Foreign Policy Blogging at OTB

I’ve just published a foreign policy-related post at Outside the Beltway:

The Ukraine Crisis in Three Maps

Looking at a few maps is a pretty good way to get some quick understanding of the situation in Ukraine. The very name of the country means, roughly, “the border”, and you can guess whose border is meant. The situation is a lot more complicated than some of the commentary might lead you to believe.

32 comments… add one
  • steve

    Didnt realize that Odessa is so far west. No way Ukraine wants to give that up, and no way Russia gives up Savastopol. This looks like a real mess for Putin. My history for this area is spotty, to say the least, but it seems to me that they are hindered by trying to hang on to vestiges of their past. As I recall, at one point this area was the powerhouse of Europe. That said, will the sense of nationalism that exists due to that past be sufficient glue to keep them together or will economic realities dominate? Hell, I am not even sure what the economics of the situation should push them towards.


  • In the 12th century the Prince of Kiev had a dynastic marriage with the daughter of the king of France. Kiev was a world power. (on a tangent Russian Tsar Ivan Groznij proposed marriage to Elizabeth I of England. She turned him down. Smart girl.)

    From the 18th century forward Ukraine has been occupied by Russia.

    In the 19th century the Ukraine was the largest wheat exporter in the world, something that ended with the Revolution. By the 1930s Ukraine couldn’t even feed itself.

  • jan

    Here’s a WSJ article discussing the reflections and suggestions of Mikheil Saakashvili, former President of the ex-Soviet nation of Georgia, regarding Ukraine.

    Based on Georgia’s experience, Mr. Saakashvili believes that Russia will try to incite a clash in Crimea and then offer its services to restore order. He doesn’t believe Russia will provoke a direct military clash with Ukraine’s still-formidable military, which wouldn’t be popular in Russia itself. “It’s not Georgia,” he says. “Putin wants to be at the same time a peacemaker and a troublemaker,” he says. “He did it quite well in Syria.” The Russians shielded and armed Bashar Assad’s regime. When President Obama late last summer sought a way out of his empty promise to intervene militarily, Russia popped up to mediate with Syria.

    Saakashvili’s advice for the West is:

    If Russia keeps up the heat on Crimea, Mr. Saakashvili says, then the West should hit the Putin circle with sanctions. “It would be the same” reaction as in Ukraine. “The last time I was in Miami, it was full of rich Russians. If you tell them you can no longer come here and you have to freeze in Moscow, then they will turn on Putin.” Western governments have “much more leverage than they realize. They just need to apply it.”

    An invitation to Russia to work together on Ukraine—as extended by European and U.S. officials this week—only reinforces the impression of spoils on the table to be divided. “That’s totally misunderstood by Putin,” he says.

    Obama’s milquetoast comments yesterday, IMO, did little to discourage Putin. In fact the expression of Obama’s concerns, followed by undefined threats of “costs” to Russia, should they not behave themselves, is almost comical, and certainly not taken seriously by anyone — let alone Putin. In fact all that seems to be coming from Putin are overt strides to broaden his base, recapturing world power. And, a weakened West is just the global environment for such a desire to bloom.

  • I don’t think there’s anything practical we could do to discourage Putin. It’s his backyard not ours. We have very few interests at stake. He has substantial interests at stake.

    As to Mr. Saakashvili, his chronic misreading both of the West and of Russia lead directly to the invasion of Georgia by Russia so I’d take his advice with a grain of salt. The one thing I think he’s got right is that balkanization of Ukraine would serve Russia’s purposes as well as the entirety of the country remaining securely in the Russian orbit.

  • PD Shaw

    “By the 1930s Ukraine couldn’t even feed itself.”

    You don’t believe Russia has responsibility for the Holodomor?

  • PD Shaw

    I think that second map reflects the cultural cleft in Ukraine, because the parties on either side have different views of government and that electoral line is persistent across elections. To the North and West of the line, election turnout is higher, and people shift their support between multiple parties, generally promising reform, not ethnic or religious identification (with possible exception of Svoboda). To the South and East, a single party (with a Communist satellite) runs politics as non-ideological spoils machine.

