Aggression must also have a price.
The Ukraine is one of those places that conventional education encourages the West to ignore. As taught, history and politics can write off a region because it is tagged as “confusing”. All nations are complicated; therefore, that adjective reflects ignorance fed by an educational gap. The dim light cast by the press into the shadows we create confirms the tag of marginality. That explains why the coverage of a plane crash outweighs the end of an era that ushers in a globally perilous epoch.
The recent, the current, and probable future of the evolving story of the Ukraine makes the point. Actually, in taking up the issue, the writer feels relief because his background frees him from the suspicion of prejudice fed by knowing too much. Implied is the habit to dismiss voices that reflect detailed knowledge connected to ethnic roots. Most often, timely warnings come from those who have a “membership” in what is kept exotic and ignored. Remember the pasts, alas so numerous, “mourir pour Danzig?” (To Die for Danzig?) Appropriate action in time would have saved millions. We like to repeat the history that we forget before we have noticed it, so that we can ignore unlearned lessons. One of these is that the solution prompted by cowardice or ignorance is the most dangerous alternative available to us.
Hopefully, the apologies will have prepared the ground for a thesis; even if overlooked, the events in the Crimea and their threatening follow-up indicate a change in the climate of global politics. The worse is, however, not the Kremlin’s new-old policy. This destructive course is facilitated by the stealth-through-inattention provided for its implementation. Related is that, the core of the threat to stability lies not in Moscow’s deeds. The peril is created by the reaction of the major advanced countries to adventurism. China, being “major”, but not yet “advanced”, is for this purpose in a special category. Her response, for reasons that differ from the “West’s”, is also out of tune with Beijing’s long-term interests.
If opened, a global Pandora’s Box reveals the cases of territories whose ethnic population does not correspond to the fiction of the national state that claims sovereignty. Taiwan, Shinkiang, in the Far East, much of Transylvania, southern Slovakia, the Südtirol, Catalonia, Flanders, Kosovo, the Baltics, and the Saharouis come to mind. Outstanding is “Palestine” that is so involved that even defining a fitting category stresses the imagination. In such cases, the traditional solution used to be conquest or secession. These processes demand a high local price – genocide being a “preventive” response. Serbian claims to Bosnia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, even led to a world war in 1914.
Clearly, less bloody approaches that do not upset the world’s order of procedural rules are wanted.
Approaches that do not endanger the general peace are available to alleviate the problem of boundaries that separate what could belong together. Regarding territorial disputes, the answer is local autonomy and federalization. Putin’s Russia, does not favor these solutions. The imperial urge to resurrect the Soviet Empire sets the goals and chooses the means that nurture conflicts. The objective is not the ethnic rights of Russian-speakers by securing them groups-rights and self-determination, but the extension of Russia’s state borders. That exploits Russian communities by making them serve as the markers of a new political geography.
All principles that are constructed with only their momentary local utility in mind are apt to become general rules. In this case, Europe’s existing borders will become subject not only of litigation but will also be used to justify extra-legal power-pushes. The result will not only be more conflict, but that Russian residents will be seen as a liability and as such become suspected to be instruments that justify aggression. Such suspicions will be followed by discrimination, and that will be construed to justify intervention. Thereby the original, real or alleged, “discrimination” will receive its retroactive justification.
Russia’s leader finds popularity by fitting what an old term expressed as “the gatherer of Russian soil”. The thinly veiled use of might in the Crimea, and the current transparent threat of war in the east of the Ukraine, makes the ruler’s triumphs three- dimensional. Shared collective glory produces tokens that convert into political capital. While the cheers of political illiterates echo, the risks mount by making the land into a public enemy of the global order. On the other hand, the development of the country, except for the military realm, will, following a historical pattern, ebb as it is being surrendered to pursue “imperial spread”.
Let us conclude by underlaying a law. Ignorance does not protect its fans from its own consequences. Does the West believe its slogans? If effective phrases used for vote gathering are true principles, then Putin’s challenge to regional stability and security must be countered as it challenges the global order.
These responses are only partially military. That is so even if the defensibility of the successor states of the USSR needs to be bolstered. (Here “Europe”, especially Germany proves to be a hindrance.) Meanwhile, timidity and the concern not to “radicalize Russia” by reacting to her radicalism, might prevent the truncated Ukraine’s NATO membership. Avoiding that self-imposed restraint, that country should be given enhanced security through bilateral treaties with credible partners.
At this time, due to earlier failings, the military means to respond to Russian expansion is lacking. This might sound like the obituary of the doctrine that being “nice” prevents problems. The signal to be sent to indicate a determination not to accept the restoration of the old USSR under another name and a new justification is limited to the economic realm.
For a small decline of their own business, the Atlantic world is able to impose laming limits on Russia’s economy. Steps to reduce the consumption of energy stand out. Energy is worthless unless it can be sold. Shifting away from Russia to new sources of supply, will reduce revenues and cut the volume sold. Moscow will notice the trend. Naturally, this demands sacrifice that confirms the principle that freedom and security are not for free. The trick is to convince those that need a reminder that expansionism is also not free, that is, a game in which “we win, you lose”.