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Putin's Friends in Ukraine

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By:Tom Piatak | July 20, 2014

The most important borders for Americans to worry about are our own. But the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 has certainly shifted media attention from the crisis on our southern border to the borders of Ukraine. Although we do not know with certainty, it appears likely that pro-Russian rebels were the ones who shot down the airliner, killing nearly 300 innocent civilians. The rebels have downed several Ukrainian airplanes, including military transports. The rebels do not have an air force of their own, so it is they, not the Ukrainians, who have been shooting at aircraft. The Malaysian airliner was flying from west to east, so it likely appeared to the rebels to be another Ukrainian plane. Indeed, there are intercepted conversations among the pro-Russian rebels discussing the downing of the airliner, and one rebel group briefly took credit for shooting down a plane, until it became clear that it was a civilian airliner. Not even Russia is suggesting that Ukraine downed the airliner, though reasonable questions have been raised about Ukrainian air traffic control and why the airliner was flying over what has become the scene of a low level civil war.

If the pro-Russian rebels did shoot down the airliner, the pressure will build on Vladimir Putin to definitively distance himself from them. It is hard to say that the pressure will be misplaced. Russia recognized Ukraine as an independent country following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Russia agreed to uphold Ukraine's sovereignty in exchange for Ukraine's giving up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union in 1994. Putin may lament the collapse of the Soviet Union as a "geopolitical disaster," but the real disaster would result from any attempt to resurrect the Soviet Union or even the Russian Empire. (Putin has been trading off misplaced nostalgia for the Soviet Union for some time, and even told a Russian veteran on D-Day that he was open to renaming Volgograd "Stalingrad.")

Most Ukrainians do not want to be part of Russia's "near abroad." In this they resemble most Poles, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Finns, Czechs, Slovaks, and Hungarians. Those who experienced Russian rule, either under the tsars or the commissars, generally do not harbor any nostalgia for it. Instead, they fear its return. A post-Communist Russia does not pose any threat to us, and the United States should stay out of Russia's dispute with Ukraine for that reason. But Russia does pose a potential threat to its neighbors, and giving support to rebels who shoot down airliners will do nothing to reassure those worried by a revival of Russian power. Putin's task should be to allay the fears of Russia's neighbors, not to stoke them.



Kevin Quintal
7/20/2014 12:54 PM

  Somehow I think the man who took over Crimea, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, who leveled Grozny, who has worked to rehabilitate Stalin, Putin, Beria, and the rest of the crew, who assassinates his political enemies, etc. etc., somehow I think he wouldn't be interested in that task. Even if he were, there is simply no way he could recover the necessary credibility among the people in his "near abroad." So long as Putin and the Ozero clan are running the show, Russia's neighbors will fear.

Leo H
7/20/2014 01:05 PM

  Russian actions since the break-up have been remarkably consistent. The only territories it is re-absorbing are populated by peoples who want to be re-absorbed from Ossetia to Crimea. I think the Russians are not full in on re-taking or taking any more of post-Soviet Ukraine because they understand that most Ukrainians don't want to re-join Russia. This has become a bloody war between the US and Russia with Ukraine just the victim and prize, started by our financed and directed coup, and the sooner we butt out and let the Europeans and Ukrainians some independence of action the sooner it will resolve. Also, one small addition for this fine author : people in current Hungary and Slovakia do not fear Russia or Putin and rather see him as a foil to their real master, the EU. At least that's my experience. In fact, Hungary's Orban seems to love the guy and maybe was hoping to get his own piece of the Ukraine. So I know the Russians are not viewed the same way everywhere in Eastern Europe in 2014 as in say, 1989. And I know that bothered Washington and Brussels.

Miles Pilkington
Las Vegas
7/20/2014 01:17 PM

  Russia does not pose a threat to the US's borders, that's true; however, the US does have something of an interest in promoting safe air traffic.

Maie Kark
Stockholm, Sweden
7/20/2014 01:26 PM

  I can't unfortunately agree with the article! Ukraina is something very different from the small ex-Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, for example. These small Baltic countries have another background, they do not belong to the slavic sphere of peoples, as the large, complex Ukraina, and they have often their own agendas, not least vis-à-vis Russians!

San Antonio
7/20/2014 03:28 PM

  It will also be a "geopolitical disaster" when the U.S. loses the Southwestern part of our country, but we should not try and hold on to it if it does break away. I certainly do not plan to be here when it happens.


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