WASHINGTON -- If you're confused about what has been going on in Ukraine and Russia these last two weeks, here's another revealing story to consider.
From the very beginning, when Ukrainian reformers and revolutionaries were battling security forces in Kiev's Maidan or "Independence" square, Western diplomats and journalists kept repeating that the best interlocutor with the Kremlin's sour, unsmiling Vladimir Putin was Germany's pleasant, matronly Angela Merkel. For one thing, they both speak German.
And why exactly is that? Because Chancellor Merkel, who is emerging as "the" leader of Europe, was born in East Germany. And because President Putin was one of the KGB's foremost spy/agents in East Germany during the same time.
Doubtless, the East German Stasi, the intelligence agency that Putin surely worked with, had to keep Angela in its scopes; her father was a pastor of the Lutheran Church, from which almost all of the anti-Soviet peace movement stemmed. One wonders: Do the two of them talk about that when they meet over international crises?
But there are so many strange things about the events of these last weeks in Eurasia that one has to shake one's head to allow all the contradictions to fall into place.
Take all the talk about "democracy" and "democratization," two favorite American themes. One has to wonder whether many of Washington's "thinkers" wake up in the morning and, instead of saying, "Good morning, sweetheart," say, "Good day to you, democratization!"
Well, Putin has talked almost as much about democracy as have American leaders. He points out that the present government in Kiev was not elected (but the old, "bad" one was), that Crimea has always voted pro-Russian, and that it is actually the U.S. which has invaded myriad countries in the last decade, while the Russian Federation has even accepted NATO moving into Eastern Europe.
I must admit, I did like one of Putin's quotes this week, perhaps because it somewhat reflects my feelings that we are demanding things of other peoples that are simply not in their cultural DNA. Of his American critic, he said bitterly: "They sit there across the pond ... sometimes it seems they feel like they are in a lab and they are running all sorts of experiments on the rats without understanding the consequences."
Putin's language has always been straight out of the gutters of the still-impoverished and unkempt villages of Russia. Toilets, filthy streets, relieving oneself in public, having sex in the subway: Nothing has been too dirty for him to use to compare both his enemies and his comrades. Surprisingly, he seemed to control himself quite well this time around.
While American politicians and leaders, at least since Richard Nixon (thank God!), do not use such language, at least in public, we have seen in this present conflict an outpouring of endless inept and inappropriate political comparisons.
To Hillary Clinton, parts of Putin can be compared to Hitler. Innumerable members of Congress angrily blamed President Obama for the impasse, saying we might have to go to war, then went to lunch. The New York Times' Peter Baker referred, China being long gone, to the "Who lost Ukraine?" debate. Sen. Lindsey Graham famously claimed, "It started with Benghazi."
What has happened is that a historical conflict that should have been resolved through diplomacy and tough-minded negotiation has been allowed to become a ship-of-fools debate.
(That is, unless someone can tell me how, exactly, we really "lost" Ukraine.)
Actually, there IS an answer to Ukraine, which sits like a big potato linking Russia, Poland, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova and Romania. The answer is not in any of those countries; the answer is ... Finland!
When this crisis first began, scholar Zbigniew Brzezinski told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that Finland could serve as a possible solution. This physically large but population-small nation of 5 million in the snows atop Europe bravely fought the bitter "Winter War" with huge neighboring Russia in 1939, ending in an armistice, which Henry Kissinger described recently.
In his piece on Ukraine this week, Dr. Kissinger wrote that a new Ukrainian government, if wise, should opt for reconciliation within the country. "Internationally," he went on, "they should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its fierce independence and cooperation with the West in most fields, but carefully avoids institutional hostility toward Russia."
And if anyone wishes to delve deeper into Finland and the Winter War, a new novel, "Journey Into Winter" by Fred Brogger, would serve that desire well.
Meanwhile, what the United States needs most is leaders who will eschew ego and childish thoughts of "Who lost what?" and calmly use the real power we have to mediate and negotiate to establish a balanced peace between Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine needs the freedom to trade with Europe and to be modern. Russia needs respect and to be modern -- and a warm seaport in Crimea.
That shouldn't be so hard to achieve -- if we obey Churchill's favorite maxim: "Keep calm and carry on."
- Politics & Government
- Vladimir Putin
- Angela Merkel