Ukraine: A Domino Falls

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Kiev

Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of FreedomRichard M. Nixon: A Life in FullA Matter of Principle, and the recently published Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.

It is an immense pleasure to be able to commend the Obama administration on a foreign-policy issue, and so far, the handling of the Ukrainian crisis by the president, vice president, secretary of state, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been exemplary. They have taken from and expanded upon the Bill Clinton playbook of the eastward expansion of NATO following the implosion of the Soviet sphere of occupation and of the Soviet Union itself. President Clinton devised the Partnership for Peace, which had the semblance of a Clinton flimflam job, but covered adequately the admission of the former satellite states and the Baltic republics of the late USSR (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), into NATO, while Russia and its former Asian and other republics were granted NATO observer status and generally treated as cordial new acquaintances of NATO, not the raison d’être of that alliance, which was just then reaping the harvest of the success of its 45-year containment strategy that laid the Soviet Union low.

The entire foreign policy of Russian president Vladimir Putin has been a pastiche of posturing and provocations: the bullying of Georgia, obstruction of efforts to deter Iran from achieving a nuclear capability, all his mischief in Syria, and his opportunistic colluding with the Chinese, militant Arabs, Latin American leftists, Iranians, even the Russians’ ancient Turkish foes, and anyone else who could be relied upon to irritate the West, and especially the United States. It has been a very inelegant and crudely improvised replication of the activities of previous leaders of important countries who felt under-recognized, of whom the most prominent in recent memory was French president Charles de Gaulle. But de Gaulle avoided direct military aggression, never forgot what he owed the “Anglo-Saxons” historically and for the assurance of France’s current security, and rallied instantly in the face of a real crisis, such as the U-2 fiasco in 1960 and the Cuban missile confrontation of 1962. Putin has set himself at the head of the nativists, the Russian traditional nationalists who are hostile to the West, a stance legitimized by some of Russia’s greatest cultural icons, including Leo Tolstoy (with his mythologization of the resistance to Napoleon, who would have modernized Russia and dispensed with serfdom in a stroke if he had been able to influence Russian public policy), and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was not rallied to the virtues of the West by his asylum in the New England woods....

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