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Growing up Ukrainian

by Boris Lutskovsky

My first encounter with the Ukrainian language was violent. I got in a fight with another kid over a toy – after repeated inquisitions regarding the toy’s whereabouts, and his irritating responses in Ukrainian, I was convinced that he was mocking me and resorted to shoving. As far as I was concerned, he deserved to be punished for taking something from me, and worse yet, his brazen use of this savage language in contrast to my enlightened command of Russian language and fists.

Growing up in Kharkiv, in Eastern Ukraine, there was a general consensus that all civilized Soviet people should speak Russian; anyone who doesn’t probably lacks the mental capacity for it. Ideas that Ukrainian-speakers are stupid, greedy, and backwards were so common, they permeated culture. Jokes usually placed Ukrainians into the punchline, textbooks relegated the culture to a status worthy of historical preservation only. We had wings of museums dedicated to Ukrainian culture – it was something we kept around to remind us what we evolved from. We didn’t even deserve a whole museum. A block away from our apartment was a monument to Taras Shevchenko (more on him later), probably the most notable Ukrainian, and a block in the other direction was the KGB, which made sure he was the last notable Ukrainian.

After the USSR disintegrated and all the ex-Republics announced their independence from Moscow, nothing really changed, except a currency crisis every few years and a sudden influx of terrible knockoff products to create a farce of the “free market” – clothes with misspelled American slogans, pizza with ketchup as a primary ingredient, and pirated VHS movies. The KGB stayed (they were just a block away in a giant walled compound). So did the statue of Lenin on the main square, observing all of us, judging our shitty pizza and newly discovered bourgeois living standards. And so did the attitude that we’re all still counterfeit Russians, living a counterfeit life, clinging to a counterfeit culture.

At the time, I had no idea about a nearly 100-year old struggle for Ukrainian independence, Moscow’s attempts to put it down through pogroms, the genocide of the early 30s, political repression, forced dependence on Russian industry, or attempts at eradication of language and culture. And even if I was confronted with the wealth of proof that Moscow has been systematically destroying my cultural identity with popular media, education policies, and the state-controlled press, I wouldn’t have noticed. I was too busy being a typical 10-year old – getting into fights, cheating on tests at school, sneaking into movies, and scaring the hell out of my mother with dangerous antics.

We left Ukraine in the mid-90s, and very quickly settled into a new pattern of denial. Owing mostly to America’s abject failure at teaching geography, coupled with a view that the entire USSR is a drunk crowd of nuke-straddling enemies, my new American friends knew me as a Russian. I suppose it was something like living in the closet – so scared to admit reality that I even convinced myself that I was someone else. So, through my high-school years I was lumped in with all the Russian kids, as if we’re all a homogenous lump of smart-ass jokes and hard-to-understand frowning parents.

Still, lacking the constant reinforcement of anti-Ukrainian stereotypes: that Ukrainians are violent bumpkins who deserve to be eradicated, or that we’re to blame for the Russian Civil War, I softened up a bit. I was stirred by the Orange Revolution at least enough to make an orange scarf, and wear it at least once. It was inspiring to see Americans accept that we exist, that our country has a name, and it’s even worthy of being printed in a newspaper instead of a history book. Even as the Orange Revolution faded into a Kremlin-controlled kleptocracy, I started coming to grips with the fact that I am Ukrainian, and started correcting those who assumed I was Russian. Yeah, we may be a political failure, threatening the world with nuclear winter and economic collapse, but the world has accepted us as something unique finally, not just Russia’s garbage dump.

I met new people from all over the world, many of whom were proud of their culture, even if it had been hijacked by madmen or denied by politicians; I learned what it means when someone says “I’m Persian”, I worked with Yucatec Maya who refused to speak Spanish, and I met Zambians who insisted they were Bemba. In this liberal wonderland in the People’s Republic of Portland, it was perfectly acceptable to be myself, and there were bonus points for being from somewhere obscure, forgotten or downtrodden.

So, today, I’m a proud hyphenated American. I nervously watch Twitter for developments in Crimea, fumble my way through printed Ukrainian, and with every cell in my body want to bash Putin’s head in. But at the same time I realize that one of the trademarks of being a Ukrainian is enduring injustice and human cruelty with faith in a future resolution that is much more beautiful than what my revenge- fantasies can invent. After all, Ukraine’s national hero is Taras Shevechenko – an artist and a poet, who suffered as a slave and secured his freedom through painting and not armed struggle. This is why the Maidan had a piano. This is why the Ukrainian military hasn’t fired a shot against innumerable provocations in Crimea. This is why Ruslana, a Ukrainian singer, has been making the rounds in DC, meeting all sorts of American politicians.

To any of the talking heads on TV, or amateur social-media pundits it’s easy to misclassify the current events in Ukraine as an ethno-linguistic conflict. Pull out a map, point out where they speak Russian and not Ukrainian, draw some lines and make bold idiotic predictions. The more advanced commentators might see a glimpse of a political fight for independence. But neither of these attempts to frame the issue even begin to comprehend a fight for a cultural identity that’s been simmering for nearly 100 years – an identity that brings out the worst in a scared, brainwashed bully that desperately needs a victim in order to exist. The very same identity that I mistook for mockery the first time I encountered it too.

Boris Lutskovsky is a software developer, guitar-pedal manufacturer, and the frontman for the indie band Animal R&R.  He lives with his wife in Portland, Oregon. 

