Ukraine Crisis: Some Fundamental Issues

Noel Carl:  “A Sceptical Take on the Ukraine Crisis,” 2 Mactrh 2022

n a recent post for the Daily Sceptic, Toby claims the received wisdom on the Ukraine crisis is basically right, noting that he’s “experienced the unusual sensation of feeling more in step with the mainstream media than I have with my sceptical friends”. While he makes some good points, I don’t think he really steelmans the sceptical position.

Toby concludes by saying that “when a strongman leader uses his country’s superior military force to subjugate an independent sovereign state to his will my natural inclination is to side with the underdog”. But this isn’t the right way to frame the issue. I’m certainly not on Putin’s “side”.

Incidentally, Toby says he supported the war in Iraq, even though that involved a leader (whom some people consider a kind of strongman) using “his country’s superior military force” to invade and occupy “an independent sovereign state”.

The fundamental issue is how to resolve this crisis. The mainstream position – so far as I can tell – is that the West should pour arms into Ukraine while simultaneously crushing the Russian economy with sanctions (or that it should even go to war by declaring a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine).

The hope is that, by adopting this confrontational strategy, either one of three things will happen: the Russians will be defeated or forced to withdraw; Putin will be overthrown in a palace coup or popular uprising; or he’ll be brought to the negotiating table and made to accept terms highly unfavourable to Russia.

While this strategy may work, it seems to me highly risky and potentially counter-productive.

Rather than being forced to withdraw, the Russians may simply fight more aggressively, taking even less care to avoid civilian casualties. This could result in a prolonged insurgency where large numbers of Ukrainians die. And if Putin is overthrown, there could be chaos in Russia – something we don’t want in a state armed with thousands of nukes.

A better strategy, arguably, would be something along these lines: agree to recognise Crimea and the two breakaway regions in the East; and rule out NATO membership for Ukraine. In exchange, Russia must immediately withdraw its forces, and help pay to rebuild the country.

But why shouldn’t Ukraine get to join NATO, if that’s what it wants? The reason is that Russia is a major power, and major powers get to make demands of their neighbours when it comes to matters of national security.

Can Cuba host Russian missile sites if it wants? After all, Cuba is an independent sovereign state. Basically everyone recognises that, no, Cuba cannot do this. In fact, the US would probably threaten nuclear war before the first brick had been laid. (This is more or less what it did during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.)

Can Venezuela host Chinese air bases, within striking distance of the US? Again, the US would simply not allow this to happen. It has long followed the Monroe Doctrine, which holds that foreign powers must not intervene in the political affairs of countries in the Western hemisphere.

Ukraine is a core strategic interest for Russia, as that country’s leaders have explained repeatedly over the last three decades. There are already US missile sites and air bases throughout Europe. But for Russia, Ukraine is an absolute red line. Attempting to bring it into the Western sphere of influence was always likely to have disastrous consequences.

This point has been made by numerous well-informed commentators on both the left and the right, including: Robert McNamara, Bill Bradley, Gary Hart, George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, John Mearsheimer, Jack Matlock, William Perry, Noam Chomsky, Stephen Cohen, Vladimir Pozner, Jeffrey Sachs, and many others.

But wasn’t Ukrainian membership of NATO “purely theoretical”, in the words of Francis Fukuyama? Not at all. Its intention to join NATO was enshrined in the constitution in 2019. And NATO members consistently refused to rule it out, having agreed in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO”.

What’s more, Ukraine’s government is considered illegitimate by Russia. In 2014, the country had a democratically elected pro-Russian president, but he was toppled in a Western-backed coup. Since then, the country has taken a distinctly anti-Russian course, banning pro-Russian media and abolishing minority language rights.

Again, none of this is to say I support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s about acknowledging geopolitical realities, and minimising the risk of catastrophic outcomes like nuclear war.

