War Museum, Kyiv
Eleven weeks after Viktor Yanukovich fled Kyiv the stakes for Ukraine, and geopolitics, are clear. A set of shrewd western responses may or may not keep Ukraine whole. More broadly, the international norms of state sovereignty and territorial integrity are under assault, and will come undone at the world’s peril.
Russia seeks to dismember Ukraine using a unique, hybrid strategy that just might work. If the U.S. leads from behind, Russians in eastern Ukraine lead from the shadows, cloaking thuggish revanchism in the language of human rights and self-determination.
Ukraine’s inability to govern itself, every single dreary day since independence, is its original sin, and the pending election between the “gas princess” and the “chocolate king” doesn’t hold out much prospect for progress. When Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorsky says “I think Ukraine is paying the price of 20 years of strategic illusions of being able to be neutral and of not paying enough attention to their security sector,” you can almost see his lips mouthing “raving, criminal incompetence.”
In a virtual tie for second biggest problem, Russian perfidy leads European ambivalence by percentage points. Who do you favor to pull into the lead in this race? The authoritarian, deniable mystery troops, or the herd of 28 finicky EU cats led from behind by you-know-who?
Russia’s advocates (including top-notch liberal columnists) argue that the expansion of NATO and the failure of the West to find a role for Russia in Europe, especially during the humiliating years of post-Soviet economic collapse, bred a resentment in Moscow that manifests in the Putin of today.
It doesn’t hold up. Russia is a charter member of the OSCE (even as its proxies in Slavyansk held OSCE observers for a week). It joined the Council of Europe in 1996. From 1998 until the present crisis Russia was a member of the G-8. The Russia–NATO council was created in 2002 at Russia’s request, and Russia joined the WTO in August 2012.
Participation in these clubs hasn’t promoted Russian integration into Europe because Russia’s priority is not integration with Europe. The real cause of Russia’s behavior, Jan Techau argues, “is its archaic understanding of what constitutes a sovereign nation….”
Techau writes, “Moscow could never accept a structure that gave Luxembourg or Portugal, Georgia or Poland the same legal rights as Russia.” European organizations just aren’t Russia’s style.
Let’s be clear: Russian disinformation notwithstanding, the Maidan was no Pravy Sektor-inspired Nazi uprising. With a generation and counting lost to corruption, at long last Ukrainians young and old rose up and said, enough. That is what happened.
When Russia calls the interim government in Kyiv illegitimate, recall that the country was left in its current predicament when the Kleptocrat-in-Chief Mr. Yanukovich fled under cover of night. To Russia.