04/14/2014 12:11 pm ET Updated Jun 14, 2014

A Final Nail in the USSR Coffin? Thank You From NATO, Vladimir Vladimirovich!

Life and a Coffin

Russian president (for life?) Vladimir Putin, perhaps unknowingly, is putting a final nail in the coffin of the performer (artist is too strong a word) formerly known as the Soviet Union.

1. By acquiring an economic basket case, Crimea -- and perhaps planning to annex, in one form or another -- economically depressed/inefficient areas of eastern Ukraine, Vladimir Vladimirovich, child of the Cold War, is putting additional stress on an unproductive Russian economy that has not yet recovered from 70 years of communism. All this after billions of dollars wasted for the Sochi Olympics.

2. Arguably, the Russian president (supposedly in charge of a now regional power), has made the leadership circles of former Soviet republics even more cautious than ever about joining Putin's efforts to "remake" the USSR under a more "CCCP klean" form. Basically, these intolerant, corrupt hacks (in Belarus, Kazhakstan) fear they would lose their power/kickbacks, just as Yanukovych did. So, in trying to go back to the KGB USSR -- when Order (on the surface) reigned -- Putin is unwillingly contributing to its final dissolution.

3. Western investors in Ukraine -- who today, I speculate, have no choice but to consider the country as unitary in order to deal with its government which, no matter how corrupt, they must cooperate with (bribe) to get things done -- would quickly lose interest in Russian-held places like Donetsk and Kharkov, Detroits of the former Soviet Empire.

Savvy profit-oriented Poles and Scandinavians -- who, unlike the EU chinovniki, have real economic/historical interests (rather than bureaucratic ones) -- in an entity so close to their borders, would put more of their money in western Ukraine, which is more adaptable to the 21st-century economy than an eastern economic rust belt under Russian influence. So eastern Ukraine would, economically, lose out, as no way the Russian state has the resources significantly to invest in that part of its "space."


In 2005 I wrote a widely ignored -- doubtless, rightly ignored -- piece suggesting that the redrawing of the map in areas designated as Ukraine should not be considered an abyss (if I can paraphrase Nietzche) into which involved parties dare not gaze, for fear it would (perhaps) gaze back at them (which it is doing right now).

This article was based on my down-to-earth experiences in Ukraine in 93-95 as a U.S. diplomat (granted, in a frivolous State Department "cone," public diplomacy), when I was struck by the political and territorial fragility of the entity, essentially at that time a geographical expression created over a few decades by the Soviets (think of "Ukrainian" Crimea as an extreme example).

Indeed, I thought that, had it not been for the bloodbath in the Balkans in the 90s -- an experience neither the Ukrainian nor Russian governments wanted to follow -- the country could have been torn asunder by regional/intra-regional conflict. I served in Belgrade (95-97) after Kiev. (My favorite graffito from a Belgrade wall: "Separatists of the World, Unite").

In the above-mentioned article I noted the peaceful Czechoslovak divorce sympathetically (I served in Prague 83-85). However, I understand that now, from accounts of Ukraine 20 years after I had the privilege to serve there, younger people in that part of Europe/Eurasia feel "Ukrainian."

Better Future

But is Ukraine as currently configured a way to the population of this geographical space's better future? I still ask the question, because -- I know it sounds corny -- I respect the intelligence, toughness, creativity, and humor in adversity, of the exceptional people in that part of the world. Who has not heard of that great Ukrainian-born writer, Gogol, who belongs in the pantheon of world literature? And where other than Ukraine was the Pennsylvania family of Jack Palance (born Volodymyr Jack Palahniuk; February 18, 1919 - November 10, 2006) from?

I'll never forget the bitter joke I heard in Ukraine by the mid-90s, in reference to Western (U.S.) aid, still applicable today (some 15 billion EU dollars from will not "save" Ukraine.)

In Ukraine, we got shock but not therapy.


Consider this: Even from a strictly "amoral" realpolitik NATO perspective, if "Russian" Ukraine were to be "liberated" by Russia sooner, rather than later, ordinary citizens in these closer-to-Asia areas, like East Germany during the Cold War, would see how much better life has become in western Ukraine (as it is, already, arguably, now).

Such a "the West is best" situation would be caused, in part, by real, no-nonsense business investments from Poland and Scandinavia not hampered by a central Ukrainian "government" (let's not forget that "under Varangian [Viking] rule, the city [Kiev] became a capital of the Kievan Rus', the first East Slavic state," and that parts of western Ukraine -- Galicia -- were under Polish rule for many years starting in the 14th century).

In other words, even from the most cynical Cold-War, money-is-money, dog-eat-dog capitalism-is-capitalism perspective, a redrawn Ukraine would be far more in the West's, rather than strictly "Russian," "ethnic" interest. Franz Joseph would be delighted that his Austro-Hungarian Empire, destroyed by World War I, and of which sections of western Ukraine were a part, had been restored to some extent by the current Russian Tsar.

Funny how a khitri (clever?) ("For me personally, the Russian word I find hardest to translate is хитрый [khitri]") ex-KGB officer, a child of the Cold War who spied in East Germany, can't seem to figure that out.