The Marvelous Misadventures of the U.S.-Ukraine Relationship

Mark Episkopos

The impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives have demonstrated  a near-unanimous consensus among Washington experts and politicians regarding Ukraine policy, best expressed in the closing remarks of Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-Calif.): “We should care about Ukraine. We should care about a country struggling to be free and a Democracy . . . but of course, it’s about more than Ukraine. It’s about us. It’s about our national security. Their fight is our fight. Their defense is our defense. When Russia remakes the map of Europe for the first time since World War II by dint of military force and Ukraine fights back, it is our fight too.”

Former Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor echoed a similar sentiment in a recent New York Times op-ed: “To support Ukraine,” wrote Taylor, "is to support a rules-based international order that enabled major powers in Europe to avoid war for seven decades. It is to support democracy over autocracy. It is to support freedom over unfreedom. Most Americans do.”

The Washington consensus offers what is admittedly a gripping narrative: not only the U.S. government but every American citizen is morally bound to support a fledgling Ukrainian nation locked in a mortal struggle to defend its democracy against foreign invasion.

However, this prevailing view is premised on a grossly misguided understanding of Ukrainian society and political culture—one that jettisons the historical complexity of Ukrainian political identities in favor of a shallow liberal-developmentalist model that forces millions of Ukrainians into a nation-building project that they want no part of.

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