  • You don’t believe Russia has responsibility for the Holodomor?

    I think it was caused by a combination of natural forces, bad Soviet economic policies, and bad Soviet social/political policies with economic implications.

  • steve

    So you would not see it as genocide? What is the prevailing view in Ukraine and how does it vary by region?


  • ...

    “The last time I was in Miami, it was full of rich Russians. If you tell them you can no longer come here and you have to freeze in Moscow, then they will turn on Putin.”

    Why does he think Putin just spent all that money building up Sochi, LOL. A nice place to winter, and no pesky international tribunals to avoid!

    Also, anyone really think the Russian oligarchs are likely to replace Putin with anyone that won’t have the same general interests? Russian interests in the Black Sea go back centuries now – this isn’t some whim, like say our whim of spreading democracy to shit-holes like Afghanistan and Iraq of a little more than ten years ago.

    Look at a bigger map or European Russia and the nations of eastern Europe. Now tell me why Russia SHOULDN’T be concerned with Ukraine. They’ve got more reason to be concerned with Ukraine than we have to be concerned with Cuba, as we’ve at least got the Florida Straights between us and them. (Not to mention that Ukraine is much bigger, relative to Russia, than Cuba is to the US.)

    And even assuming we should pursue interests in Ukraine, I don’t see how we’d do it. I actually had some idiot today tell me that we could send weapons into the insurgents of Crimea like we sent weapons into Afghanistan in the 1980s. Really! I don’t even want to discuss all the ways in which that idea is completely retarded.

    But we don’t have military assets to do anything in that area. If we did have military assets to spare, we’d have to send them through choke points which the Russians could easily control – it would be a slaughter. So military action is out. (At least if you’ve got a double digit IQ.)

    Diplomatically, what are we supposed to do? I think Obama’s weak statements are about it. Get the EU to side with us at a G-8 meeting? Yeah, that’ll mean a lot. Go to the UN? Good luck getting the Russians to skip the Security Council meetings, as in 1950. So that’s a dead end.

    And economically? Russia has Ukraine by the balls. They may not have a firm grip on Europe’s balls, but they’ve got a good grip on the short and curlies. Russia is Ukraine’s energy supplier, and they’re a huge supplier of energy to Europe. I don’t see any sanctions we can impose on Russian without giving them the wherewithal to do worse to our allies and the Ukraine. For that matter, Russia now pumps more oil than the Saudis (or were recently), which gives them huge leverage on world markets too. Anyone ready for another energy crisis? Even if you think we’re pumping enough now (and we’re not), the world economy couldn’t take the shock.

    So we’re stymied on the military front, on the diplomatic front, and on the economic front. And I didn’t even mention Russian nuclear arsenal until right now.

    Mostly we need to mind our own business. If we want to struggle with the Russians in the Great Game, how about opposing their attempts (which I think are laughable) to put naval bases in the Caribbean? Now that is something I could support, though that likely means ignoring the national sovereignty of nations like Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Not that I have a problem with that, but I also don’t have a problem with the Russians ignoring the sovereignty of Ukraine, either, so I’ve got that little bit of consistency going for me.

  • So you would not see it as genocide? What is the prevailing view in Ukraine and how does it vary by region?

    To some extent, perhaps. However, it wasn’t necessarily genocide against Slavs (which includes Ukrainians) but against non-Slavs living there. The Slavs were mostly peasants. The ethnic Germans who’d been living there since the 18th century were middle class (kulaks).

  • PD Shaw

    Just reading Richard Evans’ third book in his NAZI trilogy, and came across this ironic claim: Stalin’s generous agreement to increase Ukrainian grain exports to Germany around 1940, made Hitler more excited to invade the USSR because he thinks Ukraine must be the motherlode of all bread baskets. (Stalin is also sending Hitler their Germans as well)

  • ...

    I’m rather surprised at the number of people who seem to want to intervene in the Ukraine. It’s like they think this is some game at the Olympics. I need to go looking for some opinion polls on this issue. I’ve lost pretty much all respect for American voters (look at the crooks they keep electing) but surely they can’t be this stupid on average.

