Partitioning Ukraine

In a comment on the situation in Ukraine I said:

The EU is repeating the mistakes it made in Yugoslavia and it’s getting the same results.

Apparantly, that’s not limited to the EU. David Goldman, AKA “Spengler”, calls for partition of Ukraine:

I’ve argued for years that partition is the best solution for Ukraine, which never was a country but an almalgam of provinces left over from failed empires–Russian, Austrian, Lithuanian, Ottoman–cobbled together into a Soviet “republic” and cast adrift after the collapse of Communism. Lviv (Lemberg) was a German-speaking city, part of Silesia; before World War II a quarter of its people were Jews. Jews were two-fifths of the population of Odessa.

A fifth of the population, mainly in the East, are ethnic Russians; a tenth, mainly in the West, are Uniate Catholics, who have a special place in Catholic policy since the papacy of John Paul II. Ukrainian nationality is as dubious as Byelorussian nationality: neither of them had a dictionary of their language until 1918.

The Ukrainians would probably dispute his assertion. The Princedom of Kiev was a major power from the 9th century through the 14th century. However, does a country not protected from its neighbors by natural boundaries, constisting of multiple ethnicities, some in the same ethnicity speaking different languages, some Orthodox, some Catholic ring any bells?

He concludes:

Russia never will permit the integration of Ukraine into NATO; were it to come to that, Russia would use force, and the West would stand by cursing. But Russia will settle for half a loaf, namely a Russian-allied Eastern Ukraine. Whatever we do, Ukraine will continue its slow, sad slide into oblivion. The diplomats have the dour duty of managing this decline with the minimum of friction.

The first sentence is quite correct. I’m skeptical of the second sentence but, unfortunately, Mr. Goldman produces no evidence in support of his opinion.

I think that quite to the contrary, Russia will not allow a former Soviet republic to join NATO or the EU except under the circumstance of Russia itself joining the EU. As evidence just take a glance at any Russian language newspaper. They’re full of saber-rattling and assertions that Putin is only waiting for an invitation to send Russian troops in to take control of the situation. The only part of that I doubt is that he’s waiting for an invitation.

The entire situation is being painted very differently in the Russian press than it is here or in Europe. Here there’s a major emphasis on human rights. In the Russian press the emphasis is on stability with a side emphasis on the Nazi past of Ukrainian rightwing nationalists. They think the EU’s views are entirely predicated on gas and oil and I think they’re right.

41 comments… add one
  • TastyBits

    I am not interested in a political debate. I am not a big fan of the President’s foreign policy, but he is the president. The world is a lot more complicated than most Americans would like to believe, and he is doing about as well as most other presidents.

    I am baffled as to what the US options are. I heard one commentator state the US should use hard power, and I am not sure what the hell he meant. Do people actually think US tanks should start rolling out of NATO bases?

    It seems to me that this is mostly a European problem, and it needs a mostly European solution. The US position should be, “We are working with our European allies.”

    Am I missing something?

  • Michael Reynolds


    That’s right. People talking about hard power need to buy a map. And then they can explain why this should be about us.

  • steve

    Certainly doesn’t involve our interests very much. Not sure the EU really benefits all that much from having the Ukraine join. Why would would the EU want another fractious, poorly run country in the group? They already have France, Greece and Italy for that.


  • PD Shaw

    There was a short interview with Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian of Eastern Europe, on NPR yesterday, arguing that what Putin is up to with his Eurasian Union project, is not simply to exercise control over the Russian near-abroad, but to extract the “good bits” of fascism and communism to form an ideological counterpoint to liberalism. Basically, its an appeal to strong-man authoritarianism purged of decadent cosmopolitanism, and in _this_ instance cosmopolitanism is not without semitic connotations, as he reports that the riot police are warned that the Ukrainian uprising are Jewish inspired.

    I take his points as more serious than human rights violations, though they overlap.

  • TastyBits

    @Michael Reynolds

    I would like to see President Obama let the Europeans handle it. The right is going to blame him no matter what he does. If he urges the people to rise up and they inevitably get slaughtered, he will be blamed, and if he keeps his mouth shut, he will be blamed.

  • Ben Wolf


    What are the odds Yanukovich asks for Russian military aid in putting down the “coup”?

  • I heard one commentator state the US should use hard power

    Hard power is usually construed as either military power or economic sanctions.


    I think they’re pretty high.

  • Michael Reynolds

    I heard that same interview. Very interesting. But aside from the usual expressions of concern I’m not sure what we can or should do.

  • Is there any evidence that Putin has that philosophical an outlook? I think he fits the mold of your basic Russian nationalist conservative pretty well.

