Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

Developments in Ukraine

At last week’s meeting, there seemed to be general agreement that the U.S. shouldn’t get actively involved…almost no matter what happened. The thought, I think, was that we should voice our support for democracy and democratic institutions and for the right of the people to select their government. But talk…and support in the UN, etc….was all that was on offer.

Now the situation appears to be getting more complicated (as it often does):

  1. Armed forces (some say Russian troops, but this isn’t confirmed) have stationed themselves at two Crimean airports and are, according to news reports, turning people away from the airport premises.
  2. At least one Crimean mayor has been “forced to resign” and replaced with a pro-Russian businessman.
  3. Most importantly (I think) from a US perspective, we apparently were party to a 1994 pact in which Russia made “guarantees to acknowledge” Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

This also harkens back to another issue we discussed a few weeks ago…people’s right to self-determination. Does it apply to the people of Ukraine? What about the Russian speakers in Ukraine? Crimea? Where should the line be drawn defining which groups get to “self-determine” and which do not?

Will these developments (and new information for those of us who don’t track Ukraine carefully) change the group’s views on more aggressive intervention?


  • I regret missing out on all of your interesting winter sessions.

    With regard to Ukraine, everyone knew that after Sochi, Putin would hop, shirtless, on his tank. What appears to be about democracy is really about geography – and always has been. A recommended reference the group might find enlightening on the historical geographic determinants is:

    The Revenge of Geography – What The Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. by Robert Kaplan (Defense Policy Board and visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy). 2012, Random House.

    Kaplan traces geopolitics from Sir Halford Mackinder, the father of modern day geopolitics, who in 1904 published an article “The Geographic Pivot of History” in which he defined the determinant geopolitical significance of the “Eurasian Heartland” and predicted the great struggles of the 20th century. A geographical imperative of Russia has always been Keivan Rus, the primordial Russian settlement on the Dnieper River connecting land locked Muscovy to the Black Sea and Byzantium in the south and Europe in the west. It is difficult to imagine Putin’s Russia retreating from control over the Ukraine and Crimea. With a justifiably pacifist Germany and an increasingly contracted U.S foreign policy (which has even “reset” George Kennan’s containment) and the absolute constraints of geography, there is of course no rational military response. So, why is anyone “drawing lines” yet again. It is too late even to boycott the Olympics. The question is whether an economically fractured EU has enough influence to restrain the perennially insecure Muscovy Russia which controls the fossil energy supplies to Europe and Ukraine, even while Germany has rejected nuclear energy alternatives. The diminished U.S. presence with the rising Russian aggressiveness in the Middle East, destabilizing areas providing energy pipelines bypassing Ukraine, strengthens Russia’s fossil energy monopoly. Geography will reign.

  • There was an interesting exchange of E-mails between Scott, Tom Bjorkman David Porter and myself earlier in the week. I’ll bring copies of that to tomorrow’s session. The exchange was primarily about the U.S. response to the situation in Crimea and the Ukraine.

  • I struggled to find an article about the varying positions of the US government on questions of self-determination vs. “territorial integrity” during today’s meeting. Here’s a link to the article I was looking for:

    I thought it was good reading as we consider/evaluate the US vs. Russian positions.

  • Scott –thanks. Be sure to click on the “Ukraine crisis in maps” in the above reference.
    • the number of military air and naval bases in Crimea, Russia’s only warm water port.
    • The “political and cultural divide” map.
    • “gas pipelines” map.
    Geography is important to understand and shows the difference from other analogies discussed in the article.

  • Thanks, Richard. Art Newkirk also focused on the same “maps” resource, and they’ve been quite helpful in our discussions.

Leave a Reply

  • Subscribe via Email

    Receive email notification of new posts/announcements about our weekly meeting.

    Join 238 other subscribers
  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments