wasn’t the only factor. The Soviet Union also had a stagnant economy, food shortages, an escalating and expensive arms race with the West, and loss of revenue during plummeting oil prices that pretty much doomed the country. In other words, the same economic and political factors that Russia and Putin are facing at this very moment. So military aid to Ukraine should be a no-brainer. Putin has already accused the US of intervening in Ukraine’s struggle to drive out the Kremlin-friendly Yanukovich so what would the US have to lose?
The only difference I see is that Russia had no cultural ties with the people of Afghanistan, but they do in Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia go back a long way, and while they may be two independent and sovereign nations at the present time, there are a lot of similarities culturally that will complicate things. This is something I hope that the authorities can grasp. Putin has already demonstrated that he will not allow the seperatists to be defeated by providing unmarked troops and vehicles to turn the tide or stabilize the situation. So any aid the US gives will be matched by Putin causing an escalation.
Merkel thinks that military aid to Ukraine is a bad idea. Considering the historical factors involved, who could blame her for thinking this? Nazi Germany may have lost against the combined might of the Soviet, American and English armies during World War II but not without mauling the Soviet Union in the process. Post war assessments by both Stalin and the West revealed total devastation on the Eastern Front, and in the end, Germany became a divided country. Plus there was the holocaust. Every nation has sins in it’s past, but the holocaust was a doosy, and it happened relatively recently. This isn’t the first time that Germany had plunged the entire European continent into war either. World War I was pretty much blamed on Germany, and if we were to go even further back, The 30 Years War devastated German territory. I can’t imagine the historical guilt and reservation that Germany has, but I can understand it’s reluctance to endorse any military solution to the problem.
But if Merkel isn’t careful, she’ll join Neville Chamberlain as one of history’s great appeasers. To be honest, I don’t think Merkel has the political and diplomatic skills to successfully negotiate this latest crisis. When times were good, I’m sure people liked her, but since Europe’s economic problems and tension with emerging right-oriented political groups, her performance seems to be lackluster. It took a hell of a lot of arm twisting to try and stop France from delivering warships to Russia’s Navy. She even opposed sanctions with Russia until an airliner got shot down. She can’t really stick her head in the sand and wait for things to blow over. As the leader of Europe’s largest economy she needs to send a clear and unambiguous message that resonates with the entire European continent. If this was done a lot earlier, such a unified front might have caused Putin to think twice.
Their economy is going down the tubes due to a combination of sanctions, low oil prices, a devalued ruble, high interest rates and capital flight. Most nations can cope with a crisis in one or two of these factors, but all of them makes for a perfect storm. Russia will face a recession coupled by a decline in living standards. It’s just a question of how bad it will get and for how long. Despite all of this, Putin’s approval rating remains well above 80%! This would be unheard of in a Western country where economic growth and approval ratings tend to correlate more directly. Only a strong nationalistic fervor coupled with a skillfully executed propaganda campaign has kept public opinion high.
Russians historically endured many hardships and it’s left an imprint on their pysche. I’ve also found them to be very patriotic so I’d expect their resolve to erode very slowly. But Russia’s leadership has often assumed that since Russian people have endured much, then they can put up with anything. Not so. It seems that Russian’s are more than willing to give up some of their personal freedoms and civil liberties as long as the authorities can deliver some stability and guarantee a decent standard of living. And if there’s clear rules and expectations about what behaviors will keep them out of trouble, then Russians seem to be willing to live with this. It’s just that when the authorities fail to uphold their end of this social contract is when revolutions break out–bloody ones. That’s for the home front anyway.
Internationally, the West has always found Russia to be an irrational actor of the world stage. You never know what they are up to and why. While I was reading about a study the CIA had done in regards to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, I found it interesting that the CIA new everything the Soviet Union was doing leading up to the invasion. The CIA noticed reserves being called, troop buildups and they intercepted communications. However, they concluded that the USSR wouldn’t risk escalating tensions by invading, but they were wrong. That’s exactly what happened. I also found it interesting that Soviet authorities were initially reluctant to send forces into Afghanistan, but they had convinced themselves of American attempts to take advantage of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan when, in reality, the US have very little interest there. The Soviets ended up believing their own propaganda and it led them into a quagmire that ended up ruining them. The idea that two adversaries with nuclear arsenals can be so far apart as to fail to agree on objective reality is potentially very dangerous! The fact that Russia continues to deny that Russian troops and tanks have been crossing the border into Ukraine is pretty big evidence of this distortion of reality. Recent comments made by Lavrov (Russia’s version of Bagdad Bob) also strongly suggests this.
Ukraine is in a tough spot with no way out. They are fighting a war that they can’t win on their own territory. One of the conditions of the cease fire is Ukraine’s recognition of Donetsk and Lugansk as autonomous zones. What that means in reality is that they are independent countries but Ukraine still needs to pay their pension. It’s a condition that no country in their right mind is willing to accept so I don’t picture Ukraine accepting it. It can be argued that the cease fire that they agreed to was made under duress and only made to keep more Ukrainians from being killed, and therefore, invalid. But what then? Their only option is to stick it out and hope that Russia goes broke before they do.
China must be loving this. Between the Ukrainian conflict and the trouble caused by Islamic State, the US’s attention seems pretty occupied and China may try to assert some regional claims. They are also closing energy and trade deals on very favorable terms for the Chinese with Russia because Russia needs the markets. There’s even discussions among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries to create a global monetary system to compete with the West. I can’t help but find this idea laughable. Neither of these countries has a stable enough currency to function as a reserve or universal exchange for value like the dollar or euro is. Plus, China would be the biggest economy in such an arrangment while Russia thinks they’re a world power and they should be running the organization. I sense a lot of friction here while Russia desperately searches for economic alliances with disfunctional nation states.
What this means for the bride seeker?
If you avoid Donetsk and Lugansk, everything should be fine. Of course, everybody is worried about escalation, but I think things have been kept pretty local so far. I visited Kharkov, Ukraine last September and everything was very quiet with the exception of the people pulling down Lenin’s statue in Freedom Square but it was a peaceful assembly. Just follow the news carefully and consult with the American State Department. Make sure you register with the American embassy in case you need to leave in a hurry. Americans are very well received since we are standing up to Russia and punishing them. And these events have probably given the Ukrainian people doubts about the future.
But I can’t say how well received Americans would be in Russia. I’ve tried to read about people that have traveled there and expats that live there and I get mixed reviews. I certainly wouldn’t talk about the political situation between Russian and Ukraine. I’ve had this experience already and it got very tense.