  • I would like to see President Obama let the Europeans handle it.

    As would be appropriate. It’s a European problem that calls for a European solution. Again, the similarity with Yugoslavia is obvious.

  • ...

    So this is a battle between right-wing Ukrainian nationalists and right-wing Russian nationalists?

  • ...

    I also saw that the Poles were trying to help yesterday. That seems like a bad idea, too.

  • michael reynolds

    The good thing about the Russian people is that they aren’t Germans. They do have the resentment, self-pity and bruised egos of Germans circa 1939, but they don’t have the energy or economic muscle. Still, it seems some of the moves are familiar.

  • Russians are very much not Germans. They could hardly be less like Germans. The Winter Olympics have been a good way of seeing the differences in responses.

    Something else I noticed. Clearly, religion is making a resurgence in Russia in a big way and, apparently, a traditional way. All of the Russian women and most of the men competing were wearing crosses. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so much cross-kissing and crossing oneself as among the Russian athletes.

  • Michael Reynolds

    I almost get the feeling that Russians don’t just endure suffering but expect it and in a sense welcome it. I was watching a documentary video on WW2 and a glancing reference to breaking the will of the Russians by inflicting suffering almost made me laugh.

  • TastyBits

    @Michael Reynolds

    If you ever get the time, you should study Russian history. I got sucked in by Robert K. Massie, and it snowballed from there.

  • Andy

    We need to tread very carefully here. It is not the 1990’s anymore when the US could pretty much ignore Russian objections. Libya, Syria, Ukraine – the Russians are drawing a red line and will push us back on a strategic level if we persist in childish foreign policy.

  • ...

    Andy, does butting out count as treading carefully? I’m not asking that facetiously, I’m just trying to get the measure of your thoughts on this matter.

  • I can’t answer for Andy but I can give my opinion. “Butting out” may be a necessary part of “treading carefully” but it’s not sufficient. Maintaining a lower profile more generally and, in particular, expressing ourselves much more discreetly are important components as well.

    Russia has legitimate interests. And the Russians interpret events very differently than you’ll typically see among our punditry.

    There’s a very delicate balance between supporting dictators on the one hand and standing up for our values on the other and I don’t think we’re striking it particularly well. I also think that we’re looking after the Europeans’ interests more vigorously than our own (or than the Europeans are willing to look after their own interests) but that’s a different subject.

  • ...

    See, that’s what I’m wondering. It might be necessary for us to tell our European allies that we do NOT have their back in this case, and to let the Russians know that as well. And this may need to be done with a certain amount of discretion, as opposed to having it leaked that one of our diplomats told someone “Fuck the EU” on an unsecured phone line.

    Or maybe we need to have Obama hold a press conference and say “Fuck the EU” publicly.

  • As I’ve said several times before, I think our intervention in Serbia was a terrible error. The situation among the republics and provinces of the former Yugoslavia was awful but in my view it was a European problem in which our intervention mostly served to turn it into a global geopolitical problem and which the Europeans should have been able to handle on their own.

    Not only was it a bad precedent but bombing the Chinese embassy and poking our thumb into the Russian eye wasn’t particularly productive, either. The consequence was the Russian invasion of Georgia.

  • ...

    The consequence was the Russian invasion of Georgia.

    I’m not sure that I buy that. Russia would have likely mixed it up with Georgia regardless of what had happened in the sadly misnamed Yugoslavia. Mostly I see what’s happening in the former Soviet Republics as the Russians trying to reassert their empire and reclaim at least some of the lost lands.

  • Yes, they would have intervened. But not necessarily in the way that they did.

  • PD Shaw

    @michael, I think there are a few important potential implications from the interview, beyond the immediate matters at hand:

    One, is that Putin appears to be involved in a concerted effort that will increase international conflict, either because (a) one believes that the ideological framework of fascism invites conflict between peoples are emphasizes historical grudges, or (b) the West, particularly Americans, will react very negatively to an explicitly anti-liberal critique of their system as being weak, decadent and Jew-ridden.

    Two, America or the West appears to be both the subject and the object of the ideological framing. We will be involved regardless.

    There is a question of how much of this is Putin, whose positions appear popular at home, and how much of this tension will lessen when he’s gone.

  • PD Shaw

    @Dave, “Is there any evidence that Putin has that philosophical an outlook? I think he fits the mold of your basic Russian nationalist conservative pretty well.”

    In dealing with Iran and Syria, Putin seems to be a very good tactician, I do think he wants to develop a strategy that resurrects Russian prominence.

