Act of war
Old cold warriors never die, we just fade away in obscure weblogs. My way of understanding events in and around Ukraine, as elsewhere — my premises in reasoning from them — may be seriously dated. Nevertheless, I think they are correct.
Let me begin with my allergy to fine-tooth political moralizing. I am perfectly aware that no encounter between nations can be simplified to good versus evil. The rhetorical choice between good guys and bad guys is shorthand for bad guys and worse; and where we find good friends we invariably find friends of those friends who are distasteful. When people repeat the Putin propaganda that there are fascists and ultra-nationalists in Ukraine’s pro-western camps, I reply, “So what?” Given the stench of so many of his own supporters, the accusation is rich.
Similarly, the suggestion that the overthrow of Putin’s stooge, Yanukovych, was not done with strict democratic propriety, is moot. Russia is not the judge of Ukrainian constitutional proprieties. The fact that Yanukovych has run to Moscow for protection makes the question of his legitimacy plain. He no longer has any.
I hate nationalism, and for that matter I am not happy with the Treaties of Westphalia (1648), by which the modern nation state was established and legitimized. But through the last four centuries, that is what we have been working with in trying to maintain the peace of the world. The current boundaries of Ukraine were negotiated within the strictures of international law, and their violation by Russian troops is an act of war. The intrusion of Russian thugs in considerable numbers to seize Ukrainian government facilities and abet public demonstrations calling for Russian intervention is an outrage. It is worse than that: it is typical of the old KGB tactics in which Putin was trained.
Eastern Ukraine may be largely Russian-speaking, but it voted by a substantial margin to join Ukraine and not Russia in 1991. There has since been no significant separatist movement. The arrangements to concede naval bases to Russia in Crimea, and turn over all the old Soviet nuclear armoury on Ukrainian soil to Russia, were negotiated in the years following, culminating in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. By this the Russian state gave solemn assurances that it would not in future challenge Ukrainian sovereignty within the recognized frontiers. Putin is in violation of those agreements; again, an unambiguous act of war.
Russian citizens within Ukraine are free to leave. They were not being threatened, and they do not require armed Russian protection. Any Russian evacuation of them would require the permission and cooperation of Ukrainian authorities. If there is an anti-American demonstration in Canada, the United States Army does not reserve the right to invade to protect U.S. citizens. The absurdity of this and similar arguments emanating from Putin and his captive Upper House should be evident to persons of reasonable intelligence.
Ukraine is a mess, but it is a Ukrainian mess. The country has in no way threatened Russia, had no interest in abrogating any treaties with Russia, and gave no other pretext for Russian intervention. The notion that she is within the Russian “sphere of influence,” and therefore Russian “interests” are at stake, is morally and intellectually obtuse. She is a sovereign country, entitled to choose her own allies.
To pose the question as “Putin or Obama?” — to play sophistical games in which the corruption of politicians and society in the West is juxtaposed with a rosy (and very ignorant) account of Putin’s and Russia’s virtues — is an old and silly game. (“Chamberlain or Hitler?” — what kind of question is that?) Another is to draw cheap comparisons to American interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chile or wherever. These are red herrings. We are discussing Ukraine, where the circumstances are abundantly clear; we may discuss other questions on other occasions.
In principle, Putin must be stopped, now and not later when his power is further enhanced. In practice, Ukraine has not the military power to defend herself against Russian aggression, and the western nations with which an obvious majority of her citizens wish to be allied have long since allowed the impregnable position we held in 1991 to bleed away. Our leaders have not the starch for confrontation, let alone the preparation; our peoples are decadent and complacent. And as I was writing even fifteen years ago, as he came to power, we have in Putin exactly the character of a man who exploits such softness — a true enemy of peace and civilization.
My prayers now go especially to Ukraine’s Christians. All six of the country’s major communions stand with the Kiev government against this Russian arrogance; priests from all six stood shoulder to shoulder in blessing the maidan demonstrators in Kiev. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had been the main target of Yanukovych’s persecutions — a testimony to her Christian fidelity — and as a fellow Catholic I am especially proud of the behaviour of her priests and people.
In the end, all upon this earth is transient. Christ is King and will prevail.