Over at Equitable Growth: John Mearsheimer is only one of a surprising number claiming that the current crisis in Ukraine is predominantly the U.S.'s, and NATO's, and the Ukraine's fault:
John Mearsheimer: How the West Caused the Ukraine Crisis: Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: "The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility...
...The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement.... For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president--which he rightly labeled a “coup”--was the final straw.... Realpolitik remains relevant--and states that ignore it do so at their own peril. U.S. and European leaders blundered in attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border....
Soviet leaders... and their Russian successors did not want NATO to grow any larger and assumed that Western diplomats understood their concerns. The Clinton administration evidently thought otherwise.... The first round of enlargement... 1999... the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. The second... 2004... Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Moscow complained bitterly.... The alliance considered admitting Georgia and Ukraine.... Putin maintained that admitting those two countries to NATO would represent a “direct threat” to Russia.... READ MOAR
The West’s triple package of policies--NATO enlargement, EU expansion, and democracy promotion--added fuel to a fire waiting to ignite.... On February 21, the government and the opposition struck a deal.... But it immediately fell apart, and Yanukovych fled to Russia the next day. The new government in Kiev was pro-Western and anti-Russian to the core, and it contained four high-ranking members who could legitimately be labeled neofascists. Although the full extent of U.S. involvement has not yet come to light, it is clear that Washington backed the coup.... For Putin, the time to act against Ukraine and the West had arrived....
Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importanc.... No Russian leader would tolerate a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West.... This is Geopolitics 101: great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory....
There is a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, however--although it would require the West to think about the country in a fundamentally new way.... Western leaders should acknowledge that Ukraine matters so much to Putin that they cannot support an anti-Russian regime there.... The United States and its allies should publicly rule out NATO’s expansion... considerably limit its social-engineering efforts inside Ukraine. It is time to put an end to Western support for another Orange Revolution.... Even if one... believes that Ukraine has the right to petition to join the EU and NATO, the fact remains that the United States and its European allies have the right to reject these requests.... Indulging the dreams of some Ukrainians is not worth the animosity and strife it will cause, especially for the Ukrainian people...
Mearsheimer appears to believe:
- There is a thinking entity called "Russia" which has preferences and interests, and which has rights to have its preferences satisfied and its interests accommodated.
- "Russia" has an interest in and prefers to have Kiev ruled by a corrupt thug pleasing to whatever corrupt thug currently rules in Moscow.
- The United States should not say "boo" to this: it should not seek to extend its security umbrella over Kiev, it should not seek greater economic integration with Kiev, it should not encourage the growth of a civil society and democratic polity in Kiev that would object to be ruled by a corrupt thug pleasing to Moscow.
- The rest of NATO and the European Union should also not say "boo" to this: they should not seek to extend its security umbrella over Kiev, they should not seek greater economic integration with Kiev, they should not encourage the growth of a civil society and democratic polity in Kiev that would object to be ruled by a corrupt thug pleasing to Moscow.
Needless to say, if Mearsheimer were to attempt to explain his reasoning to an intelligence from outer space--vast or not, cool or warm, sympathetic or unsympathetic--he would be met with vast incomprehension. It would see not Russia but Russians. It would see that many of those Russians believe that they and their ancestors belonged to various imagined communities in the past--the Tsarist Empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics--but it would not see "Russia" as having interests in preferences. It would see Russians as such--and it would see Russians aggregating up their individual preferences into those of the community that they imagine they belong to and wish to belong to.
And the Russians have always--well, since Dmitri Donskoi--oscillated between seeking to and believing they belong to three different imagined communities, which have themselves changed over time. Think of each of these three in terms of its notional geographic center: Kiev, Novgorod, and Moscow.
The imagined community that is Kievan 'Rus is the east most outpost of a Mediterranean and European-oriented civilization. It saw itself as in the sphere of influence of the Byzantine Empire ruled from Constantinople. And then, after the fall of Constantinople, it sought a place as a European marshland oriented toward Vilnius or Warsaw on which it relied to try to protect it from the steppe nomads--the Mongols and the Turks. capital of the Byzantine Empire-that-was, that is--and Warsaw.