    There seem to be some inherent contradictions in this approach beyond trying to pander to both anti-semitism and anti-NAZism at the same time. (a) Nationalistic authoritarianism poses problem for dealing with Russia’s own non-Russian minorities; (b) Nationalistic authoritarian neighbors may tend to become more anti-Russian; (c) in the case of Ukraine, its the anti-Russian elements that speak Ukrainian and more broadly assert nationalism.

  • PD Shaw

    I reread portions of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations last night and he recognizes the “cleft” in Ukraine, but predicts the following outcomes in ascending order of likelihood: (1) war similar to the former Yugoslavia, (2) partition into two states, (3) continuity as a “cleft” state. Essentially, he thought there were significant cultural divisions, but they arose within the same civilizational (Orthodox) framework.

  • Nationalistic authoritarianism poses problem for dealing with Russia’s own non-Russian minorities

    I don’t know that I see a problem there, cf. Grozny.

  • michael reynolds

    I’m trying to think of a really good strategist. Ever. Lots of good tacticians. But a conscious, deliberate strategy that actually worked long-term?

    Strategies can only really be judged using a long lens. By that standard the US looks pretty cleverly strategic having gone from nowhere to superpower in a historic blink of an eye. The great Bismarck on the other hand (whose strategy did not contemplate being sacked by an idiot) could be seen as having first united and then destroyed his country. Twice. Virtually overnight.

    My suspicion is that strategery is mostly illusory. (See: Underpants Gnome Business Plan: People flail around with varying degrees of cleverness and stupidity, a bunch of stuff happens and ta da! Superpower! Or alternately, ta da! Burned down, split in two and occupied. Phase One: Invade something. Phase Two: ? Phase Three: World Dominance and Universal Peace.

    The best “strategies” seem to involve either being obscure and keeping your head down (Costa Rica, Uruguay), arranging to have a lot of really high mountains (Switzerland) or being surrounded by water, (UK, Australia.)

    It’s the old post hoc fallacy. If your country is still intact after a few centuries your strategy must have been brilliant. Andorra’s been around since the 13th century living off bootlegging cigarettes to Frenchmen. Maybe we should try that.

  • arranging to have a lot of really high mountains (Switzerland)

    Switzerland does have a strategy and it’s worked for more than 600 years. Having terrain inhospitable to invasion is only one component. It’s also the most heavily armed country in the world and it eschews foreign entanglements.

    Those work together synergistically to discourage attack.

  • steve

    II have to question the supposed wisdom of Putin. Seems like a silly meme. He is linked to the ruling party in Syria. I cant see that he did anything especially brilliant. He did help us out, but only for his own self interests. Same pretty much goes for Iran. It would certainly be hard to claim Ukraine is going exactly the way he would like. I don’t know if Russia is really trying to reform part of the empire, but I do think they dont want hostile alliances sitting on their doorstep.


  • TastyBits

    In my opinion, understanding Russian history makes things a lots clearer. Russia is not one single people. East and west of the Urals are different, and north and south in Western Russia are different. Russians are not Europeans, and Europeans have never welcomed them into Europe.

    Until the Soviet Union, Russia was considered the crazy cousin that nobody invited to social events if possible. Russia as the USSR was a world power, and when the President of the USSR farted, the world sniffed it to make sure everything was still OK.

    Since the collapse of the USSR, Russia has been once again treated as the crazy cousin. Putin was part of a great and glorious Russia. The West may find the USSR evil, but a former KGB member probably has a different opinion.

    Putin is trying to restore Russia. Russia has always been an autocratic country, and his being an autocrat should be expected. This may offend the west, but I suspect much about Russia would offend the west. I am sure that Putin wants to be remembered as the person who restored Russia.

    In my opinion, this is his strategy, and the tactics are supporting it.

  • michael reynolds

    I fully understand that we need to be careful in interfering in other countries. But that should in no way alter what we stand for, what we believe is right. It is right that human beings should determine their own fate. It’s right that the only legitimate power is that which flows from the consent of the governed. It’s right that man has certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the right to be a Jew or gay. It’s wrong and will always be wrong to arrest and imprison people for peaceably voicing their opinions or practicing their religion, or reporting on the activities of their government.

    We have to get along with Putin, and we have to play the game in such a way that we benefit. But none of that alters the fact that Putin is a piece of shit and deserves a nice, quite prison cell. We don’t have to say that every day or in quite that way, but we should not behave in such a way as to legitimize this thug or excuse his actions. He could be preparing his country for future freedom if he chose, instead he’s prepping them for yet more oppression.

  • ...

    Switzerland does have a strategy and it’s worked for more than 600 years.

