Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Of Two Minds

I wish I could weigh in on the Ukrainian conflict with conviction but I feel both sides have legitimate concerns. The country is a land-mass sprawling westerly into Europe and easterly into mother Russia. Up until WW I the Austro-Hungary Empire took a slice and Russia the rest. Pity these land-locked countries ever pulled by divided loyalties.

Yet Switzerland has found a way to accommodate four language-driven sectors. More recently on Europe's western flank a somewhat similar unresolved conflict exists in Belgium. About 60% of the population with ties to the the Netherlands is Flemish while the linguistic group to the south are the French-speaking Walloons. The split continues but it has not erupted into armed camps. In fact, Brussels is, ironically, home of the European Union. 

Russia, itself, has ever felt the pull of European culture but resisted the Enlightenment and was slow to enter the Industrial Age. The dissolution of the USSR found chunks of the empire dropping away and asserting their ethnic identities. Ukraine is a sovereign state but its security and economic ties to Moscow have been a given. Having endured uninvited armies from Napoleon to Hitler the Russians are understandably insecure, some would say paranoid, about the Importance of buffer states.

Through an American and European lens Ukraine is under siege. Their former head of state is a corrupt Kremlin puppet responsible for the death of protesters and leading the country to financial ruin while he led a life of obscene privilege. We must rush to the rescue of these 46 million people. But wait!!

The terms laid down by the European Union would have ended Ukraine’s 16 billion dollars per year export trade with Russia. This condition was a deal-breaker for Yanukovych and a needless provocation aimed at Putin. It triggered the regime change and the Russian response. Ukraine would be the second largest country in Europe in area.  By joining the E.U. they would have to pass an estimated 350 changes in their trade laws.

The last thing we need now is a revival of the Cold War. One can hear the squawk of the hawks. John McCain never met a skirmish he didn’t love. As the Iraq and Afghanistan follies wind down a chorus of Neo-Cons are salivating over new prospects of a Pentagon build-up. Whether Ukraine turns to the West or back to the East we must accept that it is not in our national interest to intercede in any way other than through diplomacy. I’m hopeful Obama ignores their battle cries and forges an alternative path. There is in the American strain a messianic urge to make over the world in our image. One size does not fit all.

Blame it all on the cartographers; too many countries squabbling over who belongs to whom. Someday, but not soon, borders will shrivel and blow away. Maps will be of one green ink with land shaped only by blue oceans and inland waterways. 

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