By Cecil Hoge
I would have thought we have enough to trouble us with the recent Pandemic, the coming and going of Beta, Delta and Omicron, the acrimony between the left and right in this country, the disputes over basic facts and realities, the dramatic rise of inflation, the sad history of gun violence in this country, the altercations between peoples, races and countries and many other persistent and present problems afflicting our society, but it seems fate is not satisfied with these simple and recurrent problems. To all of those, we must now add the new War in the Ukraine.
And yes, in the words of Laurel and Hardy, we have gotten into another fine mess. Unfortunately, this situation is not like a Laurel and Hardy movie which you can watch as those two clowns find themselves in greater and greater trouble and laugh until tears come into our eyes and all the sadness and absurdity is replaced by uncontrolled mirth. No, this is not one of those situations. This problem is a really big mess and a truly serious situation and it is not certain how it will turn out.
So Mr. Putin began his invasion a little over four weeks ago and the progress of that invasion does not tell us where this fine mess may go. Mr. Putin chose to invade Ukraine from 4 separate directions. Presumably, he did that in order to take over the whole country. Strangely and maybe hopefully, he has not been successful so far. Before this invasion began many predicted that the Russian army would roll over Ukraine forces in a few days and that, so far, has not happened. In the north of Ukraine, around the principal city of the Ukraine, Kyiv, the Russians have so far been thwarted from entering that city. In the South of the country, Mr. Putin’s forces appear more successful, but appear stalled.
Now there are many opinions about Mr. Putin’s invasion. Some have suggested it was an act of genius, that the invasion showed great ”savvy”, some have said Mr. Putin is great statesman, a person who should be respected. Most people in this country have said that this invasion was an act of dictator who had no right to invade a nearby peaceful country. That is the view of the present U.S. administration.
Even before this invasion began, the present administration predicted it would occur and made great efforts to get the UK and the 27 countries of EU to agree to their point of view and to forge a united and concerted approach to this problem.
And it must said, whatever your earlier opinions about Russia and its relationship with the Ukraine, the Biden Administration has been successful in getting both the agreement and support of the UK and EU. That said, trying to co-ordinate 27 countries that make up the EU and other allies around the world has not been easy. And it has been even harder to get all those countries to decide what harsh steps should be taken. But harsh steps have been decided on and if they were not as strong as some wished, they were far stronger than Russia thought.
Some have said we have not acted harshly enough. Some have suggested we should have armed the Ukrainians well before the invasion. Some have said we should establish a ”No Fly Zone” in the skies over Ukraine. Some have said we should give the Ukrainians jet planes, tanks and other offensive weapons. So far, the United Stated and its allies have only provided the Ukraine with humanitarian aid and tactical weapons of defense. And so far, these weapons have helped slow the advances of the Russian army.
It is said by some that Russia has legitimate argument to invade the Ukraine and that it was the enlargement and encroachment of Nato that actually caused this situation. And certainly, if you listen to the words of Vladimir Putin, he has long said that Russia has been wronged and the West has stolen away a border country that always was under the control of Russia. And while that is historically incorrect, it is true as recently as the demise of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine was a satellite country of Russia.
It should be admitted that some leading minds have predicted this was a coming problem. George Kennan, the American diplomat who first formulated the ”containment theory” to handle the Soviet Union predicted as much. He said that Russia would always require its ”satellite countries” and certainly the Ukraine had been a key satellite country of the former Soviet Union. George Kennan went on to say, late in his life, after the U.S. and the EU had decided to enlarge NATO, that Russia would never accept that enlargement. And certainly it is true that Russia is in the process of trying to correct what they think is a wrong.
So there are valid arguments that suggest if we had not expanded the EU and NATO, the invasion of Ukraine would never have taken place. And that might be true.
There is only one problem with that argument. The EU and NATO did expand starting 1993 and countries did join the both EU and NATO and those countries seem to like the fact that they did join. In addition, it must be noted that Berlin Wall did fall in November of 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed December of 1991. Finally, it should be noted the present country of Russia is different in size and population from the former Soviet Union. It also should be noted in August of 1991 the Ukraine became an independent democratic country.
In short, that was then, this is now.
This brings up the conundrum of the Ukraine. Yes, it had been a part of the Soviet Union. Yes, it is not a member of NATO. Yes, it is not a member of the EU. And yes, the Ukraine does not want too be a part of Russia.
Enter Czar Putin – Vlad the Bad has decided this is a great wrong, a terrible sin against Mother Russia. It now seems Mother Russia wants to reclaim one of its lost children. In Czar Putin’s effort to reclaim the Ukraine, he has now invaded that country. The invasion has not gone according plan. It is taking longer than expected and the Ukrainians have chosen to fight instead of welcome the Russian Army. This has apparently angered Czar Putin and in an effort to secure the Ukraine for Russia, the Russian Army has chosen to destroy the Ukraine. At least, that appears to be the strategy of Czar Putin.
There is the Conundrum in all this. Yes, maybe this war would never have occurred if the EU and NATO had not expanded, but the EU and NATO did expand. And yes, Russia has now invaded a nearby country that is not in the EU or NATO, but it happens to border on a number countries who are in either the EU or NATO or both. And yes, it seems clear that the Ukraine does not want to be part of Russia.
In the meantime, bombing and shelling and hypersonic missiles are raining down on the Ukraine. Ukrainian men, women and children are being killed. Russian and Ukrainian soldiers are dying daily in various parts of Ukraine. The U.S., the UK, the EU have slapped layer after layer of sanctions on Russia. And the fighting and the invasion still goes on. The Russian people and Russian oligarchs are finding their economy being affected and their access to banks, yachts and houses being denied. And many in Russia are not happy about this.
So what is the right thing to do? Let the Ukraine be conquered and destroyed by the Russian Army? Help a country in trouble and provide arms and aid? Establish a ”No Fly Zone” and confront Russia directly in the skies over the Ukraine? Send in troops and expand the war throughout Europe? Start a set of actions that could lead directly to World War III and the use of nuclear weapons?
Further complicating this situation are feelings and wishes of the Ukrainian people. They did not get the memo that they are now part of Russia. They were living a perfectly peaceful and relatively war-free existence up until 4 weeks ago. Yes, there was a simmering war in the Donbas region of their country, but that has been contained and limited over the last 10 years. Then there is the fact that Ukrainians do not want to be a part of Russia. They, in fact, have pledged to fight Russia to the last man, woman and child.
If you think the complications stop there you would be wrong. There are other worries. The 27 countries that compose the EU have some memories of World War II. Other border countries, such as Finland and Sweden, also have similar memories. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania also have long memories and all of these countries are afraid that Russia, if successful in the Ukraine, will keep going.
So the stakes are high and there is plenty of room for things to get worse. And yes, it is another fine mess.