THE BLOG

Ukraine: Avoiding the 'Cold War' Entrapment

Tom Hayden's July 21 article is quick to invoke historic Russo-Western Cold War tensions to explain, and excuse, Moscow's aggression against Ukraine today. Utilizing what amount to "dim and distorted" traces of the past, Mr. Hayden attempts to defend Moscow's continuing intervention in Ukraine by asserting that the expansionism of "Western triumphalists" plunged East and West into a renewed global conflict. However, the transatlantic community neither began this crisis, nor perceives it to be the dawning of a global clash of ideologies or civilizations. Instead, this crisis reflects Vladimir Putin's eleventh-hour endeavor to maintain his regional power by undermining Ukraine's decision to pursue a European future based on democratic governance and the rule of law.

To begin, unfortunately, we cannot all agree that the West instigated a new Cold War by seeking to expand its "sphere of influence" across "the Ukraine." (Nor can we even agree to the term "the Ukraine," a phrase replete with connotations that Ukraine is a wayward region of Russia, not an independent state.) The mere visit of a Russian leader to Latin America during a Russo-Western clash does not indicate a conflict that is either global or ideological in nature. Russian nationalism is not an exportable doctrine to which other states will rally. While certain nations will embrace Moscow's subversion of the inviolability of borders, no Russian-led anti-Western coalition will emerge.

Persistence with this false parallel only obscures the intricacies of the Ukrainian situation. The resulting interpretation is ripe with mischaracterizations, principally the oversimplified division of Ukraine into a "pro-Western west" and "pro-Russian east." Mr. Hayden refers to "millions of people who identified with Russia's language, culture, and political orientation." Yet there exists no evidence of this marginalized and aggrieved group. No credible threat to the Russian language has been demonstrated in Ukraine. In February, acting-President Oleksandr Turchynov blocked the sole "attack" on Russian, vetoing an attempted repeal of the 2012 language law.

Furthermore, it is unclear what identifying with "Russia's political orientation" entails. Are such individuals adherents to Mr. Putin's regime? If so, should that override the wishes expressed democratically in the May 25 election? Perhaps Mr. Hayden meant to suggest that these persons were supporters of former Russian-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych. However, Mr. Yanukovych's implementation of repressive and violent measures against the Maidan found him little shelter in the "pro-Russian" regions when he fled there before continuing on to Russia. Yet, the July 21 piece avoids such details in order to depict a defiant unified pro-Russian people united against an oppressive Kyiv.

The author strives to assign responsibility for the escalating violence to the Poroshenko government and the West, not to Mr. Putin and the separatists. Mr. Hayden chastises the West for not heeding Mr. Putin's "calls for a cease-fire." However, Kyiv's decision to withdraw from the June ceasefire, which President Poroshenko had unilaterally instituted, came only after continued separatist attacks killed twenty-seven additional Ukrainian servicemen during negotiations. As for Mr. Putin, his support for the ceasefire came in the form of the infiltration of additional heavy weapons and foreign fighters across the border, demonstrating that Russia approached the ceasefire without a modicum of sincerity.

Mr. Hayden continues to assert that "if [Poroshenko] had extended the cease-fire instead, [Malaysia Airlines flight 17] would not have been shot down." To blame Kyiv for the destruction of MH17 is as audacious as it is abhorrent. While any final determination will depend upon an international investigation, all current evidence indicates a separatist-launched missile destroyed the plane. Such a statement is flagrant apologetics intended to shift responsibility for the tragedy from a dangerous and illegitimate group.

Mr. Hayden's main "Cold War premise" is the promulgation of a false sense of moral equivalence between Russia and Ukraine in this conflict. Rejecting that "Putin would send Russian troops to war over the eastern Ukraine if peaceful coexistence was achievable," the author dismisses any potential for an internally-reached settlement, thereby justifying Russia's intervention while demonizing Ukraine's efforts to uphold its territorial integrity. Thus, Mr. Hayden strives to provide a pretext for Moscow's barefaced aggression against its neighbor, and obscure Ukraine's right to self-defense.

Recognition of this right could serve as the beginning of the answer to Mr. Hayden's closing question of "how to construct a compelling alternative to the Cold War model?" Rather than search for a "new global paradigm," it is time to stand beside those principles already elucidated in the Paris Charter of 1990: that states cannot alter borders via force, and that every nation has the right to determine its own future. By embracing these principles, the world can avoid a return to the violence of the pre-World War II order or the rigidity of the Cold War system; but such a future demands we act to prevent and condemn aggression, not apologize for or accept it.

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