Kaminski on Ukraine

Wall Street Journal editor Matthew Kaminski laments the West’s failure to take resolute action against Russian aggression against Ukraine:

Any revolution brings a hangover. Ukrainians expected problems: an economic downturn, some of the old politics-as-usual in Kiev, including fisticuffs last week in parliament, and trouble from Russia. Abandonment by the West is the unexpected blow. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fought, and 100 died, for their chance to join the world’s democracies.

As an institution, the EU always found excuses to deny Ukraine the prospect of membership in the bloc one day. But Bill Clinton and George W. Bush never recognized Russian domination over Ukraine. Billions were spent—Kiev was the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid in the 1990s—and American promises were made to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty. In return, Ukraine took active part in NATO discussions and missions, sending thousands of troops to the Balkans and Iraq.

When Russia invaded Crimea and massed 40,000 or more troops in the east, Ukraine turned to an old friend, the United States, and asked for light arms, antitank weapons, intelligence help and nonlethal aid. The Obama administration agreed to deliver 300,000 meals-ready-to-eat. As this newspaper reported Friday, military transport planes were deemed too provocative for Russia, so the food was shipped by commercial trucks. The administration refused Kiev’s requests for intelligence-sharing and other supplies, lethal or not.

I can sympathize with Mr. Kaminski. He lived for many years in Kiev, in the years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In those heady days all things must have seemed possible.

However, not all things are possible and, honestly, they never were. One of the things that is not possible ia a free Ukraine aligned with the West and against Russia. A free neutral Ukraine is possible. A Ukraine that’s a satellite of Russia is possible. But Russia will never stand for a hostile Ukraine and there’s very little we can do to prevent Russia from acting there without risking escalation of the conflict into something that nobody wants, especially in the absence of European willingness to make sacrifices.


See also the WSJ editorial on Ukraine.

I believe that we should honor our treaty commitments. If Russia were to move against Estonia or Lithuania, we would have little alternative but to take any action deemed necessary to oppose its aggression. I don’t believe, however, that escalating tensions in the Baltic is a prudent strategy for reducing tensions there.

We have no such treaty commitment with Ukraine, the logistical barriers to our acting effectively against Russia there are substantial, and, frankly, there are open questions about just how worth supporting Ukraine’s present government is. Ukraine’s last two governments have been illiberal kleptocracies and I don’t find being anti-Russian enough reason for us to support our throwing our full support with this latest entry.

There is a lesson we seem to have unlearned over the last couple of decades. There’s some value to stability and we should reflect seriously on what would constitute a stable outcome and what actions will be required to accomplish that before we undertake any action.

FILED UNDER: Open Forum, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. stonetools says:

    Agree on all points IMO, instead of the NATO enlargemenmt , we should have opted foir a “Nuetral Zone” of countries around Russia that would have included the Baltics, Ukraine, Georgia and Romania.I think it more likely that Russia would have tolerated a Nuetral Zone rather than a second round of NATO enlargement.
    Oh well, it is what uit is, and at this point we most likely should at least push our forces further east into Poland and maybe station troops in the Baltics, in order to reassure our allies.IMO, we should never committed to defend the conventially indefensible, no matter how nice it would make us seem. .

  2. Tillman says:

    A friend of mine on Facebook claims we’re violating the terms of a security pact with Ukraine because the Budapest Memorandum constitutes an amendment to the CSCE Final Act and thus has the force of a treaty.

    I’m fairly certain he’s wrong.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I’m mystified by people who seem ready to risk actual war over the Ukraine. We have no obligation there, their government came to power by way of riots that ejected an elected president (however astoundingly corrupt he was), there’s no evidence of a competent Ukrainian military to support, and the logistics are impossible.

    Yes, defend NATO countries. Of course. But Ukraine isn’t a NATO country.

    Looking at end states, I’m not sure what’s wrong with a split Ukraine, with Russia holding the most russophone districts and the remainder of Ukraine declaring neutrality under UN protection.

    Putin’s acting like a nasty little thug reading from Adolf’s playbook, but unlike Germany 1938 and 1939, Russia simply does not have the power to take on NATO.