Let’s avoid new Cold War over Ukraine

Let’s avoid new Cold War over Ukraine

Albeit taken illegally and provocatively, I think it’s legitimate for Crimea to return to Russia.  Crimea’s majority is Russian and it was part of Russia until whimsically gifted to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.  Still, I hope that Putin does nothing further to dismember or threaten Ukraine, or its other neighbors.  (Because of their membership in NATO, Poland and the three Baltic states are probably safe.)

Although it’s a tall order, I would also hope that Ukraine fixes its damaged economic and political relations with Russia, while also striving for good relations with the West. Clearly, an authoritarian ruler is manipulating popular passions, but Russia’s resurgence today as an aggressive power under Putin is also a reaction to its real sense of humiliation in the wake of the sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire from 1989 through 1991.

Even if Russia moves soon to annex the tiny Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria, Putin needs to be dealt with respectfully and diplomatically, even to the point of appeasement, so that the crisis is defused.  Putin is not Hitler, and it’s unwise to make a facile analogy to the 1938 betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich (although it may come to mind).  Prof. Stephen F. Cohen’s view (recently published in The Nation) may be overstated somewhat, but he is correct that Ukraine is a natural sphere of influence for Russia.

Besides, the world needs Russia’s cooperation in dealing with Syria and Iran.  It is especially in connection with defanging Iran’s nuclear program, that a restored Western working relationship with Russia is also important for Israel.  Otherwise, Putin may act out of pique to be a spoiler in peacemaking efforts generally in the Middle East.

As I’ve indicated in a comment at Peter Eisenstadt’s recent post, my feelings about Ukraine are profoundly mixed and personal:

. .  Although I . . . don’t wish [Ukrainians] ill, I can’t shake the fact . . . that my maternal grandparents were murdered by Ukrainians during World War II.  Before I knew what exactly had happened to my grandparents, I had an unpleasant exchange with a Ukrainian university student . . .  who denied that Jews suffered any more than Ukrainians during WW 2. I was too reserved and polite to mention Ukrainian antisemitism and their collaboration with the Nazis.

What follows is the conclusion of a nuanced and illuminating Tablet article by three historians, “Supporting Ukraine Means Opposing Anti-Semitic Nationalism Now, Not Later.”  Tarik Cyril Amar, Omer Bartov, and Per Anders Rudling write on the legacy of the Ukrainian fascist movement of the 1930s and ’40s, which eagerly assisted the Nazi genocide against the Jews, and still feeds extreme Ukrainian nationalism:

We have no sympathies whatsoever for the former Yanukovych regime or Putin’s attack on Ukraine. We support the democratic aims of the Ukrainian revolution, though not the nationalist tenets of its far-right fellow travelers. We believe that the majority of Ukrainians who opposed Yanukovych’s criminal kleptocracy want to establish a liberal democracy in their country, so we see no reason to be less precise and critical about the very real legacies of Ukrainian ethnic nationalism.
For the moment, the far right represents a minority, albeit one with real influence; its presence is being exploited by Putin to misrepresent events in Ukraine as a fascist takeover, which is propagandistic nonsense. At the same time, Ukraine’s democratic political future also requires an honest and open account of the legacy of Ukrainian ethnic nationalism and resistance to any attempts to glorify ethnic nationalism or obfuscate its very real legacy of authoritarianism and ethnic violence.

By | 2014-03-24T17:41:00-04:00 March 24th, 2014|Blog|3 Comments


  1. Judith T Hollander March 25, 2014 at 1:56 am - Reply

    I appreciate that you commented on both the comparison between the current situation and 1939 and the conflict’s impact on Middle East issues.

  2. Eric Lee March 25, 2014 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Ralph, I disagree with you completely on this. The comparison between Putin and Hitler is of course not helpful. But that doesn’t mean one needs to be completely ahistoric. Putin is acting in the longstanding Russian expansionist tradition — one that survived the fall of the Romanovs, continued through the entire Soviet era, and following a brief period during the Yeltsin era when it seemed dormant, has revived now. Crimea was not the first example of a Russian land grab in recent years; there’s the infamous case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, taken from Georgia following a brutal invasion. Next will be Trans-Dniestria, almost certainly. And Russia has clear designs on eastern Ukraine and the Baltics with their large Russian speaking populations. Putin’s aggression must be opposed by all democrats, by all leftists, and of course by Jews who have nothing to gain from the rise of international gangsterism.

  3. Ralph Seliger March 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    I don’t disagree with Eric Lee about Russia’s aggressive designs, but I see hard red lines in the three Baltic republics and Poland, which are members of NATO. Transnistria is tiny and marginal, and need not trigger more trouble.

    Russia’s invasion of the east of Ukraine is a different story. We won’t fight a hot war over Ukraine, but this would mean a new cold war. I’m positing that it’s better for Western interests to attempt to appease Putin with Crimea and Transnistria than fighting a new cold war; but appeasement would only work if Putin’s expansionism is limited to those two places.

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