Discussion Excerpt: Russia & Ukraine

Arguing is fun. Below you'll see a comment I posted to my Facebook page followed by a comment from my Russian friend, D.P., and my response to him. The comment was posted alongside a news article headlined, "Obama Said to Resist Growing Pressure From All Sides to Arm Ukraine."

Post: It's understandable—even admirable—that President Obama is reluctant to send weapons to a conflict zone. But there must come a point when one realizes that the nature of their adversary forces them to adapt their strategy. Putin has not been moved by sanctions thus far and will not be moved by words. The US has little choice but to increase the cost of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

D.P.: It makes no sense for me to comment on the conflict itself, as it’s a matter of what channel you are watching. But enlighten me again, any of you, maybe I'm not really following: what is your particular Western interest in a country that historically had always been part of Russia until 1991, with an economy that was completely dependent on us now totally destroyed by the new, illegally elected government's actions, with no import or export and gigantic debts, humanitarian catastrophes, human rights violations, increased neo-Nazi activity encouraged by that very same government, and all the power held by a few local oligarchs? What is that sacred interest? That's all I'm curious about.

E.B.: I'd say one of the Western interests at stake here is Ukraine's intended integration into the European Union, which Russia seeks to block. As you know, the European Union is a trade bloc that provides economic benefits to its members (and the US) by promoting trade. When a new country with goods to sell and markets to be reached looks to enter the union, all of the members stand to benefit. Many Western nations favor Ukraine's eventual admission to the EU for this reason (among others), while the Kremlin understandably wishes to keep Ukraine dependent on Russia for trade and resources. The two are mutually exclusive, and thus a conflict is born. I hope that answers your question.

At any rate, I take issue with a few of your claims. First of all, while it's long been within Moscow's (earlier St. Petersburg's) sphere of influence, Ukraine has historically been separate in some capacity from Russia proper, whether as the Ukrainian SSR (since 1919), or as various smaller entities that changed hands frequently between European powers (the Russian Empire included). But Ukraine's history of dependence on Russia by no means justifies Russia in annexing parts of a sovereign country, and regardless of whether you agree with that statement, the fact remains that to do so is a violation of international law.

Second, to call Ukraine's current government illegal is simply poor sportsmanship. President Yanukovych was removed from power in a revolution, and while the legality of revolutions is obviously something that can't really be objectively assessed, they do happen. When they do, the will of the people should be the ultimate barometer of legality. The will of the Ukrainian people was to replace President Yanukovych's administration with a new administration that was elected democratically, and while not all Ukrainians supported that decision (especially, of course, eastern Ukrainians), that's the nature of living in a democracy: not everybody gets what they want, but after an election, the people are expected to set aside their differences and work together for the good of the nation—and wait until the next election.

Third, Ukraine's economy has been tenuous since long before the 2014 Revolution (which, incidentally, was one of Ukraine's primary motives in its bid to join the EU, and in that sense, a root of the current conflict). This situation was seriously exacerbated by the outbreak of the civil war, a war that was started by eastern Ukrainians unwilling to accept the results of the Revolution—not by the new government—and fueled by Russia. Some of the terrible problems you mentioned existed before the war, but all have grown exponentially in war-torn Ukraine.

Finally, I admit I don't know enough about the balance of political power in Ukraine to comment on your statement about oligarchs there, but I do know this: it seems more than a little ironic to hear the Kremlin cry foul when they see a few oligarchs pulling all the strings.

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