  • Cstanley

    So you would not see it as genocide? What is the prevailing view in Ukraine and how does it vary by region?

    From what I’ve read this has been a hot button political issue, with Yushchenko signing off on a law to criminalize the denial of the genocide, and Yankovych overturning that law.

    Technically that atrocity differed from genocide, since its motivation wasn’t directed at a particular ethnic group, but I found it surprising to read Dave’s statement “By the 1930s Ukraine could not even feed itself.” Careless wording, perhaps?

  • Red Barchetta

    Not sure what this brouhaha is all about. Its just an “uncontested arrival.” You know, like a Russian cruise ship coming into a Caribbean Port. And what, really, could happen, its not like we are talking war for Christ sake. Maybe just a smidge of “kinetic military action” here and there… know, Putin threatening to huff and puff and blow the house down.

    I did see the official photo op though, the one with Obama not at his Security Council meeting. Something about his being off searching for his red magic marker…….

  • Red Barchetta

    But seriously, folks………..

    I’m no expert but giving up the port seems a no way, no how situation. Not a damned material thing we can or will do. No chance. So why is Obama posturing? Does he really have to, with such a weak hand? Reminds me of Monty Python’s knight getting dismembered limb from limb. In golfing terms, is it not better to take your bogey on the 12th, avoiding double bogey, and look to birdie the 15th?

    By the way, saw a blurb where Sarah Palin had predicted years ago the invasion, er, “uncontested arrival” into the Ukraine. She was scoffed at by the, ahem, “intelligentsia,” stupid delusional bitch…….

  • PD Shaw

    Elipses: If the cable news coverage yesterday morning is any indication, the American public knows very little. I was informed on more than one occasion though that the American government has little “appetite” for military intervention in Ukraine. If we were British, I would think its use was ironic understatement (as in, normally I would love the bouillabaisse, but I had a late lunch), but it must be hackneyed misuse of a cliche.

    Any way, America has an interest in limiting the encroachment, setting precedents and expectations in areas in other parts of the world where we do have significant interests. Russia can have its Sudetenland; we may feel differently about China having its. I would send Biden to Ukraine, try to get other countries to back out of the G8 meeting, look into getting Russia kicked out of the WTO, but not actually do it . . ..

  • PD Shaw

    I don’t know enough about the Holdomor, I just thought Dave’s statement was provocative enough to ask about it. I’m more familiar with the Armenian genocide arguments and leans towards the denialist camp (awful, awful things happened, but not meeting definition)

  • Cstanley

    I’m interested to hear opinions on which Russian interests should be considered legitimate, and which should trigger (at least) international rebuke. Note that I’m not asking what is feasible for us to do in response, nor what actions would have political support.

    I ask because there’s a real debate there, IMO, regarding the reading of Putin’s intentions. Is it legitimate for him to mobilize troops to protect his interests in a port that belongs to a neighboring sovereign nation? Because there are ethnic Russians there, or because he strategically needs the port to not fall out of Russian control? It seems clear to me that the former gives cover for the latter. It’s not credible that he is “protecting” the Crimean Russians. Protecting from what? The threat of having to speak Ukrainian as their official language?

    The trouble with a foreign policy based on non-intervention is that there will always be some bridges too far, and by the time they are crossed it is too late to respond. The problem with interventionalist foreign policy is that the interventions are usually provocative and militaristic. It seems to me that if we had been using a more diverse diplomatic and economic toolbox for the past several decades, we wouldn’t find ourselves without options when we need them.

  • PD Shaw

    @CStanley, I believe the Russian position is that they are not simply ethnic Russians, but Russian citizens. I am considering becoming a joint U.S. / Russian citizen as a hedge against an unexpectedly high income tax bill.

    I do think the U.S. should call (if it has not already done so) for a UN observation team to go to Crimea and report on the treatment of all the residents, including the Russian claims that precipitated the invasion, and the ongoing treatment of the Tatars.

  • Cstanley

    I believe the US has called for the observers, but I’m also reading that the UN special envoy that Ban tried to send has been denied access to Crimea. Things seem to be escalating very quickly.

