A Primer on Ukraine

I'm not an expert on Ukraine, but neither is Barack Obama. Unfortunately, he's the president, and he doesn't like to learn new things.

Let's flash back to see His Smugness dismiss Mitt Romney's concerns about Ukraine during the 2012 presidential debate. Obama mocked Romney, playing the part of the schoolyard bully who knows far less about the world than he will ever admit.

Obama declares in the clip that "the Cold War has been over for 20 years." That's true, but Romney wasn't talking about the Cold War. Romney was talking about what Russia is up to now and where it intends to be in a few years.

Russia is setting up an alternative to the European Union, called the Eurasian Union. As Timothy Snyder explains in the March 20 New York Review, the Eurasian Union is a key part of the ongoing Ukraine unrest.

The course of the protest has very much been influenced by the presence of a rival project, based in Moscow, called the Eurasian Union. This is an international commercial and political union that does not yet exist but that is to come into being in January 2015. The Eurasian Union, unlike the European Union, is not based on the principles of the equality and democracy of member states, the rule of law, or human rights.

On the contrary, it is a hierarchical organization, which by its nature seems unlikely to admit any members that are democracies with the rule of law and human rights. Any democracy within the Eurasian Union would pose a threat to Putin’s rule in Russia. Putin wants Ukraine in his Eurasian Union, which means that Ukraine must be authoritarian, which means that the Maidan must be crushed.

The dictatorship laws of January 16 were obviously based on Russian models, and were proposed by Ukrainian legislators with close ties to Moscow. They seem to have been Russia’s condition for financial support of the Yanukovych regime. Before they were announced, Putin offered Ukraine a large loan and promised reductions in the price of Russian natural gas. But in January the result was not a capitulation to Russia. The people of the Maidan defended themselves, and the protests continue. Where this will lead is anyone’s guess; only the Kremlin expresses certainty about what it all means.

Snyder's article is long but worth a read. Suffice it to say that it's not a Cold War unrest that we are witnessing in Ukraine. The Cold War is over, and Putin is doing his best to put that defeat behind Russia as he seeks to forge a new union of socialist republics from the shards of the old union of socialist republics that lost the Cold War.

It's also not a Cold War unrest that is engulfing Venezuela. That Communist state may be collapsing.

While the Ukraine and Venezuela unrest unfolds, leading no one knows where, Obama's top diplomat is not evidently engaged in the matters at all. Instead, John Kerry is off giving speeches in which he declares that global warming is the new weapon of mass destruction. It's as if all of Obama's cabinet would rather run the EPA than advance America's interests abroad.