Sunday, November 1, 2015
Fear Drives Central Europeans to Russia’s Side
Fortunately, Adolf Hitler isn’t alive today, pillaging, killing, annexing and invading European countries because ultimately he would prevail while the free world waxes poetic – or academic, analyzing ad nauseam why he's doing what he's doing or why the downtrodden Europeans prompted his aggression.
However, that is the catastrophic situation that Ukraine is facing today in the wake of the latest Russian invasion and war, which has been continuing since February 2014 and claimed some 8,000 lives, despite escalating punitive sanctions.
While the United States is making an effort to fight the good fight on behalf of Ukraine, most of the remaining world is merely going through the motions of supporting Ukraine when it is expedient but, I suspect, truly hoping that Ukraine would submit to being absorbed into Russia’s renewed prison of nations.
That became apparent at a discussion that I attended last week at the Austrian Consulate General in New York City, at which five experts, including two Ukrainians, attempted to examine what is happening in Ukraine in a session titled “Russia-Ukraine: Which Way Forward?”
If the conclusions that the three non-Ukrainian speakers as well as some of the audience reached were implemented, the result would have indeed allowed Russia to re-subjugate Ukraine before the last of the participants had left the premises.
The speakers included: Assistant Professor Tarik Cyril Amar, Columbia University; Professor Csaba Békés, University of Pecs, Hungary, and Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Dr. Wendelin Ettmayer, former Austrian Ambassador, former Member of the Austrian Parliament; Valerii Kuchinskyi, former Ukrainian Ambassador, currently adjunct professor at Columbia University, and Associate Professor Olena Nikolayenko, Fordham University.
The program was opened and moderated by Consul General Georg Heindl, who bemoaned that the “hot, dramatic topic” of the “conflict in Ukraine … returned war to Europe,” which is terrifying the continent into willingly and prematurely surrendering to Russian whims. The non-Ukrainian experts earnestly coaxed the evening’s tone into finding a non-violent solution, which places the onus of peace on Ukraine, not Russia.
For example, Ettmayer warned that a military solution will lead to millions more refugees swarming across Europe, something that Europeans are loathe to accept. He urged the global community as well as Ukraine and Russia to strive to establish an environment of peace and stability through national reconciliation and cooperation.
He omitted stating what would be the elements of this panacea and who should initiate it, while completely failing to admit Moscow’s culpability in the war. To be sure, he and his non-Ukrainian colleagues noted that looking for the smoking gun would only exacerbate the war as will NATO’s continued expansion.
Even though there seems to be evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to redraw the boundaries of Europe, in reality, Ettmayer said, that is not possible. His analysis of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is frozen in the present and overlooks traditional, historical Russian imperialism not only against Ukraine but also other countries in the region.
For him, the only way out of this perilous situation is “national reconciliation and international cooperation.” But cooperation between combatants in wartime is difficult and dangerous while reconciliation with the enemy should come after Russia has withdrawn all of its troops and terrorists to a safe distance inside Russia. This line of thinking indicates that the proponents reject the existence of Russian animosity toward Ukraine, likening the war to a schoolyard brawl.
Former Ukrainian UN Ambassador Kuchinskyi several times noted that global peace and stability will continue to be disrupted while Russian boots are on the ground in Ukraine. Furthermore, he correctly called for international sanctions against Russia to be maintained as long its soldiers and terrorists are on Ukrainian soil.
In reply to Ettmayer, Kuchinskyi pointed out that the demise of the Soviet Russian empire brought to the surface so-called internal conflicts in the USSR – or the captive nations’ aspirations to freedom. For Ukraine and the others, declaring their independence a quarter of a century ago was a means to get away from big brother and Russian domination, he added.
Kuchinskyi statistically elaborated that Ukrainians have a desire to be included in Euroatlantic structures rather than Russo-Asian ones. He predicted that a national referendum in Ukraine would demonstrate that the nation’s support for NATO membership because Ukrainians see it as the only way to protect Ukrainian borders, sovereignty and independence.
