Despite an ongoing investigation of Russia’s connection to Trump’s election campaign team back in Washington, the President recently joined other G-7 leaders in Sicily in supporting sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Concerns that the new President would back off this position were raised earlier, at the April 11th, 2017 meeting of the G-7 foreign ministers, when Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, asked, “Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” Oddly, that question was largely ignored by the mainstream media except for the appearance of two articles. One, published by the Washington Post as on opinion piece, written by Anne Applebaum made the point that Russia’s attack on Ukraine threatened European peace. As she put it, “The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were an open attack on the principle of border security in Europe. The principle of border security, in turn, is what turned Europe, once a continent wracked by bloody conflicts, into a safe and peaceful trading alliance in the second half of the 20th century.” The other article was written by Victor Rud, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs for the Ukrainian American Bar Association and published by Forbes. That article was more extensive and worthy of reflection. This commentary will reiterate Rud’s main points, seeking to both clarify and expand on his thoughts.
Contrary to what Rex Tillerson seems to think, American foreign policy is not just about what is in the best economic interests of “taxpayers.” The principles of American foreign policy are guided by the values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution. These founding documents talk about equality, about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the general welfare – universal themes that require America to look beyond simple economic interests in foreign policy.
That being said, however, in his article Rud provides another more basic answer to Tillerson’s misguided question. “The overarching answer is that Ukraine’s independence in 1991 ensured the dissolution of the ‘Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.’” To remind us of just how important Ukraine was to the former Soviet Union, Rud quoted Lenin, “If we lose Ukraine, we lose our head,” thus pointing out that Ukraine was important to the Soviet Union from its very formation to the last day of its existence. The point is that the Soviet Union was even a greater threat to world peace than Russia is today.
Rud reminds us of America’s historic revolutionary war of independence with Britain, quoting from the American Declaration of Independence, “When in the course of human events . . .” The reference helps explain why Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 was in America’s best interests. He points out the irony of President Bush Sr.’s visit to Ukraine when the President delivered his “Chicken Kyiv” speech warning Ukraine against “suicidal nationalism.” Bush clearly did not see he was warning Ukraine against the sort of ‘suicidal nationalism’ George Washington led in 1776. Even after Ukraine reclaimed its independence, however, there was no acknowledgement of American foreign policy shortcomings. Instead, Washington simply adopted what happened, as if Ukraine’s independence was the successful direct result of its foreign policy efforts. Amazingly, President Bush Sr. declared in his State of the Union address, “by the grace of God, America won the Cold War.” Really? In considering the President’s remarks, we might ask what about Ukraine’s independence – did that play a role? His son, President Bush Jr., later wrote that the demise of the Soviet Union was “one of the most stunning diplomatic achievements in history” and “a peaceful end to the Cold War.” Really? Again, exactly whose achievement was it? And where was America’s acknowledgement of Ukraine’s role, given it cost Ukraine “mountains of corpses and a river of blood,” as Cardinal Yosef Slipyi once put it, to overcome the U.S.S.R.’s colossal oppression of Ukraine. Sliyi should know – he spent 18 years in Soviet concentration camps in Siberia before his release to the West.
Despite America’s taking credit for events that it did not shape, surely it must be in America’s best interests to maintain Ukraine’s newly won independence? Have we not moved beyond Mutual Assured Destruction? – Rud asks. No. Along came President Obama, who declared that Ukraine’s fate was not a “core interest” of the United States. It seems American foreign policy seems to suffer from a bad case of dementia. Rud then reiterates exactly what America must understand and remember.
“Ukraine’s independence is a sine qua non for not just American, but global security and stability.” Ukraine’s independence is the safest, most effective and cheapest strategy the U.S. can adopt against Russian aggression. Unlike Russians, “Ukrainians have traditionally harbored a sense of democracy, individualism and a drive toward civic society that any American would recognize. Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, the size of England, Germany, Hungary and Israel, combined.” Citing a historic democratic and civic tradition that Russia never had, Rud reminds us that Ukraine produced Europe’s first constitution for a representative democracy, setting out the separation of powers, and the concept of checks and balances preceding Philadelphia by 77 years and ahead of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws.
Turning to Russia, Rud maintains that its internal oppression and external marauding depend on Russia’s ability to entrap over 10 percent of the Earth’s landmass in a hermetically sealed truthlessness, unconnected to the rest of the globe. He argues that like Israel in the Middle East, Ukraine must anchor stability in Europe. “Russia is a whole separate world, submissive to the will, caprice, fantasy of a single man. . . . Russia moves only in the direction of her own enslavement and the enslavement of all the neighboring peoples. For this reason, it would be in the interest of not only other peoples, but also her own that she be compelled to take a new path.” Surprising us, Rud reveals that this description of Russia by Pyotr Chaadavey, was written in 1854. He adds, the example of an independent, democratic Ukraine would puncture Putin’s hermetically sealed encased truthless empire, forcing the Kremlin at last to turn inward to address the infection of democracy seeping in from Ukraine on its border.
Pavel Sudoplatov, (who Rud calls Stalin’s favorite killer and who Rud reminds us masterminded the ice pick into the skull of Stalin’s foe, Leon Trotsky in Mexico,) wrote openly in his memoirs about Moscow’s “75 year war against Ukraine.” As a key player in battling Ukraine’s resistance to Moscow’s rule, Sudoplatov wrote that the war “formally [Rud’s emphasis] ended” with world recognition of Ukraine.
Rud is right when he says, “It’s bizarre that what is of such strategic interest to the Kremlin has not been of strategic interest to the United States.” He then turns to one of the most significant historical events dealing with Ukraine in the last century. Rud reminds us that just three years after the “end of the Cold War” we required Ukraine to surrender the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal and to transfer much of it and Ukraine’s uranium to Russia.” He asks us, why did we pick on Ukraine and not Russia? Good question. Who was the real threat to world peace here?
The inducement was multi-lateral assurances of Ukraine’s sovereignty. We now know what they were worth. In case you are in doubt, take a look at Crimea and the Eastern Ukrainian front today. What is even more appalling was Washington’s subsequent destruction of Ukraine’s conventional weaponry, with a junior Senator from Illinois, that is to say Senator Barack Obama, declaring: “We need to eliminate these stockpiles for the safety of the Ukrainian people (my emphasis) and people around the world by keeping them out of conflicts.” To say that turned out to be an ironic comment would be an understatement. Meanwhile, Russia as the largest country in the world followed its own rules and invaded, occupied and annexed parts of Ukraine. Rud adds, “the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, where Senator Obama stood, is now devastated and occupied by Russia. The largest war in Europe since World War II is now in its fourth year.” Ukraine, less than three percent the size of the colossus of Russia to the North, is fighting alone. (My emphasis). As for U.S. sanctions against Russia, Rud describes them as largely useless.
Rud then turns his attention to America’s historical relationship with the former Soviet Union, the predecessor of today’s Russia, that both he and I regard as really nothing more than the reincarnation of the old empire. “We awarded diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union in 1933, as Stalin was waging a war of starvation against Ukraine.” Instead of opposing the U.S.S.R., the United States sought to “do business” with it. Rud records the results: millions of Ukrainians killed, one-third of them infants and children, while the viability of the Soviet Union ensured for a few more generations to come. The result was that America faced the new menace of an emboldened U.S.S.R. Rud goes on to point out that after World War II, again instead of opposing the U.S.S.R., America joint ventured with Russia’s predecessor to capture the escapees of Soviet repressions, returning them to the U.S.S.R. through “Operation Keelhaul.” In other words, instead of welcoming the escapees, America chased the truth-tellers who sought America as their salvation turning them back over to their persecutors. The implication is that a more enlightened American foreign policy is needed, particularly in understanding the crucial role of Ukraine in world affairs today.
President Ford said of the Helsinki Accords at the time: “History will judge us not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.” America has not been doing well in this regard as far as Ukraine is concerned. As Rud correctly points out, all the multinational and bi-lateral negotiations, treaties and accords of all stripes, somberly presented at the time, and all the furrowed brows and sonorous clichés paraded out in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere, are meaningless. Let’s face it, America failed to support Ukraine’s sovereignty as was promised in the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of December 5th, 1994. That promise induced Ukraine to surrender its nuclear arsenal. If anyone has any doubts about America’s failures regarding Ukraine, one need look no further than that Memorandum and consider whose troops are occupying Crimea today.
If America fails to protect Ukraine, surrendering it into Russia’s sphere of influence, or indeed under its rule, what will friend or foe, (to use President Kennedy’s words,) conclude about Washington’s foreign policy about them? Will Putin’s unbridled contempt for America—and Europe become even more outrageous? What behavior can we expect from North Korea, Iran, Syria and China? What result can we expect if America faces another “Cuban Missile Crisis” today?
Twenty years before Mr. Tillerson’s question, a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded: “Whether Russian led integration on the territory of the former USSR will pose a serious, long-term military challenge to the West, depends in large part on the role that Ukraine plays or is compelled to play. . . . Ukraine will do much to determine whether Europe and the world in the twenty-first century will be as bloody as they were in the twentieth.” No truer words were written. As Rud points out, if ‘U.S. taxpayers’ are not interested in Ukraine, a tour of ‘Memory Lane’ is in order. Without that, taxes will be the least of our concerns.