what’s happening in Ukraine and why should I care?

This week will have a bit of a foreign flavor on the Intramuralist. We’ve got a few things to cover in the week ahead that extend well beyond America’s borders — however porous those may or may not be.

The most critical situation is what’s happening in Ukraine, the Eastern European country and the second largest country size-wise in Europe. It borders Russia to the east and northeast.

So what’s the issue and why should I care?

First, a brief bit of background (… and I do mean “brief”…)

Ukraine was once a part of the Soviet Union, but became an independent country when the USSR dissolved in 1991. They declared themselves a “neutral state,” which speaks to their role in future conflict and potential military alliances (i.e. such as NATO), but have since become more aligned with the West. Multiple escalations have also occurred in the past 9 years, which have led to increased unrest in the country. Note, too, that Ukraine is marked by significant corruption.

Six months ago Russian President Vladimir Putin released a public policy declaration with the claim that Russians and Ukrainians were “one people” and part of “a single whole.” Wrote Putin, “The wall that has emerged in recent years between Russia and Ukraine, between the parts of what is essentially the same historical and spiritual space, to my mind is our great common misfortune and tragedy.” Since at least November, notably, Russia has been moving troops near the border, with more than 100,000 troops now amassed there.

The speculation is whether the troops (and resulting military exercises) are a negotiating tactic with the West or Russia is planning some sort of invasion — either in eastern Ukraine or a full-scale invasion of the country. The desired outcome and the motivation for the current aggression is uncertain.

So back to why we should care — and not just because we care for the human rights of all people and specifically for the Ukrainian citizens and their right to self-determination…

Allow me to first state the obvious. I am no expert. I am a current events blogger and only an imperfect one at that. I attempt to study history and be aware of the current. Hence, allow me to share the words of David French, a widely respected writer and attorney, known for his intellect and effort to produce “factually grounded journalism”:

“First, history teaches us that Russia’s desire to dominate the nations along its border extends when Russia’s border extends. Even a glance at maps of either the immense Russian Empire of the 19th and early 20th centuries or the Soviet Union at its height demonstrates that ‘Russian interests’ and the Russian border have previously extended even to the west of Ukraine. Russia has in the past swallowed not just Ukraine but also Belarus, the Baltic states, and Poland. And with each move west, its territorial insecurity has extended with it…

Second, the reintroduction of Great Power territorial aggression would once again destabilize the world order. Since the unspeakable horror of World War I, there has been a concerted effort to essentially outlaw wars of aggression as instruments of national policy. The Kellogg-Briand Pact (combined with the League of Nations) represented the first attempt to combine treaties and international cooperation to deter and prevent great power conflict. But treaties are not self-enforcing, and the first attempt at creating global stability failed when Hitler recognized the war-weary weakness of (mainly) Britain and France…

Third, what starts in Europe rarely stays in Europe. Dating back to shortly after the founding of the nation, the United States has encountered the same pattern. Europe goes to war, we seek to remain at peace, yet ultimately we find ourselves in the fight…”

Again, while no expert, it’s no secret that the Intramuralist has been exponentially more concerned with what’s happening beyond our borders since the calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan. As Michael Schuman recently wrote in The Atlantic, in regard to how China is now watching Ukraine: “China’s Xi Jinping, too, has a geopolitical grievance in his neighborhood—in his case over Taiwan, the microchip-rich island that Beijing insists is and always should be part of China. Like Putin, who is eager to bring Ukraine back under Moscow’s control, Xi worries that a former chunk of his country’s empire is growing closer with the United States and its allies. How Xi interprets (or worse, misinterprets) the outcome of the Ukraine standoff could influence whether and how China tries to reunify with Taiwan, and thus has implications for the security and stability of East Asia…

What can be said with greater certainty is that Ukraine and Taiwan both show how easily U.S. weakness—or even the mere perception of weakness—could unravel the strained networks and alliances that support the American world order and usher in a new era of global conflict and instability.”

How the U.S. responds makes a difference. Also, peace and international order are far preferable to global conflict and instability.

That’s why I care.