Ukraine: Why is it so important?
Since I finally got around to writing about Ukraine I figured I’d go ahead and fill in some reasons why Ukraine is important to the Russia and the United States.
Why is Ukraine important to Russia
• Location – Ukraine is located on the Western border of Russia and is the last buffer nation between Russia and NATO allied nations.
• Why is this important? – This is important because Putin views NATO as an aggressive militaristic alliance between the United States and Europe. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO has been expanding in the direction of Russia by adding Eastern European nations which used to be a part of the Soviet Union.
• Ukraine was going to join NATO – As a result of myriad domestic and global economic factors Ukraine’s economy has been plummeting. This led to popular uprisings and demonstrations petitioning the Ukrainian government to join the European Union and NATO.
• Why would any nation want to join NATO or the European Union? The European Union guarantees a solid economic alliance with Europe and the United States. Since these nations essentially control global trade it is important for all other nations to be on at least cordial terms with them. The way the global economy is set up, the better your relations are with the US and Europe the more likely it is that your economy will do well. This is not guaranteed but even so, the European Union is likely to come together to bail its struggling nations out. Eastern European nations also find NATO attractive because it guarantees them the military protection of the United States against any outside threat. Had Ukraine been a member of NATO Russia never would have annexed Crimea because it would have meant immediate war with Europe and the United States.
• Why did Russia find it necessary to annex Crimea? Once the former president of Ukraine went in to hiding in Russia, it became more than likely that Ukraine would seek membership in the European Union and NATO. Russia could not stomach this development because Crimea was a part of Ukraine. Crimea has been a vital naval base for Russia for many years. Had Ukraine been allowed to join NATO it would have meant that a valued Russian military installation would effectively be under the control of NATO. Therefore my interpretation is that Russia moved quickly to avoid the loss of an important military asset. However this move set of a potentially disastrous chain of events.
Why is Ukraine important to the United States
In the scheme of things Ukraine is much less important to the United States than it is to Russia. However, Russian annexation of Crimea is not something that the United States can accept.
• Why is whatever is going on in an Eastern European nation the business of the United States? The annexation of a smaller nation by a larger one undermines the concept of a stable and secure global order, which is a foreign policy objective of the United States.
The United States is actively seeking to unify world trade via its partnership with the European Union and its leadership of NATO. If a potential member is being dissuaded from joining through means of force, it clashes with American interest in general.
• In addition, from the perspective of the United States and Europe there is no reason for Russia to fear the expansion of NATO. In certain circumstances Russia has worked with NATO and was beginning to be viewed as somewhat of an ally. Thus, Europe and the United States view the annexation of Crimea as a sort of betrayal. I think many politicians (particularly liberal politicians) viewed a potential pathway for Russia that was similar to Japan. Currently Japan while not an “official” member of NATO or the European Union is considered a “global partner” to both.
• Finally the United States must be cognizant of world affairs. If the U.S. is seen to be indifferent to the annexation of part of a nation by another what precedent does that set? There are other places in the world where nations view part or the whole of one country or another as a part of theirs (see: Taiwan) if this is allowed it could throw the world into turmoil.
Final note: While I was skeptical at first, I like the way President Obama is handling the Russian situation. Whereas Russia is perceived as aspiring to return to the status of global power, the President said today that Russia is simply a regional power (the implication being declining regional power) acting out of desperation. President Obama is communicating that Russia’s moves to secure a military base are inconsequential and ultimately futile given the current geopolitical situation. Furthermore, he basically decided to treat Russia as we have been treating Iran or as we treated Iraq before the war. They have been demoted to little more than a global irritation and not a threat to America. It’s an interesting strategy and I think it has a good chance of working, particularly if the European Union buys into strong sanctions. Don’t think these moves have gone unnoticed by Putin and it will be intriguing to see how he responds. The ball is in his court.