More on Ukraine and great power politics

Dealing with Russia involves recognizing two important and unchangeable facts:

  1. It is its own civilization. Samuel Huntingdon marked it as one of the permanent cultural boundaries  in his great book The Clash of civilizations. Orthodox Christianity has religious and historical differences with Latin Christendom which go back to the division of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires under the Emperor Diocletian in 284AD, and probably that division was underlain by the differences between Greek-speaking and Latin -speaking regions of the Empire. The Russians were evangelized by Greek, not by Roman Christians, and consider themselves the heirs of Byzantium, that part of Rome that lasted until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Turks.
  2. It is a continental power, and it expands until its is militarily rebuffed. It has to expand to the largest possible size it can because it has not convenient 100 miles  of ocean between it and its neighbours. The wholly different strategic vulnerability of Russia means that the Russians must have plenty of space with which to absorb foreign invasions, whether Swedish (Charles XII), Napoleonic, Hitlerian, or Mongol.

Western diplomacy has been bone-headed in its treatment of the Ukraine. The US and the Europeans sponsored a democratic coup against a legally elected President, Yanukovich. That he was as corrupt as the woman president (Timoshenko) he replaced is of no account.

Now it appears the heads of the European Commission (or whatever the thing is in Brussels is called) were in conference with Putin. This is how it went:

Over recent days, accounts of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s baffled frustration at the EU’s conduct have begun to emerge. Following a summit in Brussels last week, senior European diplomatic sources gave an account of a meeting on 28 January between Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso on the EU side and the Russian president on the other. According to accounts, Putin said he was increasingly concerned at developments in Ukraine, particularly the threat of extra-parliamentary protests against the government. But he was still willing to negotiate if the EU recognised Russian fears, including fears of Ukraine’s potential membership of NATO.

According to one source who was present at the meeting: ‘Van Rompuy told Putin that the EU was not playing geopolitics with Ukraine, the Maidan protests and the association agreement [with Russia]. Putin asked him if signing the agreement would be “a step to EU membership”. “Yes, Ukraine can have a European perspective if it chooses”, replied Van Rompuy. “Does that mean you think Ukraine would join NATO?”, asked Putin. “Yes, that could well be part of the process”, replied Van Rompuy. “Then that is playing geopolitics”, replied the Russian leader. “No, we do not do geopolitics”, insisted Van Rompuy. Barroso added that the EU was opposed to a bloc-against-bloc view of the world. Putin was not impressed: “It’s geopolitics”, he said.’

Russia will not allow its strategic glacis in the Ukraine to fall into the hands of NATO, and more than the US would allow Canada to sign up with a military treaty organization headed by Russia.Just not going to happen.

And if I may say a word in favour of Obama, his response recently in a press conference in Belgium was absolutely correct. He said he was much more concerned about a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan than with the Russians as a strategic threat, which is to say, in plainer language, that Obama is more concerned with Islamic terrorism than Russia. I agree.

The relevant portion of Obama’s press conference is found here, at the end of an opinion piece taking the opposite position as I do.

The whole press conference is here:

The relevant question is asked at 30:02. The interesting portion of Obama’s answer starts at 34:02. It is very significant indication that Obama has clued in, and I was as surprized as I was impressed.

“Russia’s actions are a problem.They do not pose the number-one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security,with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan…”