The non-Ukrainian speakers offered as an explanation – or rather an excuse – for Russia’s imperial behavior its melancholy feeling of failure after losing 14 union republics or captive nations as well as its Eastern European satellite-nations. Moscow’s sphere of influence shrank while NATO has been expanding, they sympathetically suggested. Consequently, they continued, it’s only natural for Russian leaders to strive to rebuild and maintain Russia’s influence in the region.
The non-Ukrainian speakers argued that Moscow is also concerned about the fate of ethnic Russians around the world, including the 8 million in Ukraine, and has anointed itself as their sole defender. During the Q&A at the conclusion of the presentations, a listener rose to reproach the audience for not sympathizing with the poor, anguished Russians. He bewailed the fact that Russia lost its sphere of influence – another antiseptic expression for Russia’s prison of nations – and its aggressive reaction is merely a feedback to NATO’s expansion.
The non-Ukrainians advised the United States, the European Union and NATO to stay out of Ukraine; otherwise Russia could be provoked into a wider war, which would threaten Europeans’ peace and stability. They also placed the responsibility of what they continuously referred to as a conflict and its solution on Ukraine, demonstrating their fear of even including Russia into the equation.
However, their duplicitous vacillation rose to the surface when Prof. Amar observed that the future should be decided by Ukrainians as they want it – but apparently so long as they don’t seek accession into Euroatlantic structures without Russian permission and avoid provoking the Russian bear into hostile activities.
Prof. Nikolayenko demonstrated the pro-Ukrainian role of Ukrainian civil society amid the country’s democratic environment, pointing out, on the other hand, that NGOs in Russia are being repressed by the Putin regime. Some democratically oriented Russian organizations are establishing contact with Ukrainian ones but there are too few of them to make a difference on Russia, where the vast majority of people have strongly endorsed Putin’s policies, according to national surveys.
Responding to his colleagues’ admonitions against Ukraine, Kuchinskyi declared that Ukraine is making headway with reforms, democracy and decentralization and its battle with corruption – though it remains problematic. He believes that time is on Ukraine’s side but warned the free world not to offer Russia any relief as long as Ukraine’s sovereign territory is occupied.
The west should not force Ukraine into deep concessions under the guise of peace at any cost, he said, but rather it should raise the risk and costs to Russia of renewed violence against Ukraine. “If the costs are high, Russia will listen; Putin won’t escalate,” he believes.
Ukraine’s fighting forces are improving their strength and prowess but there is still a possibility of an all out Russian invasion against Ukraine, Kuchinskyi said.
As an example of the non-Ukrainian speakers’ fondness for blaming Ukraine for the region’s calamity while oozing sympathy for Russian hardships, Prof. Békés called on Ukraine’s President Poroshenko to do everything possible to create a harmonious environment for Russians in Ukraine.
In response, during the Q&A, I rose and rebuked all of the speakers for their Russian sympathies by saying that it is a callous conclusion to place the onus on Ukraine for the war which Russian launched against Ukraine. On the contrary, I continued, they should be forcing Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.
As my frustration with the anti-Ukrainian rhetoric continued and I challenged the speakers to consider if there are any similarities between Hitler’s annexing of European countries, including their Austria, ahead of invading Poland, and Putin’s Anschluss and invasion of Ukrainian Crimea and the eastern oblasts. And if there are, I continued, then does Ukraine deserve to be betrayed by Europe?
After my comments were derided as being belligerent, Amar expressed his offense at my statement about their dancing around the core reason of Russia’s aggression without addressing the issue, and went on to say that while he sees “certain similarities,” he doesn’t see such comparisons heading in a positive direction. Emotional discussions are dangerous to reaching a peaceful solution, he and his colleagues opined.
Ettmayer emphatically declared that Putin is not Hitler.
Kuchinskyi, on the other hand, said he does see similarities between both historical events that I cited. But the question remains, he continued, what the free world should do when one country unleashes a war against another country.
“Putin has a vision and he can’t be bought. He wants to return the glory and might of Russia,” he said.
Too bad that Kuchinskyi’s voice was in the minority that evening.
Rather than finding false solace in their own academic pontifications, central Europeans should heed the opinions of their neighboring east Europeans. Otherwise they’ll be welcoming Russian tanks on their territories.