Shreyan Mitra '23
Before I give my opinion on the West’s reaction to the Ukraine situation, I think it would be best to draw from history to find a cause, and then analyze the response to the cause.
You know when two children are arguing over a toy? And then you take it away? And then one kid says, “I had it first?” And then the other says, “but I took it from you?” And then they resume their all-out warfare for re-acquisition of their claimed property?
Well, I’m inclined to say some governments sometimes act like children too.
There are quite a few countries that, in the past, were much larger than they are today. This distension could have occurred for a variety of reasons, but back in the day, it was mainly victory in war. Empires are a classic example, and the Russian Empire is no exception. Some countries today, like China, continue to dispute ownership of territories that they once owned but were given up to or taken by someone else. There’s even a term for it: irredentism–credit to some Italians in the 19th century who used it to express Italy’s desire to retake the Trieste region.
So can we justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine using irredentism? Well, maybe. Separatist presence and high concentration of Russian speakers in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions are sometimes used to justify the Russian takeover of those areas. But some politicians argue that irredentism is an outdated concept. We aren’t in the age of empire anymore. Territorial gains and losses aren’t determined by blood and tears. We live in a global society.
Let’s move forward a decent amount of time to the early 1990s. If you’ve paid attention in history class, you know why I brought you here. Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush struck an informal agreement with Boris Yeltsin, the first President of the Russian Federation: the Western Bloc’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, would not take any former Eastern Bloc countries under its wing. And NATO listened for a while. On the science diplomacy front, Russia even became the chief partner for NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) program during that time. In 1994, however, former Warsaw Pact countries began to join NATO, and tensions escalated until Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, prompting NATO to remove Russia from SPS. It was a good decision, right? Well, guess who’s the chief NATO SPS partner now.
That’s correct. It’s Ukraine.
Putin was partially justified in saying that he didn’t want more NATO on his doorstep. Estonia has been part of the alliance for a while, and, although Belarus will not join due to its membership of the supranational Union State, Ukraine joining NATO would spell out a major threat to Russian national security. From this perspective, even though Russia’s actions in Ukraine today are nothing short of atrocities, it really was NATO who “started” this conflict. Russia just made the first active move.
My opinion on the West’s reaction? They could probably do a little more to help. American officials have expressed worry that sending equipment to Ukraine would draw the US into direct conflict with Russian forces, but that may verge on excessive paranoia. It isn’t Ukraine’s responsibility alone to defend against Russia.
Lack of NATO interference, however, may also have some benefits. There is an interesting parallel I’d like to draw between this war and the Russo-Georgian War of 2008. There were two separatist regions that fought alongside Russia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), and, although Georgia lost those regions after the war, Georgia itself remained a sovereign nation and, in fact, formally appealed to join NATO. The First Chechen War of 1994 was not so similar, but it shows that even a small region like Chechnya can hold its ground against Russia with enough dedication.
I think that even without excessive NATO involvement, the strong-willed Ukrainians will continue to stand bravely and successfully for their motherland, even when facing off against a global superpower. They will clean up the mess after the dust has settled and continue to prosper for decades to come.
Слава Україні! Героям слава!
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