Ukraine a Case for Hypocrisy and Political Diversion?
By Allyson Christy
The Ukraine crisis may be a moment for reasserting U.S. power and allied unity, but it serves public distraction and hints of hypocrisy. Proposed legislation authorizing assistance to Ukraine connects “national security interests” with defending Ukraine’s sovereignty, border security, and territorial integrity. Bills in the House and Senate also support extending media outreach to Russian-speaking audiences. The House version includes a $155,500,000 appropriation to support Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty with its reach “inside the Russian Federation and surrounding countries.” Guided by such principles, it may be worth revisiting the nearly 200-year old Monroe Doctrine, a founding tenet of U.S. foreign policy restricting European interference in the Western Hemisphere and justification for U.S. authority.
As the United States expanded westward in the nineteenth-century, involvement in Latin American affairs increased significantly, giving rise in 1904 to the Roosevelt Corollary, the harbinger of “Big Stick” views that forged even greater control over the region and often under the banner of security and overseer. And following the Spanish-American War, Congress passed the Platt Amendment which enacted protectorate status over Cuba. It also secured an indefinite land lease and U.S. military presence at Guantanamo Bay. The amendment was later repealed, but the base at Guantanamo continues serving a U.S. regional sea power platform.
Recalling the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and Operation Mongoose the next year, draws attention to interventionism—covert activities devised to destabilize the Cuban government. These events led to the Cuban Missile Crisis which escalated confrontation with the Soviet Union and a direct threat to U.S. security. Similarly, the Jupiter intermediate range ballistic missiles deployed to Italy and Turkey and the delivery of nuclear warheads to Britain’s Thor missiles in the late fifties, were in effect, direct nuclear threats against the Soviet Union. And consequent to the Cuban crisis, President Kennedy quietly negotiated the removal of Jupiter during the tense standoff.
Russian presence in Latin America constitutes persistent backyard posturing; whether diplomatic and economic outreach or expanding a military presence, it is tit for tat for what Moscow sees as encroachment at its borders, including American warships in the Black Sea and an enlarged NATO presence. Moreover, Russia’s foreign policy approach elsewhere on the globe has long troubled Washington and Western powers. The associated fearmongering has also never ended. Perhaps it is partly a habituated Cold War preoccupation, although media exacerbates public fears with a perpetual drumbeat of frightful shadows, including Russia. Lawmakers and politicians gauge public concerns, often reacting with agendas that will assert policy. But government sometimes initiates the fear factor for taking specific actions with the media playing along.
Russia is the notorious state in West versus East rivalry—-long the rationale that has driven American global strategies with international policing. A standoff over security is now at the core of heightened alerts and warmongering over the possibility of a showdown on the eastern periphery of Europe. Vladimir Putin personifies the omnipresence of strong-arm bogeyman—perhaps an unfaltering Cold War code in need of an unrelenting villain and the raison d'être that drives NATO ambitions with limiting Kremlin influence across the globe.
President Joe Biden ordered a readied 8,500 troop deployment in January, ostensibly for defending Ukraine against Russian aggression and coupled with persistent warnings of a pending invasion. France and Germany purportedly expressed doubts last year over U.S. intelligence reports about a possible Russian attack. Although Moscow repeatedly denied plans to invade Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated statements that his country does not want war. Russia has, however, consistently insisted on enforceable security guarantees that would restrict NATO enlargement and exclude membership to Ukraine, as well as bilateral agreements over military exercises and limitations on missile deployments, including nuclear weapons.
Russia has been massing an alarming troop and equipment deployment at its borders with Ukraine since early 2021, with many observers suggesting it was more show rather than intent to invade. Movements intensified in recent weeks, and satellite images indicated a surge in activity at its border with Belarus, augmenting the rotation of Russian forces and regular drills with the Belarusian military. Russian President Putin has adamantly blamed tensions on NATO’s eastward expansion, largely spurred on from the Clinton era.
The Cold War ended in 1989 and membership in NATO has, in fact, nearly doubled. The alliance has not only welcomed former Soviet satellite states that directly border Russia, but Ukraine has made no secret of its intent to join as it has engaged in military drills with alliance forces, yielding Kyiv an abundant supply of weapons and equipment. According to the NATO website, relations have gradually developed since the early nineties with increasingly active participation in NATO-led operations and missions. Formalities edged closer in 2020, with NATO granting an enhanced opportunity partner status—one of six members including Australia. Members of the alliance have also suggested establishing military training centres in Ukraine. Putin drew an emphatic red line last year, restating security concerns.
Although Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea drew wide-spread condemnation, attention to the sensitivities of sovereignty and autonomy and Russian support of separatists in the Donbas, necessitates diplomatic interfacing over the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine; Donetsk and Luhansk are a critical part of that geo-political puzzle. Ethnic-Russians make up the largest minority while Ukrainians are still the majority. Yet historic ties with Ukraine are not only ethnic, language, and cultural, Russia sees the area, including the Black Sea, as a crucial buffer against further Western encroachment, but also a means for securing its influence and security oversight. Historically the region, counting the Caucasus, is vulnerable and hard-hit with ethnic tensions and the ongoing threat of destabilization.