    It isn’t that Switzerland can’t be conquered (as the French showed back in the revolutionary era), but that the combination of Swiss unruliness and the terrain make it not worth bothering to conquer Switzerland (as the French learned back during the revolutionary era).

    And I seem to recall that the Nazis had their eyes on Switzerland, but other more pressing needs kept them from ever bothering. If Switzerland were as flat as Belgium, no amount of armament would keep them from getting marched across repeatedly by bigger nations.

  • There’s actually an interesting story about an imminent German invasion of Switzerland during WWII. According to the story a considerable force of German troops were crossing the border, invading Switzerland. The Swiss assembled, preparing to engage them. As they knelt in prayer asking for the intercession of Niklaus von Pflüe, Brüder Klaus (my many times great-grandfather and the patron saint of Switzerland) appeared to them and the Germans withdrew. There are masses of testimonials of the event from Swiss soldiers. That was the miracle that secured Niklaus’s canonization.

  • Michael, I agree with most of what you say there. Indeed, I think we’re saying the same things albeit in different ways. This

    We don’t have to say that every day or in quite that way

    is brought into focus when you consider the difference between “F* the EU” and “If the EU wants to be relevant, it should act in such a way as to remain relevant” or words to that effect which marks the difference between a field hand and a diplomat.

  • TastyBits

    I am a realist, and when it comes to foreign policy, I endorse Realpolitik in the areas of the world we do not want to have a large physical presence. I am not offended when great white sharks eat surfers. Great white sharks eat anything they can, and no amount of indignation is going to change that.

    I find it amusing/tragic/pathetic that Muslims get a pass on anti gay, women, human, etc. issues because they blow up people. All that stands between Russia getting a pass is a few suicide belts and blown up planes.

    It is the same with almost every mass murderer of the left. Che, Stalin, Mao, Castro, etc. are all proclaimed to be great philosophers instead of the mass killers they were. The ideology they preach is a mish-mash of crap to keep the sheep obedient.

    Most on the left and right are intellectually dishonest and philosophically bankrupt. Under President Bush, meddling in a country’s internal affairs was never to be done. Today, not so much. We now have a Responsibility to Protect.

    When US presidents have urged protesters to rise up and overthrow the government, it has rarely gone well for the people. Bullets and bombs tend to beat flesh, but each time, everybody expects it to be different. Social media is going to make a difference this time. The most ruthless tend to obtain power, but it may be different this time. We shall see.

  • michael reynolds


    Wow, you are on a straw-man killing spree. Who gives a pass to Muslims killing gay people? The gay community sure as hell doesn’t. And I don’t know anyone giving a pass to Mao or Stalin, either.

    And what are you talking about with Bush and RTP? The fact is Democrats supported the Afghanistan move overwhelmingly. And supported Iraq marginally. And the left did not rally behind the Libya matter but sat on its hands or objected. And have you seen some wave of leftist agitation to get involved in Ukraine under RTP? Why don’t you provide a link? Because I’ve seen no such thing. You’re just flailing away at people without justification.

    We have an obligation and a right to hold our ideals up to the world and to call out regimes that behave badly. That’s a long way from acting on RTP in Ukraine or Venezuela which absolutely no one on the left has called for.

  • TastyBits

    @michael reynolds

    Honestly. I must have missed the outrage with the Muslims. The only protests I remember were the South Park guys, and the one episode was censored. I did not limit my comments to killing gays, women, etc. These are the various human rights issues that everybody including the left is silent about.

    Mao is quoted by the left as the equal of Plato, Hegel, or Sartre, and for 50 years, the left could not bring itself to call Uncle Joe a killer. Che still is an icon gracing the T-shits of the hip leftists. Anybody over 40 and not brain dead knows this.

    The RTP was in regard to Syria. It was not used, but I am still not sure what the hell is going on there. Well, the US is not physically involved, and I am one of the few supporting the President’s actions.

    Sometime after the invasion of Iraq, Democrats stated that we could not force democracy upon a country, and they are right. Post Egypt, Libya, and Syria many of the same people are now touting the wonders of democracy. Apparently, a few 0’s and 1’s in the form of social media is all that was lacking in Iraq. Iraq was lost for lack of Facebook and Twitter.

    When I see a world full of regimes gone wild but only a select few being called out, I find it curious. Why some and not others? Is anybody planning on holding protests against Uganda? I cannot keep up with which African country is slaughtering its people this decade. Somehow, nobody is ever outraged by black folks being slaughtered.

  • michael reynolds


    Here’s liberal Hillary Clinton on gay rights: She shoots down any attempt to differentiate gay rights from broader human rights and specifically denies that local cultural attitudes can be used as an excuse. Given that she was speaking as a diplomat, it’s really pretty straightforward.

