The civil war in Ukraine has been largely presented as Russian “aggression” against a democratic regime. In consequence there are suggestions that the United States should intervene, both through economic sanctions (already in place), and, as necessary, through the supply of armaments and direct military support of the Kiev regime.
Which raises the question: Do we need another foreign war?
The question is worth asking, because our involvement in Ukraine is likely to lead there, and the war will be fierce. To verify, we need only look at our own history and the episode known as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
In that year the communist regime of Fidel Castro allowed the Soviet Union to locate on Cuban soil missiles aimed at the U.S. Judging this situation to be intolerable, President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba. After tense confrontations and negotiations the Soviets, unwilling to risk potential nuclear war, withdrew the missiles.
The Cuban crisis example is appropriate because our presence in the Ukraine will lead to a situation which Russia would find equally unacceptable: Ukraine becoming a member of NATO. Russia would then be in the same situation as the U.S. in 1962, facing hostile forces on its own border. As a charter member of NATO the U.S. would be obliged to participate, taking upon itself most of the risk and expense.
Is it worth it, and what vital American interests would be involved? The answer requires a look at the facts, both historical and current.
The Ukraine has been, since the “Middle Ages,” a province of the Russian Empire. After the 1917 revolution it became a Soviet Republic, still under the direct control of Moscow. Only in 1991, when the USSR collapsed, did it become independent, even though its economy was still directly tied to Russia’s. Another legacy of Soviet times was the presence inside “Ukraine” of three distinct populations: those of the Crimea, long a Tatar and Ottoman possession; the Russian speakers of the East, who immigrated to support the new Soviet industries built in the 1930’s; and finally the “Ukrainian” population in the western part.
None of these populations had any tradition of democratic governance; with the result that Ukraine has been ruled primarily by groups of wealthy oligarchs who (as happened in Russia proper) managed to lay hand on the most valuable resources left for grabs after the Soviet collapse. The rise of a democratic government and a functioning economy would be the result of a long and costly evolution, commonly known as “nation-building”. Should American taxpayers be the ones who fund it, or should this be left to those most involved, the Ukrainians and Russians?
Russia and America have, in fact, been friends throughout most of their history. Russians once owned Alaska, and sold it to us at a very affordable price. Teddy Roosevelt mediated the treaty ending the 1905 Russo-Japanese war. Even after the 1917 Revolution the U.S. and the USSR did a large amount of business. We were allies in WW II, with Russia paying the highest price for the common victory in Europe.
Only after 1947 did the U.S. and the USSR/Russia become rivals, and this was for ideological rather than national reasons. When the Russians peacefully threw out communism in 1991 the chief basis for enmity disappeared. We now have few conflicting interests and major areas where cooperation is needed. Among those are:
- An American-Russian understanding would be the cheapest and most effective check on aggressive Chinese expansion.
- Technological and commercial cooperation offer many areas of common interest.
- Peace and order in the Middle East (starting with Iran) will never be achieved without Russian influence and cooperation,
- Until the U.S. is self-sufficient in energy sources – and as long as the Middle-East is in turmoil – Russia remains the most stable source for our oil imports.
This last point has been well understood by Exxon Mobil, which is currently buying every oil lease in Russia it can lay its hands on.
Oil men are realists who think strategically. We should do likewise.
The U.S. has everything to gain from a Russia-friendly strategy, and everything to lose from intervening in a murky civil war on Russia’s borders.
Born in Poland, Jacek Popiel was educated in Africa, Canada, and the United States. He speaks five languages. His career spans military and international business development in the Soviet Union, Eastern and Western Europe, North America, and Japan. He is currently a freelance writer and political consultant. His book “Viable Energy Now,” grew out of his military and international business experience and his professional involvement with energy issues.