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I’ve been holding out on you since September when this issue of Hillsdale’s Imprimis came out: Complications of the Ukraine War, by Christopher Caldwell, senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. Now that I have time to clear out my tabs, you get to learn what I did back then.
If you had to give a one-word answer to what this Ukraine War is about, you would probably say Crimea. Crimea is a peninsula jutting out into the middle of the Black Sea. It’s where the great powers of Europe fought the bloodiest war of the century between Napoleon and World War I. It is a defensive superweapon. The country that controls it dominates the Black Sea and can project its military force into Europe, the Middle East, and even the steppes of Eurasia. And since the 1700s, that country has been Russia. Crimea has been the home of Russia’s warm water fleet for 250 years. It is the key to Russia’s southern defenses.
I admit, I’m not following events in Ukraine as closely as many here on Ricochet. But, as I understand it, Ukraine is committed to fighting not just to repel the Russian invasion, but to recover Crimea. This is a solid guarantee for the prolongation of the war indefinitely. Russia simply cannot — will not — let go of the all-important strategic peninsula of Crimea.
Much of the turmoil began under the Bush 43 administration — surprise! — with US election interference, and exacerbated by the Obama administration — surprise, surprise!! — by meddling in the trade deal negotiated between Ukraine and the EU, and vehemently opposed by Russia.
The previous year (2013), Ukrainian diplomats had negotiated a free trade deal with the European Union that would have cut out Russia. Russia then outbid the EU with its own deal—which included $15 billion in incentives for Ukraine and continued naval basing rights for Russia—and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich signed it. U.S.-backed protests broke out in Kiev’s main square, the Maidan, and in cities across the country. According to a speech made at the time by a State Department official, the U.S. had by that time spent $5 billion to influence Ukraine’s politics. And, considering that Ukraine then had a lower per capita income than Cuba, Jamaica, or Namibia, $5 billion could buy a lot of influence. An armory was raided, shootings near the Maidan left dozens of protesters dead, Yanukovich fled the country, and the U.S. played the central role in setting up a successor government.
The other tidbit that stands out in this piece is this:
In a referendum in January 1991, 93 percent of the citizens of Crimea voted for autonomy from Ukraine. In 1994, 83 percent voted for the establishment of a dual Crimean/Russian citizenship. We’ll leave aside the referendum held after the Russians arrived in 2014, which resulted in a similar percentage but remains controversial.
As long as Ukraine insists on controlling Crimea and even the Russophilic eastern Ukraine, I don’t see a possible resolution to the conflict. I oppose another (Bush) forever war and believe if the US meddles further, it should be to force Ukraine to the negotiating table. For its own sake, as well as ours.