Two Views: Learn the history before we do something dumb in Ukraine

·3 min read

We are currently in a tense situation in Europe with Russia and its demands on the U.S. and NATO regarding military buildups on Russia’s borders.

In the last several years, Mr. Putin has published several papers laying out Russia’s case for doing what it did and is doing. His arguments are not new but are not well-known to most of us. (Frankly, it would be nice if our government laid out the reasoning for our positions in foreign affairs as he has done).

Going back to WWII, Putin takes issue with the commonly held belief that WWII started because of the non-aggression pact signed by Germany and Russia. However, he disagrees and says that the pact was a result of Russia’s realization that the West European countries would do nothing to protect their allies and stop German aggression. This was shown by the Munich agreement when the western allies gave a part of Czechoslovakia (and ultimately the whole country) to Germany to appease Hitler.

So the West could not be trusted or counted upon to protect its allies and therefore Russia needed time to prepare for what it knew was ultimately coming — a German invasion of Russia. The non-aggression treaty was meant to buy them time to get ready to protect their own country.

Dick Sakulich
Dick Sakulich

Fast forward to the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia was in disarray and economically and militarily weak. With free trade policies in the following years, their economy came back somewhat but what NATO and the USA did next only revived historic Russian fears.

Countries surrounding Russia were brought into NATO. In a way, the situation in the Ukraine was the last straw. With a significant border with Russia and with a major military seaport in the Crimea region, this country was also discussing membership in NATO. The Russians saw a military encirclement. The distance from Moscow to the Ukrainian and Baltic states' borders after all is less than 400 miles.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea was to protect their use of the seaport which protects its only warm water access to international waters. But the concern remained that a Ukraine in NATO would allow deployment of missiles that would be a major military threat. Do recall that when Russia was placing missiles in Cuba (as a result of our placing nuclear capable missiles in Turkey, our NATO ally) that we went to the brink of nuclear war to stop that. And Cuba is much further than 400 miles from Washington, D.C.

So Russia claims a fear of military encirclement. We do not understand this because of our geography — oceans on two sides and two friendly neighbors. Europe has gone back and forth with shifting alliances and borders and regular warfare for hundreds of years. Also, part of the reason is that we see ourselves as the good guys. Any military moves we lead in Europe are “defensive” and meant to “protect” our allies.

So that is additional background to what is becoming a more delicate situation every day in Europe. We do not know if Putin is just using this history as a clever rationalization and bluff to rebuild the USSR or if it truly is paranoia in the Russian body politic that we need to understand and address. My biggest fear is that our national ignorance of the politics and history of the rest of the world (consider our batting average in Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iraq) will once again get us into doing something dumb.

With our national political debate centered on creating (or not) a welfare state society and fighting COVID, it is easy to neglect what is going on outside our country.

Unfortunately we do so only at a huge risk of events getting really out of control.

Dick Sakulich is a resident of Doylestown and a member of The Intelligencer/Courier Times Editorial Board.

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Two Views: Learn the history before we do something dumb in Ukraine

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting