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Nobody Wants War

Vladimir Putin has a point. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the GHW Bush and Clinton administrations passed up the chance to cultivate friendly relations with Boris Yeltsin, who was at least trying to build a democracy on admittedly barren soil. Instead, they treated Russia as necessarily an enemy, the main successor of the former Soviet Union. 

So they acceded to the importunities of former Soviet satellites like Poland, and even former Soviet Republics like the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. All were incorporated into NATO, thereby bringing the Western alliance literally to the borders of Russia.

Putin, no friend of the West, inherited that situation when he became President in 2000. A Russian nationalist, he wants to rebuild the old empire as much as he can. 

Putin, no friend of the West, inherited that situation when he became President in 2000. A Russian nationalist, he wants to rebuild the old empire as much as he can. The current regime in Belarus is his only enthusiastic supporter in that agenda, but he is doing his best to keep other former Soviet republics like Georgia from drifting away.

That’s the context for his current military buildup on the Ukrainian border. He has been quite clear that he wants a binding treaty that would guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO. Putin views Ukrainians in the same light as Belarusians: as true Russians in their cultural and linguistic essence. That most Ukrainians would disagree does not concern him.

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This is what Joe Biden confronts in Ukraine. There is no going back to 1991 and the chance to build a constructive relationship with Russia. He is stuck with Russia as an adversary, and an adversary that is still a significant regional power and still a strong nuclear power. If Putin wants to invade his neighbor, Ukraine, there is no military way to stop him, short of nuclear war.

It’s very much like if the United States were to invade our neighbor, Cuba, there would be no military means for Russia (or China, for that matter) to stop us, short of nuclear war. But wait! Remember that we nearly had a nuclear war over Cuba in 1962, because Khrushchev was imprudent enough to place offensive ballistic missiles there, and Kennedy would not have it. The crisis was resolved when Khrushchev backed off, but remember that Kennedy reciprocated by withdrawing US missiles from Turkey (a neighbor of the USSR). And it is reliably reported (though never admitted) that Kennedy pledged never to invade Cuba (already tried once the year before at the Bay of Pigs).

How else do you think this defiant bone in the throat of the United States has survived more than 60 years, only 90 miles from the US mainland?

Neither Khrushchev nor Kennedy really wanted war. They found a way to climb down. 

There are some parallels to the current Ukraine crisis. Biden certainly does not want war over Ukraine, but he can’t afford to appear weak against the Russian challenge. Putin is engaged in a classic threat of force to support diplomacy, but with a weak economy and armed forces that couldn’t stand the strain of prolonged war, he doesn’t want war either. He just wants to make sure Ukraine doesn’t join NATO.

impeachment unavoidable

Biden should take the deal. NATO would only buy trouble if it admitted Ukraine. But Biden should demand a quid pro quo: Russia would guarantee the political independence of Ukraine and would refrain from destabilizing it. Ukraine, I suspect, would gladly take that deal.

John Peeler