    And there’s quite a gap between “giving a pass” and “lacking sufficient outrage” on Muslim treatment of gays.

    That said, I basically partly concede that point. Liberals are often so fixated on tolerance that they forget that tolerance of intolerance is intolerance. And I’ll add another point and say that liberals display a subtle racism when they apply one standard to white, European governments and peoples, and a much lower standard to the ME and Africa. As is often the case with the Left, their hearts are in the right place, but their brains are mush.

    But dude, no one the Left has been quoting Stalin or Mao favorably for 30 years. Even a Leftie twat like Noam Chomsky rolls Stalin in with Hitler as a monster. Nor has the left been pushing for military intervention anywhere lately, certainly not Syria. That was John McCain, not Markos Moulitsas looking for war. And it’s the Right looking for war with Iran and North Korea. Not us. Not under RTP or any other policy.

    As for Uganda, it’s crazy to pretend the Left isn’t critical of that bullshit. It’s Right-wing Christians who fomented that. And it’s Right-wing Christians cozying up to Putin.

    As for people wearing Che shirts, they have no idea who Che was or what he stood for. It’s just a cool picture to them. I was at an Apple store a few years back, happened to be sitting next to another guy of my generation, and an Apple employee came out wearing a shirt with USSR across the front. I went after the guy, and my neighbor did as well, and we both realized that this kid was literally clueless. He was maybe 23 and just liked the graphic design.

    As for me, personally, as one liberal, Hitler, Stalin and Mao are all monsters. The government of Saudi Arabia is monstrous, as is the government of Iran, North Korea and, increasingly, Russia. I have no reluctance to call out bad guys, and no reluctance to say that Islam has some deep, deep problems, very much like Christianity had once and would again if the Right had its way.

  • Andy


    “Andy, does butting out count as treading carefully? I’m not asking that facetiously, I’m just trying to get the measure of your thoughts on this matter.”

    First, as background, I’d point to this article, written in 2006. I think it’s instructive regarding Russian perceptions and strategy.

    The US, by contrast, is still primarily operating in the Clinton-Bush era mode in which Russia should accept Strobe Talbot’s plate of shit for them to eat. Our policymakers don’t realize those days are gone.

    Libya was the last straw when we essentially lied to Russia about our intentions for regime change. Time will tell if a minor “victory” in Libya will be worth the Russian push-back in other areas – pushback that the promoters and fanbois of the Libyan “time-limited, scope-limited military action” and the near-strike on Syria aren’t even aware of. Instead the promoters and fanbois, which make up the bulk of Washington insiders, are incensed that Russia would have the gall to oppose us in Syria. How dare they support a bad man like Assad they ask, oblivious to the obvious.

    Rant over, I think our policymakers should not delude themselves into thinking that we have any credibility with Russia when it comes to Ukraine. They don’t believe we would ever keep our side of the deal. If we are dumb and threaten consequences, then Russia will call our bluff. If we act like we did in Egypt with our idiot vacillations and lack of understanding, we will only hurt our own interests as well as the Ukrainians.

    Therefore we need to be careful about how we approach Ukraine. Personally, I think a “hands off” indirect approach is best. Instead of Egypt as a model, use Cold War Poland. I’m not hopeful – that kind of long-term strategic thinking is pretty much absent from Washington.

  • TastyBits

    @michael reynolds

    I may be out of date with Stalin, but he should be remembered with this Ukraine mess. Mao is often quoted, and Che is no different than the Confederate flag. While it might be just a good ol’ boy wearing a cool looking confederate t-shirt, all get a pass, or none get a pass.

    On Uganda, it looks like the story line is that it is Right-wing Christians who secretly took over the country and passed a new law. The Ugandans are big boys and girls. I know that it is difficult for white liberals to believe that anybody with dark skin can think for themselves, but they can.

    Why Putin went after gay folks, I have no idea. The Right-wing Christian support is bizarre, and they are providing comfort to our adversaries. This is either anti Democrat or Obama, but it is definitely anti-American. Many of these people are cold warriors, and they are now cheering a resurgent Soviet Union.

    These people are intellectually corrupt and morally bankrupt. Putin is an unrepentant Soviet KGB officer. He is attempting to resuscitate the USSR. Pat Buchanan is climbing into bed with Stalin. Work up three or four sentences, and do not deviate from them.

    I suspect that the Right-wing Christians have no idea that the Russian Orthodox Church is nothing they would recognize.

    I will also note that they do allow Iran self-determination. If Putin knows what is best for Russia, then the Mullahs should know what is best for Iran.

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