Old Kiev, the city of Oleg and his Rurikid descendants, was oriented toward Constantinople, and via its Slavonic Orthodox church and Byzantine culture Kieven 'Rus has retained a strong degree of orientation toward the rest of the Greek-orthodox world. But old Kiev's residents were all slaughtered and the city razed in 1240 by Batu Khan's Mongols. We see a rebuilt Kiev in 1262. It was ruled by Lithuanian princes. At first it owes allegiance and tribute to the militarily-stronger Khanate of the Golden Horde. After 1362 it is part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. After 1569 it is part of the Kingdom of Poland. In 1648 the Dneipr Cossacks allied with Muscovy to establish the Hetmanate. The hetmanate is first independent, then autonomous and self-governing but owing allegiance to the Muscovite Tsar in Moscow, and after 1775 neither independent nor autonomous nor self-governing. From 1775 until the fall of the Tsarist empire in 1918 Kiev was ruled from Moscow--but much of Kievan 'Rus, what we now call the western Ukraine, was ruled from Vienna, with its major city of Lviv called Lemburg. After the 1918-1922 Russian Civil War Kiev was, again, ruled from Moscow until 1991--but it was a strange sort of rule, in which schoolchildren were taught that they were one of fifteen equal and autonomous union republics in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, of their own nationality, with their own language, traditions, history, and heritage; while behind the scenes all the shots were called in Moscow.
The imagined community that was the 'Rus of Novgorod the Great has always been oriented toward the Baltic and the North Sea beyond: Sweden, Germany, the Hanseatic League, Holland, international trade. Peter the Great, the Romanov Czar of Muscovy, built St. Petersburg precisely because he wished his empire to imagine itself not so much Muscovite as Novgorodian. Peter saw Saint Petersberg as providing his Moscow-centered realm with "a window on the west" that was maritime Europe. But the Baltic littoral and as far inland as you could navigate a barge in summer did not need a window on the west: Novgorod (and Riga) were cities as European as Helsinki or Stockholm or Danzig.
And then there is the imagined community of Muscovy 'Rus. Far enough north in the forests that the Mongols could not easily and permanently dominate it. Far enough east that western Europeans could not easily control it--as Karl XII Vasa discovered at Poltava in 1709, as Napoleon I Bonaparte discovered at Kaluga in 1812, and as Adolf Hitler discovered at Stalingrad in 1942. Muscovy 'Rus is the civilization of the Third Rome, the heart of Slavonic Orthodoxy: neither western European, Middle-Eastern, nor steppe-Mongol. Muscovy 'Rus is the civilization of the very strong leader--the vozhd--desperate for geographic buffers against invaders from the east, from the south, and most recently from the west. Moscow, after all, was sacked in 1238, 1382, 1571, 1610, and 1812, and what Hitler and the Nazi Germans did to Russia in 1941-1944 was worse by far than a mere sack.
The polity of the Tsars came to dominate the lands of all the Russians in a long slow process of fits and starts, and carried along with it a collective decision imposed by persuasion, force, and fraud that the Russians were to imagine that their community was Muscovy 'Rus--not Kievan 'Rus oriented toward Constantinople, Vienna, and Warsaw; not Novgorod 'Rus oriented toward Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Hamburg. At least some of the Tsars who did the most to advance the political project of the Muscovite empire--Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Alexander I with his French-speaking aristocracy come immediately to mind--had at least mixed thoughts about this. They, it was clear, would have greatly preferred that the empire they were building has its heart in Novgorod 'Rus rather than Muscovy 'Rus. Consider: Peter I Romanov's daughter Elizbeth I Romanov married a Russian. But afterwards Russian blood ran scarce in the family of the Tsar: Elizabeth brought her half-German nephew Peter von Holstein-Gottorp to Moscow and married him to Sophia von Askanien--who became Catherine the Great. Their son Paul I Romanov married Sophia Dorothea von Beutelsbach. Their son Nicholas I Romanov married Charlotte von Hohenzollern. Their son Alexander II Romanov married Marie von Hesse und zu Rhein. Their son Alexander III Romanov married Princess Dagmar of Denmark. And their son Nicholas II Romanov married Alix von Hesse und zu Rhein.
