walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Published on: December 3, 2013
Advantage: Russia
The Great Ukrainian Knife Fight

The Ukraine story, one of the most important geopolitical events of the past few years, is still up in the air. Right now, Russia has the advantage but with protestors swarming the streets of Kiev and President Yanukovych away in China, anything could happen.

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  • qet

    Dear Via Meadia: Your “baguette” line is brilliant. But by my count, you have used it on no fewer than three separate occasions in the past week. I think I speak for all commenters when I say, “Enough already!”

    • rheddles

      Or we could call him Bard’s baguette.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    What we are witnessing is the fall of the West. This is only a small step, but these small steps add up.

    • Andrew Allison

      Pace Gibbon, the small steps represent the Decline; the Fall will come a little later.

      • S.C. Schwarz

        Well put.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      Every time America hits a speed bump, someone starts screaming that America is in decline, and every time they’re wrong. We as American’s are the most self critical people in the world, we see every one of our own flaws in Technicolor detail, while seeing only other nations strengths and none of their multitude of weaknesses.

      • Jim__L

        The fact that we so frequently proceed to correct those weaknesses is the source of our strength.

      • S.C. Schwarz

        There is nothing inevitable about the continued success of the US. Counties make choices and, over time, those choices can have major consequences. Contrast the fate of countries that make bad choices, such as Argentina, with those that make good choices, such as South Korea. I suspect, over the last 20 years or so, we have made more bad choices than good ones.

  • Gene

    I enjoy keeping up with these issues of balance of power, national interests and how one international player gains “advantage” over another. I also “get” why these things are important, but only inchoately.

    It would be very valuable if someone like our host would spell out, in much more concrete terms, what is at stake in these matters and relate it down to the level of the average citizen. It would be helpful to frame the argument in a way that would have impact on people prone to either ignoring such matters, and/or especially those people prone to adopt a reflexively isolationist attitude.

    • Nick Bidler

      Let me give it a go:

      The average human will feel a differnence measured in fractions of a cent. Over a country, that adds up to trillions upon trillions of fractons of a cent.

      • Jim__L

        It’s not just economic risk. The idea that we have eliminated War from the human condition is staggeringly dangerous.

        The fact that Obama and the Democrats have effectively abandoned the Pax Americana is staggeringly irreponsible. Unless we can turn things around in the very near future, historians a hundred years from now will be fully justified in pinning on Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barney Frank whatever chaos, death, and destruction the next decades have in store.

        • Jim__L

          (I’m curious, why is Gene’s post controversial?)

          Madeline Albright once asked a question she thought was rhetorical
          … “What’s the point of having a huge military if you never use it?”

          The point is deterrent — to get into the heads of foreign decision-makers and nip their “will to fight” in the bud. This sort of rational behavior is not beyond the Russians (MAD worked, after all) or the Chinese, and I suspect that ascribing love of apocalyptic self-destruction to the Iranians may not be any more accurate than when it was ascribed to G W Bush by his political opponents. (If I’m wrong about that, it would be best if we had a military capable of taking on Iran, wouldn’t it? So practically speaking my position does not preclude the preferences of those more nervous about Iran.)

          One could even argue that the “never use it” strategy is ideal; it’s cheaper to maintain a military if you don’t have to pay the consumable costs of war (lost trade revenue, ammunition expended and replaced, fuel costs,
          combat salaries and expanded forces, wear-and-tear on materiel) and far more humane not to get into the position of putting human beings in the category of “consumables” at all.

  • Pete

    There’s an analogy here.
    The Ukrainian elite allowing Russia to hold back the country is like American public-sector unions holding cities hostage to their greed.
    And like Putin and his Russia, it’s do-or-die for the American public sector unions. That’s because, on average, it membership is useless for just about anything.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Worst President in History!

    • free_agent

      I’ve heard that before… If we survived Harding, we can survive Nixon/Ford/Carter/Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama/….

  • lukelea
  • lukelea

    “If the Central Powers (China, Russia, Iran) win all three of these contests, the worldwide balance of power will change.”

    Let’s not get carried away.

    • Jim__L

      I beg to differ. Mead makes a good case that Obama’s “strategy” is the horseshoe nail from the nursery rhyme.

  • free_agent

    One feature is that the EU is not expansionist or imperialist by taste. If the US was standing in its shoes, there would be a default desire for “manifest destiny”, to incorporate new people and new territory into the polity, and to be willing to pay political and economic costs to do so. But the EU is only going to do a deal if the current members see the deal as concretely beneficial in the short or at least medium term. They certainly aren’t prepared to sacrifice economically to spread their ideology.

    Another factor is whether Ukraine matters in any global sense.

    • tarentius

      If you don’t think that the leaders of the EU are expansionists then you have been living in a self- imposed state of isolation or delusion.

  • Jack Kalpakian

    Mead, are you so desperate for the good old days of the Cold War that you want to revive it? As your own piece shows, a significant part of Ukraine feels close to Russia. That country is best left alone.

  • hmrhonda

    “undisclosed private offers”–Two billion dollars was offered to Yanukovich’s personal bank account by Putin. What human would turn that down?

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