NOTE = This item was sent to me by a Sri Lankan pal in London with this comment

“This is an interesting sceptical view of the current crisis in Ukraine. While many are ‘hostages to fortune’ by the mainstream media fanning the flames of war devoid of rational thought and analytical rigour and the demonisation of Vladimir Putin as the apotheosis of tyranny, this is a welcome point of view.

War is brutal and the detritus of war is brutal still and all efforts to terminate this war by dialogue (currently ongoing) is the only option available to prevent a cataclysmic devastation of the European continent and probably the world. “


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4 responses to “Ukraine Crisis: Some Fundamental Issues

  1. A COMMENT from a former Sri Lankan ambassador, 4 February 2022: …. “Whatever the contributory factors, historical or otherwise, Ruling out NATO membership has been recommended by many as being fundamental to peace negotiations……Ukraine cannot continue to be at loggerheads with its immediate giant neighbour !
    It’s like us being in military conflict with India. Makes no sense !”

  2. chandre+DW

    Ethnic diversity in Ukraine is an Irrelevant red-herring in the context of Geopolitics.
    The map itself is quite ambiguously drawn. What is the difference between “mostly Russian speaking” and “Predominantly Russian speaking”? I think the information has no genuine demographic basis. Divisions along ethnic lines has never worked anywhere in the world, and establishing such divisions merely creates never-ending border conflicts and spawns local ethnicity-based terrorist groups.

    If Zelinsky had firmly stated even a few weeks ago that Ukraine would NOT join NATO, none of this would have happened – at least, not so quickly. But he chose to be a “hero” of the moment and sacrificed his country.

    Both Putin and the West are playing a game of domination and Ukraine is a mere pawn in the battle.

    The Arms merchants have wanted for sometime (in fact, since the fall of the Soviet union in 1989-1991) to re-start the cold-war situation where both sides carry on an arms race, benefiting the arms vendors be they in the USA, Russia, China, Canada, France, Israel or Australia. The West provoked Putin into this action, and Putin was fool enough to walk into it. Now, even if Putin captures Ukraine and subjugates it, the world will continue to be divided into two economic blocks with a cold war (both economic and arms manufacturing now designed for the cold war) raging. Many governments (e.g., Germany) that had cut down defense spending to a minimum have now increased their defense spending sharply.

    Perhaps, besides the arms merchants, the other specific party that will benefit from all this is China; but China is also an autocracy although with a somewhat more sober face than Russia which is run by an ex-KGB man and his team of corrupt officers. While China is equally harsh and inhumane in its crackdowns, it has shown that it can wait, e.g., in Taiwan, where China knows that the waiting game is in its favour. In contrast Putin is in a hurry.

    The humans are like a bunch of crabs in a pot and fighting with each other while the pot is warming. The leaders give scant regard to global warming and climate change. This environmental threat is enormous, and requires international cooperation and yet Putin has chosen this moment to get into the fight against the creeping intrusions of NATO, perhaps thinking of his own grandiose Russian empire dreams.

  3. Michael Patrick O'Leary

    My own inclination would be to allow Russia the seized provinces but I doubt that would appease Putrid Putain. Before the invasion I would have been prepared to suggest a promise not to let Ukraine into NATO. Putain has strengthened their case for membership. Now keeping them out of NATO and the EU will not satisfy Putain. He will settle for nothing less than removal of a properly elected and popular government which ordinary Ukrainians seem to be prepared to die for. It seems like a hopeless situation.

  4. Sarri M Junaid

    This is a clash without a real purpose except for a preconceived fear of the unknown future of Russia and of Ukraine. Climate change is the biggest problem affecting us all in the globe in a very serious way and very little attention is paid to it in a significant way. The per capita income of an Indian is more than that of a Russian; the total “revenue” in all of Russia is less than that of California; the wealth in Russia is derived mostly from the export of oil and gas .This “wealth” is owned by less than 500 oligarchs .Putin has been in power for over 20 yrs and the future looks very bleak for Russia and annexing Ukraine;the breadbasket of Europe and the “World” is a partial solution.

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