The ambivalent attitude of the rulers of 'Rus toward their Muscovy power base came to a sharp end in 1917 with the accession to power of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov--Lenin. Lenin believed that he was a bit player in the great socialist revolution of the early twentieth century. It was his job, he believed to make the socialist revolution for the nationality of the Moscow-centered Great Russians. Other nationalities--Finnish, German, Estonian, Polish, Ukrainian, Georgian, Kazakh, and so forth--would make their own socialist revolutions. He would help to the extent that he could. But to take over was not his job. He did not aspire to rule the empire of the Tsars: he did not want to be the jailer of the prison-house of nationalities that the Romanovs had assembled under their rule. He sought, rather, to lead the Russian people--in comradely and brotherly alliance with their neighbors--into Karl Marx's classless utopia. This made Lenin both an anti-nationalist and a cosmopolitan nationalist. He was an anti-nationalist in that--unlike nearly everyone else of his followers--he did not particularly care about the terms on which his Bolshevik Russia made its peace with Germany and withdrew from World War I. The German socialist revolution was imminent, after all, and after it took place borders would be adjusted and treaties rewritten in mutual brotherhood. He did not think that Russia should be great. He thought that peoples should be free--and socialist, and therefore allied.
Lenin's successor Stalin would have none of this. He wanted the empire of the Tsars, and more. Local autonomy and local nationality were useful illusions with which to beguile, but power needed to be centralized in Moscow, in the Kremlin, and in Stalin. However, a strange thing happened. The formal structure of the USSR remained that of fifteen union republics. And the educational system of the Soviet Union taught everyone that their ethnicity was an honorable nationality of its own. And over seventy years people came to believe this: come 1991 the Estonians were more Estonian, the Ukrainians more Ukrainian, the Georgian more Georgian, and the Kazakhs and Tadjiks more Kazakh and Tadjik than they had been eighty years before.
Come the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, therefore, we find that we have five overlapping and inconsistent lines of division/poles of attraction:
The continued attraction of the peoples of all the Russias to the three different imagined communities--Orthodox/pan-Slavic/Polish Kievan 'Rus, autonomous and separate Muscovite 'Rus, and cosmopolitan-European Novgorod 'Rus.
70 years of cultural and psychological nation-building of a separate nation in each union republic and, within the union republics, each autonomous region.
A greater degree of ethno-linguistic fragmentation within the boundaries of the Soviet Union's successor states than had been seen elsewhere in Europe since the 1920s--for with notably rare exceptions (cough, Crimean Tartars, cough, and others) Stalin's terror was equal-opportunity (if with an anti-semitic bias) and did little to alter the ethno-linguistic balance of a region.
Combined and uneven economic and political development in the successor states of the USSR.
Historical memories of Muscovite domination from the Kremlin--cough, holodomor,cough--that do not make people who do not identify themselves as belonging to the Great Russian ethnos eager for another round...
And everyone involved is now all trying to work all of this out.
But where in all of this, an alien intelligence would ask, is it written in stone that whoever rules in the Kremlin speaks for Russia--or, at least, speaks for Muscovy 'Rus--and his the right to install a corrupt thug of this choice in Kiev, or to veto any Kievan government he does not like?
If John Mearsheimer were a smarter man, he would, I think, be speaking not to Obama but to Putin. He would not be telling Obama to cool it on "social engineering" in--i.e., the economic development and democratization of--the Ukraine. He would be telling Putin that the imposition of Soviet puppet regimes in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Hungary produced an enormous running sore and was a long-term source of great weakness for the Soviet apparatchicks who ruled in the Kremlin. And he would be telling Putin that pulling the Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk away from Kiev will do more than anything else could to ensure that those who rule in Kiev will offer him and his successors in the Kremlin as little as possible. And that going beyond that to install and maintain a puppet regime in Kiev will do more damage to the security of Muscovy 'Rus than almost anything else one could imagine.