  • michael reynolds

    I’m rather surprised at the number of people who seem to want to intervene in the Ukraine.

    Evidently a shortage of both maps and history books.

  • michael reynolds


    So why is Obama posturing?

    In order to assert our belief in the sanctity of any border we don’t personally want to cross.

    We are the status quo power. Our role is to call for calm and peace and all that good stuff. Failure to do so looks like approval.

  • jan

    From The American Interest, featured as an analysis by WRM and staff of The Feed — Putin Smashes Washington’s Cocoon.

    Even though Ukraine is a long ways away, out of the American orbit, it nonetheless is a striking moment in defining what we’ve become as a nation, to date. Much like WWII, where we refused to believe in nor get involved in European atrocities abroad, fate’s strong hand pulled us in anyway — but not until tragedy visited our own shores in the Day of Infamy event, Pearl Harbor. Somehow, becoming entrenched in a “bystanders’s syndrome,” never seems to work out for a person or a country. Try and try as we may to ignore the obvious, the obvious eventually hits us over the head and we pay some kind of tariff. Usually the price is gauged to the length of time we dither and turn away — the equation being, the longer it is the higher the damage and cost to repair it.

    In the case of Putin’s muscular gestures in the Ukraine, it will be the same. Even though it’s taking place in his own back yard, he is eying South America, even Cuba, in his calculus, and we are simply turning a blind eye and rationalizing it all. In fact ‘helpless’ is the word that comes to mind when I scramble through descriptions of recent American actions. From the messes made in our departures from Iraq and now Afghanistan, to the miscalculations in Libya and Egypt, the continuous ignorant handling of Iran, and the sheer folly demonstrated in Syria, we have become a shell of a super power, replaced by a shimmering facade of egotistical silliness in putting a POTUS so far up on a pedestal, immune to any criticism, partially because of his novel ethnicity and party affiliation filled with seemingly anesthetized voters.

    Mead’s analysis, though, sets a harsh table relating to how we are misjudging, underestimating the world’s problems, and dismissing our own importance in engaging in them. It also talks about the rose-colored glasses of the MSM, academia, intellectuals, social progressive ideology and the rest, in placing their antagonistic zeal towards people in this country who oppose their positions — such as republicans and the tea party — making them Public Enemy Number One, rather than those outside of this country who simply want to kill us and be done with any Western influences. Even Canada is showing more strength of character/conviction than we are by pulling out their ambassador from Russia, indicating an overt animus to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

    What is the U.S. leadership doing? Giving speeches about concerns and costs, probably followed by another round of endless golf and hip-hop WH parties — certainly not by the President huddling with his advisers in Security Council meetings. This is the same nonchalant behavior shown during the Benghazi crisis too. And, it continues to be an aimless, dangerous pattern because a certain segment of people and fans of the President continue to support his lip service and non-starter foreign/domestic polices — no matter how inept they are, how much they heighten our vulnerability or undermine our civil liberties, freedoms, maybe even existence.

  • michael reynolds


    Putin is not Hitler. The Russians are not the Germans. Russian Orthodoxy is not Naziism. Russia is not one of the two or three greatest industrial powers on Earth – Germany was. Russia has not raised a generation on an aggressive, racist fanaticism, they’ve been raised on vodka and corruption.

    You may recall that the aging crank you people wanted to elect in 2008 was calling for war over Georgia. Really? Looking back now, you think that would have been a good thing? Can you show me on a map just how the hell we’d have gone to war over Georgia? Or over Ukraine now? What, armored columns leaving Germany and driving through Poland? Shall we send the Mediterranean fleet through the Bosporus?

    “Hello, Turkey? Would you mind being dragged into a World War? Yeah, Ukraine. Because of. . . Um. . .”

    There is nothing we should be doing that we are not doing. This is not about us. This is not about your obsessive Obama hatred. The Ukrainian admiral who was just appointed to take over the Ukrainian fleet just defected to the Russians. You might want to consider that this isn’t quite as cut and dry as it is in Fox News fantasies.

