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The West might have stumbled in handling Russian/Ukrainian crisis

By Lindsay Barrett   The American government’s insistence that the drums of war be beaten over what it insists is Russia’s intention to usurp its…

By Lindsay Barrett


The American government’s insistence that the drums of war be beaten over what it insists is Russia’s intention to usurp its neighbouring nation Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty might appear to many observers to be the product of genuine concern. However, on closer examination of the issues at stake this American policy might appear to be a product of the superiority complex that the West continues to manifest as its response to the collapse of the Soviet Union back in the early 1990s.

Ukraine, during the Soviet era, was an important part of the strategic military assets of the USSR and the repository of a major portion of its nuclear arsenal. When the so-called Cold War ended the reform of the nations that made up the USSR in the communist era led to the re-drawing of the Russian federation’s boundaries in ways that were not satisfactory to patriotic Russian nationalists. President Vladimir Putin is the symbolic and the most important representative of those interests in the political arena of modern Russia.

The American Government cannot pretend to be unaware of these impulses and when dealing with Russian intervention in global affairs it must take this reality into consideration. The situation in which the world finds itself has Russia flexing its military muscles on the border with Ukraine while America which has just had to acknowledge its failure in Afghanistan is constrained to pose as the guarantor of democracy for the former communist nations of what was actually the modern Russian empire.

Since the end of the so-called Cold War the major impulse of the leadership of the Russian nation has been the restoration of Russian control over as much of the former USSR as possible and this has led to military conflicts in Russia’s neighbours like Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. It is this historical background that has provided the justification for the West, led by America, to reject Russia’s denial of invasion as its objective.

The classic conventions of diplomacy hold that the objectives that major nations advocate are often symptomatic of their selfish interests rather than of what is best for the collective interest of all those involved in decision-making over specific events and issues. Recent events and opinions expressed by American diplomats on the Russian and Ukrainian military conditions have reinforced this cynical presumption as the escalation of Russian deployment on the border with Ukraine and in neighbouring Belarus prompted the American president to pronounce an invasion as being ‘imminent’. Once he used this term the Russian government’s response was to deny the assumption so that all negotiation that followed would be based on whether the American government, as the leader of the Western Alliance, could prove its allegation to be true. To do this the West must be able to convince the world that its leaders have the ability to read the mind of Vladimir Putin in spite of his actions and are, therefore, able to predict his intentions. They have been unable to verify that they have this ability and as a result as the crisis develops it is the West rather than Russia that has taken on the semblance of provocateurs rather than mediators.

The deployment of American soldiers to join their NATO allies in Eastern Europe especially in Romania and Poland and parts of Germany has added to this perception while Russia’s argument is that it has simply been involved in tactical training exercises on its own territory and at the invitation of its ally Belarus. However, Russia has exhibited its ability and willingness to invade and destabilise the Ukrainian territorial space in the past even though contemporary circumstances suggest that it might be strategically unwise for it to follow that course in these times. As a consequence, it appears to be tactically correct for Russia to provoke a situation in which it appears to be the aggrieved party and the West, led by America, is seen as the antagonist. So far it seems as if the West has stumbled into just such a dilemma.

It should not surprise any conscientious observer that Russia has garnered the support of the Chinese government and people in its confrontation with the West. Right from the time of the Trump administration America has chosen to bully the Chinese on issues of trade and diplomatic relations. The profile of discourse between America and the Chinese authorities has hardly been transformed since the Biden administration took over and so it will certainly serve the global interests of the Chinese for them to be strongly supportive of the Russians in any conflict between them and America. Ukraine will be an unfortunate pawn in any such crisis as it will suffer the fate of a small country stymied by its geographical location since the Russian nationalists regard it as an extension of their territorial space.

The West should take this reality into consideration and try to develop a responsible dialogue with Vladimir Putin. When Volodymyr Zelensky the Ukrainian President said recently that he did not believe the Russians were about to invade he was signaling the need for diplomatic caution to those allies that he did not hesitate to acknowledge and whom he still asked for support. He openly acknowledged his need for American pledges of military support at the very time when he was denying the veracity of American assessment of the situation. Zelensky’s utterances should have indicated the depth of his dilemma to his Western allies as he confronts a political situation that must be deeply confusing. It is obvious that the domestic polity of Ukraine includes a substantial pro-Russian element and that while Mr. Putin is determined to aggravate this the West needs to decide how best to deal with the reality without stumbling into war.

Barrett resides in Abuja

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