And while the United States and allies continued proliferating military support to Kyiv, the Pentagon directed 3,000 extra troops in early February to Poland, Germany, and Romania in a show to reinforce deterrence. There are already about 74,000 U.S. personnel permanently stationed in Europe with 7,000 additional troop rotations supporting NATO through Atlantic Resolve—joint training missions that include “Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.” Although the continuation of supplying weapons to Ukraine is meant to bolster preemptive efforts, diplomatic intervention appeared to be moving towards a European-centered approach with French President Emmanuel Macron underscoring greater reliance on European dialogue with Russia.
A significant meeting of advisors met in Paris at the end of January, representing France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia over discussions to uphold a ceasefireSubsequent talks in
Moscow between Macron and Putin concluded with an unsteady, yet hopeful takeaway that there would be no further escalation at the Ukraine border. The meeting left no guarantee of resolution but signified hope for a constructive first step. There is a growing consensus for reviving the Normandy format that supports revisiting the Minsk Agreements and bilateral negotiations which were brokered between France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine in 2014 and 2015, respectively. However, implementing revisions to the ceasefire agreements will not be easy; a legal plan to transition a special status could be the impetus in restarting negotiations between Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists over the contentious Donbas region.
Joe Biden escalated warnings of a Russian attack in mid-February, evoking NATO’s Article 5 on the collective defense of member states. Yet even as NATO countries seem poised to step up actions beyond high-impact sanctions, several Western leaders are facing elections and are contending with domestic troubles, notwithstanding failed attempts at rallying their citizens into full pandemic compliance. The latter issue has elevated frustration and protests against lockdowns and vaccine mandates in the face of economic distress and irregular migration. And therein lies another sobering issue of border security, at least according to some European Union states that have stepped up efforts with fences and patrols, seeking EU financial support and to readdress migration rules.
Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland continue to reject the compulsory mechanism for refugee relocation. Tensions between EU member states and non-member states have raised diplomatic stakes over refugee routes. Blame is pointed at Putin for the migrant influx through Belarus to its border fence with Poland. The situation also underscores high migrant flows from Turkey, over which disproportions are borne by other EU member states, including Italy and Greece. Meanwhile, diplomatic strain between Britain and France over illegal migrant crossings in the English Channel spiked last year, with both sides at odds over collaborative border patrols and sovereignty.
The ability to lead and manage conflicts links to maintaining political power, or not. In the face of squaring off security differences and increasingly serious tensions with Russia, policymakers in Europe must face upcoming elections that include challenges associated with pandemic and economic recovery, unemployment and inflation, high energy costs, climate policies, and sustaining EU unity. Issues are just as critical in the United States. Inflation and economic downturns, rising healthcare costs, education, crime, border security, illegal immigration, and inconsistent messaging over Covid-19 continue to tax public confidence.
Political leaders are facing the realities that public discontent may translate into losing key political seats later this year. Just as Europe must grapple with domestic troubles, Macron recently hinted that security and border troubles with Russia are a European issue. And many Americans might not support sending troops to defend Ukraine.
Joe Biden is in trouble at the polls and he knows it. So do his supporters and advisors. The president’s approval rating continues to drop as the latest polls highlight public dissatisfaction. While most Americans recognize the familiar virtue touted for protecting democracy against a rogue state and evil leader, many have not forgotten the fiasco in Kabul last year. And the majority instead see China as a top threat to national security. Already
there are fears circulating that the situation in Ukraine may bolster Beijing’s claims on Taiwan.
In the interim, Putin advanced diplomatic recognition over Donetsk and Lugansk in a stated move to support a peacekeeping operation. Superpower grandiloquence is sometimes the mechanism used for exploiting diversionary campaigns while beating loud the war drums. President Biden, however, directed an initial executive order for sanctions against the separatist region. Within a day, NATO announced evidence of Russian troops entering Donbas, followed with media resounding imminent war as troops entered Kyiv.
Moscow maintains it aims to demilitarize Ukraine, stressing Kyiv has nuclear ambitions. Last year, Ukrainian ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk hinted at nuclear options barring Western support for NATO admission. Any prospects for renegotiating Minsk Agreements have dimmed as Western leaders condemn Putin with harsher sanctions. Barring Russian banks from the Swift payment system may stoke global market fears and volatility, upsetting vulnerabilities associated with economic recovery from the pandemic. Amid Russian strikes on Kyiv and other cities, Ukraine has appealed to the European Parliament to advance its application for candidate status for EU membership.
Ordinary Russians will suffer effects of economic fallout as the ruble weakens. Hundreds of thousands displaced Ukrainians had fled to neighboring countries by the end of February, with the UN Refugee Agency also reporting that “a sizeable number has moved to the Russian Federation.” Military incursion and economic warfare hurt civilians. When public infrastructure suffers assaults and collapse, humanitarian crises develop and follow with population displacement and destabilization. Intervention in Libya and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stand out as reminders.