  • ...

    “Status quo power” does not compute with a President who has overthrown or sought to overthrow governments in at least four different nations in the last three years or so.

  • ...

    PD, I like your suggestions for a response from at 9:23 this morning. It gives the appearance of action without it’s substance, which is what is called for.

    If it is necessary to calm actual allies we can do something like hold joint military exercises with them (after a cooling off period from the current crisis and with enough advance warning so that no one gets to twitchy) to indicate which the lines should not be crossed. Poland and the Baltic republics would probably be somewhat reassured by such actions.

    Cstanley, your questions are reasonable. I don’t have any hard and fast answers for you. The best I could do would be to say I don’t think we can reasonably tell the Russians to stay out of territory recently part of the Soviet Union. (Twenty-three years isn’t that long ago.) I would draw the line at the Baltic republics, but in actual practice that would be hard to pull off.

  • michael reynolds

    “Status quo power” does not compute with a President who has overthrown or sought to overthrow governments in at least four different nations in the last three years or so.

    We’re hypocrites. Always have been. We used segregated armies to fight for equality. American presidents still pretend we’ve never used force for territorial gain. Nothing new. The American interpretation of status quo is whatever we say it is. American hypocrisy is generally less noxious than most of what’s going on in the world at any given moment but it’s easy to understand the rolled eyes of foreigners when confronted by our assertions of righteousness.

  • TastyBits


    You will probably not like this answer, but in a geopolitical context, legitimate has no meaning. Power is the measure, and that assumes the will to use that power.

    The reason that the UN and its rules fail is because rarely does anybody have the will to enforce them. Hence, legitimacy is only valid as long as somebody has the power and will to enforce it.

    Otherwise, it is an academic exercise.

  • The reason that the UN and its rules fail

    As I would say it (and have said it) the Security Council was intended to be the club of security-producing nations while the General Assembly that of security-consuming countries. The UNSC no longer views that as its mandate and, consequently, the entire structure is weakened.

  • TastyBits


    I would suggest you verify Walter Russell Mead’s track record before placing any trust in his analysis. Any pundit who cannot learn the basic facts about what he is pontificating is a hack.

    Within the last 6 years, has he said that Israel would bomb Iran?

    Did he know that the Russians got screwed in Libya? Did he understand that the Russians would not get screwed in Syria?

    Does he understand that the Iranian Mullahs will never allow a mob of street protesters to overthrow them? Does he understand that they have absolutely no problem with slaughtering tens of thousands of their people?

    Does he have any idea of what military buildup it would take to put China in check?

    Did he understand the implications of installing a foppish dandy to run a country of warlords? (Karsi/Afghanistan)?

    Did he understand the implications of firing the Iraqi army?

    Did he understand the implications of not installing a strong man in Afghanistan and Iraq?

    Does he understand that the Iraq invasion destabilized far more than the Middle East? Does he understand that because President Bush lacked the will to do what was required he (Bush) allowed Putin to begin expanding power?

    Let me help him, you, and everybody else. The only reason for invading Iraq was to establish military bases. Period. President Bush fucked it up. Period. End of story.

    President Obama has been childish with the bowing and the Russian “Reset Button”. I am sure he is dovish, and he is reluctant to use force. I would prefer he keep his mouth shut or toss these matters to the UN or European Allies. This is about all they are good for.

    The US military is not large enough to accomplish the tasks of the hawks. To put China and Russia in check is going to require a Cold War size military.

    Finally, I am astounded by the lack of knowledge by people about various subjects they are paid to write about. They are wrong over and over, and even worse, their followers keep following them.

  • Cstanley

    You will probably not like this answer, but in a geopolitical context, legitimate has no meaning. Power is the measure, and that assumes the will to use that power.

    I think you are right, and also right that I find that answer disappointing even if correct.

  • TastyBits


    I should clarify. I always mean actions. I am a hardcore realist. I do not have a problem invading a country, but I do have a problem with a half-assed invasion. I do not care about the justifications.

    The truth is that humans are vain animals, and they believe that their time is the only time that matters. None of this will matter in 40 years.

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