Ukraine Isn’t News, But It’s Still There … And So Is Russia

UkraineRussians think of Ukraine as theirs by right; Ukrainians see Russians as conquering thugs. When the Nazis first invaded Ukraine in WWII, the soldiers were greeted as deliverers. Hitler made a mistake in treating them as conquered subjects of the master race.

Ukraine grabbed its freedom when the Soviets collapsed; President Putin’s truncated and economically constricted Russia is reconstructing the old Russian Empire as a means for distracting the Russians from their economic decay. Russia has already swallowed the Crimea and now pursues Donbas, eastern Ukraine via unadmitted invasion. Another unadmitted feature was the shooting down of an Malaysian Airlines civilian flight over Ukraine by means of a Russian missile. That semi-clandestine war is re-heating at the moment, though it is somehow not newsworthy. (Funny these days, what is and isn’t, news … )

Ukrainians speak Ukrainian, not Russian. Both are Slavic languages but not interchangeable. Ukraine was long the a major wheat source; it industrialized under the Russian Communists, particularly in the area now sought by Russia. Situated on the border between Russian and European civilizations, it has long had aspirations toward closer linkage with Europe, historically denied it by Russia. Further difficulty lies in Western European interest in keeping it as a buffer against Russia.

Just now, Ukraine tries to cozy up to NATO as a counterbalance for Russia but NATO is not reciprocating. European military is not up to backing such a move if the Europeans wanted it. Economic sanctions are used against Russia instead, but as heating gas in Europe is largely bought from Russia these days, the sanctions do not go too far. The U.S. portion of sanctions does more damage felt in Moscow. Again, not too much.

Like Russia, Ukraine is weakened by its chronic corruption and infighting encouraged from both East and West. Some two fifths of the population in Eastern Ukraine is Russian speakers moved in by the Soviets. Significant numbers of these might be happy returning to Russian government but the majority are Ukrainian speakers who may not really care who runs things so long as they are left alone. A significant minority does care and wants no Russian overlord.

Russia seems determined to reconstitute its old Empire; neighbors such as Finland, the Baltics, Sweden and Poland are in various stages of beefing up their military in response. Russia and much of Europe is rearming in the face of economic decline, not a historically optimistic pattern.

While this proceeds, Russia rattles its nukes to discourage opposition to its re-expansion and Europe tries to reduce U.S. dudgeon over Russian expansionism. A lot of bluff is involved, leaving the parties to guess what is real and what is only a feint. A dangerous game!

Ukraine is a predictive symbol of what shape European reality may follow as economies continue to decline. But Ukraine is now no longer news for us to hear. It may be the part of wisdom to pay attention on our own; most everything hits the internet sooner or later, even when the media ignore it. It can be handy to see things coming …

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About Jack Curtis

Suspicious of government, doubtful of economics, fond of figure skating (but the off-ice part, not so much)
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