Ukraine #1: A realist issue
An opposing view to the general narrative
Its simple. The Ukranian issue is not one born out of classic cold war tropes of good Vs Evil. The crisis lies in the rules of great power politics, and the West - out of foolish design or ignorance - wants to test their hand against Russia’s. This article is an expansion on realist literature, specifcally the famous Mearsheimer lecture in 2015 after the Crimean anexation.1
What many in the west ignore, is that Ukraine is directly on the border of Russia. Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine (since the breakup of the USSR), have acted as buffers between Russia’s border and the primary alliance: NATO. The whole crisis revolves around NATO expansion. The west argues its their inaliable right to expand a military alliance onto the border of Russia.
When the west hinted at their desire to involved Georgia into NATO, Russia invaded. Ukraine is a large, and highly stratgeic position, and one Russia cannot allow in the hands of their percieved enemy. With the west continuing their desire for Ukraine, Russia will invade as it has done before.
A useful way of analysing the situation is to reverse engineer the situation. One doesn’t have to imagine nuclear missiles and armed forces being positioned in the proximity of the United States. Why? Because it occured in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The world almost faced anhilation, and not suprisingly the US disliked the idea of a rival power positiing armed forces on their front door.
Now, imagine China (A true rising hegemony) creating an alliance with Canada and Mexico. China positions troops, nuclear missiles and tanks on the northern and southern US borders. It’s hard to imagine isn’t it? Thats because it wouldn’t. The US wouldn’t allow such startegic danger. Putin’s actions are of purely the same intentions.
To prevent war, all major powers need buffer zones; or at least a sense of neutrality. Taiwan is such a prominent issue due to its proximity to China. The west are ignoring this. Partly due to arrogance. Partly due to their desire to test Russian aggresion. Partly due to their desire to portray the Russians as the aggresors, in order to justify their response. Tarrifs, economic squeezing and asset freezing won’t stop Putin’s desire to keep high-tech tanks and nukes off his border.
Ukrainian politics is deeply complicated. As seen in the map below, ethno-linguistic breakdown is divided. Crimea (in brown) fell to Russia. It’s no coincidence that it’s primarliy Russian speaking. Why does this matter? well its important to break the western spell that Ukraine is some united country which just loves the west. This is incorrect, which is why Ukraine could open up a civil and thus proxy war. —
If the west don’t renounce their expansionist claims on Ukrainin NATO + EU integration, Russia may invade. This will trigger a bloody war. A worse prospect is the division between Eastern (Russia supporting) and Western (western supporting) Ukraine. A division that ends in civil war, and what one could argue as Germany 2.0 (East and west).
A civil war enables the west to fight Russia indirectly for the first time through so called ‘rebel’ or Ukrainian forces. Great powers, of all dispositions, have a rich history of doing so. What’s so tragic, is that Russia is a declining empire. The general security threat is large (due to long-term military investment), but small in a global economic sense. The west has no need to challenge a Russian economy built on fossil fuels, essentially a castle of sand. In the short-term, Russia has incredible amounts of soft power over Europe, due to it’s NS2 supply of Gas.. Ukraine, the EU, the IMF and Russia could sign a economic deal to incorporate each actor. This was even an idea of Putin’s in order to maintin Ukrainian independence. The west rejected it, and continue to renounce their plans to expand NATO into Ukraine.
There is a serious amount of Realist thought occuring in Washington, Brussels and London. At some point, the west must tackle geopolitics through the game Putin and great powers always play — realism. If the west fail to do so, the bigger beast of China will reign supreme in their new hegemony. Ukraine, if it turns hot, will mark (like Afghanistan) a point of reflection and reorientation of policy in a global world of power politics. One can only wait and see how the west recalibrate.
Why is Ukraine the West’s fault? Featuring John Mearsheimer, 2015, University of Chicago (available on youtube)