This afternoon President Obama issued a statement concerning the political crisis in Ukraine.
Some background for those who may not have been following this situation:
Some months ago, the Ukrainian government announced it wanted to form closer ties to the Russian government, rather than the European Union. This sparked protests in the capitol of Kiev. For the last several weeks there have been violent clashes between government and protesters. Protesters prevailed with the Ukrainian president fleeing to Russia.
Over the past week, a new Ukrainian government of sorts has been formed, with the parliament passing a large number of new laws. Those in the eastern part of the country, the majority of whom are ethnically Russian, have questioned the legality of this new government without elections or a new constitution.
Today there are reports that well-armed soldiers have moved into the Crimean region of Ukraine. These military forces are believed to be Russian. Crimea is a peninsula in southern Ukraine that juts into the Black Sea, a strategic area with the Russian shore not far across the water. Ukraine and Russia have a bilateral agreement allowing the Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet to maintain a base in Crimea.
So President Obama made a short statement, in which he said, “There will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.” Back in the Cold War days, or even through about the year 2000, that might have been enough warning to make Russian leaders hesitate. But the US warned the President of Syria to stop killing his citizens without any real consequences when he did not comply. Our President has danced around Afghanistan’s President Karzai concerning our military presence in his country. Mr. Obama’s election and re-election campaigns had strong components concerning ending/having ended the Iraq war. Clearly the US leader does not want to be involved in international conflicts. I do not think Russian President Vladimir Putin is worried.
Putin is an ex-Soviet KGB agent who has said the break-up of the USSR was the worst occurrence of the 20th century. He has engineered elections in Russia. After his first terms as president were over, his hand-picked successor was elected and Putin moved into another high-level office. When the new president finished his term, Putin was elected again. He has essentially been in power for 15 years.
Ukrainians have one of the lowest annual income rates in Europe. Putin likely wants to keep Ukraine dependent on Russia, and linked politically, to maintain a physical buffer between Europe and Russia. Putin is still thinking in the Soviet style; US diplomats and President Obama need to recognize that.
Even without Russian intervention, Ukraine would remain unsettled. It seems to be going through independence growing pains, just like the southeastern European countries freed from Soviet domination. Ukraine is just 25 years slower in reaching that point. In the former Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Yugoslavia (now Macedonia, Serbia & Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Kosovo), the break-up into smaller political units was driven largely by different ethnic groups all wanting to control the government to control their destiny in the post-Soviet era. It was certainly understandable, although the fighting, lives lost and United Nations intervention in some areas should have/could have been avoided.
Hopefully, Ukraine will not need an outright civil war to solve its conflict. With the western area of the country wanting to align with Europe and the eastern region culturally tied to Russia, it will be a difficult task. In some ways it seems problematic for countries of the world to continue to break up into smaller and smaller nations because of ethnic/cultural differences. But if that can avoid armed conflict, it may be the best solution here. (The difficulty with all these small nations is that many do not have enough landmass to have the natural resources to take care of their people.)
Most conflict in the world comes from ethnic groups fighting over territory and power, or countries trying to annex the land of neighboring nations. It is interesting that the ethnic aspect has not really been an issue in North America (aside from some Latinos saying the southwest area of the US should be given to Mexico). I suppose that’s because all our ancestors, except the Native Americans (“First Nations” in Canada), came here from somewhere else. In the US, ethnic groups do organize politically seeking to gain advantages. (That’s o.k – that’s how our system works.) There are also many other groups organized around industry, causes or lifestyles that do the same. Many of these groups work with others when it is in their interests. Our democratic-republic form of government allows this way of working together without having to draw sharp lines between groups.
But US groups (whatever the basis for association) are becoming more selfish and demanding. If special interest groups become less inclusive, as the European and African ethnic groups are by biology, we may find ourselves with more conflicts in government. So far the US has been able to accommodate the rights of a large number of ethnic and special interest groups. But lawsuits demanding special consideration are tying up the federal courts. And the recent debate over Arizona legislation points out that we have reached a point where the rights of one group conflict with the rights of another. How we solve this dilemma will determine whether the US can continue to be a peaceful country or if we take many steps backwards and end up with periods of violence in various regions whenever some group does not like the actions of another group or the government.