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50 thoughts on “Growing up Ukrainian

  1. In the USA, sometimes the southern states are made the butt of jokes implying the people from that region are culturally backwards, poor, uneducated, etc. A similar sort of sneering happens at the expense of Italians from the southern states of Italy or Brazilians from that nation’s northern regions. I realize Ukraine has been politically independent of Russia for nearly a full generation but the similarities seem too obvious to escape mention.

    It is absolutely marvelous that Ukraine’s grand cultural hero is a painter. Too many cultures celebrate their warriors first and foremost. Not to disparage warriors and their bravery, but that which makes a people great is bigger even than the awfulness of war.

    May your mother country overcome her rough landing in the world of democratic capitalism and find a path to peace and the rule of law. Thank you for sharing this part of your story, Boris.

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  2. A friend from college has always been proud of her Ukrainian heritage. She was born in the US but i believe her parents were immigrants. In college she would call herself a proud Uki and had some traditional clothes. She has certainly been paying attention to recent events based on her, always, voluminous Facebook posting.

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  3. My great-grandparents were Jews who left Eastern Europe (mainly Minsk) during days of Imperial Russia. I wonder if they saw themselves as Belarussian, Russian, or just as Jews and were glad to be out of the old world.

    Burt is right that every nation or group seems to have an outsider force that is seen as poorer and more culturally backward.

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  4. Throughout the discussion of the significance of the number of Russian-language speakers in Eastern Ukraine during this crisis, I’ve been reduced to silently, ruefully saying to myself, “I wish I had any confidence about what the other main language spoken in Ukraine might be. It could well be Ukranian, but, OTOH, it could well be that by thinking that I just invented the name of a language that doesn’t even remotely exist in the world.”

    …So thanks for sharing your experience and for confirming at least that much for me, Boris. And thanks for doing it at Ordinary Times!

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    • Moscow tried to make us think that Ukrainian is not a real language either – that it’s just Russian with a bad accent. That’s why the Maidan (main square in Kiev) is so important – that word doesn’t exist in other Slavic languages, but does in Arabic. Ukrainian absorbed that word with all the cross-cultural trade that went on in Kiev 800 years ago.

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  5. The sad fact is that many of the bloodiest conflicts in this world are essentially fraticidal. I would have a lot of trouble distinguishing a Hutu from a Tutsi, a Serb from a Croat, or an Orangeman from a Provo in Northern Ireland. That is life on this earth at this time.
    What do Ukrainians see as realistic achievable outcomes of the current situation?
    BTW, when people call themselves “Persian” they might be trying to avoid the reaction of some to calling themselves Iranian.

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    • Most likely Ukraine will end up losing Crimea. Sort of like amputating a foot to save the leg. The world will bitch and moan, make some token economic moves to show they care, but Russia’s oligarchs and Putin will be able to absorb the hits just fine. The majority of Russia lives in such squalor already, that they won’t even notice the economic pain.

      There may be a sizable Russian population that’s disgusted with Putin risking their sons for a complete schmuck like Yanukovych, but the rest are pretty brainwashed. I’ve spoken with relatives that are convinced that this whole situation is about brave Soviet patriots resurrecting the glory of the Soviet Union. And there is no convincing them of anything else.

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      • Boris, might Ukraine not potentially benefit from losing Crimea? I’m reasoning here that we’re talking about a highly Russian oriented voting bloc removed from your national landscape and certainly there’s little of economic value there for Ukraine. Historically my understanding is Russia has a significant connection to Crimea.
        Could this be a case that the rest of the country will be better off without it? Especially if it causes the west to be especially friendly to the rest of the country?

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  6. Thanks for the article, Boris. I’d been hoping someone on this blog would write something about the Ukraine.

    My family background is Ukrainian Mennonite – my great-grandparents left the Ukraine to come to Canada. Some of my family emigrated in the 1880s; others during the Civil War; some got out during the famine, and some didn’t get out at all – my grandmother has some letters that were written by family members in the gulag.

    Because Mennonites are pacifist, it’s a challenge for our charities who are working in the Ukraine, and whose employees are trying to decide whether they should be joining the military and fighting the Russians.

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  7. North, I actually think Ukraine would be better off without Crimea, and not just because the only Crimean I know is a world-class asshole. What’s at stake is pride, and the way Russia is trying to take it away. Ultimately, while Ukrainians are willing to die for their country on the Maidan, they’re not willing to kill for Crimea.

    I also think that Crimea will not be any better off trading in their autonomy for being a subject of Russia. I know Crimeans are being promised financial security and the return of the glorious soviet union, but Russia isn’t in a position to provide that. Most likely Crimea will become a large Abhazia or South – a poor and angry population that’s nothing but a war trophy.

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    • I concur it’s a bad deal for Crimea (made worse since many of them don’t realize it and certainly I feel for the Tartar minority who’re going to potentially truly suffer) but that is Crimea’s mistake to make. Ukraine, meanwhile, may do much better with so many russophiles removed from the electorate and the remainder much more nuanced about their russophilia.

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    • Boris – first, thank you for this wonderful post.

      Second, I was wondering if you can elaborate on what you mean by Ukraine being better off without Crimea. My ill-informed brain had very much been wondering exactly this for a few days, so it’s interesting to see you make that assertion.

      The reason I had arrived at my ill-informed view was that it seemed to me that Ukraine’s post-Soviet political history has been almost entirely defined by the single issue of ties with Russia. With the populace on the whole more or less evenly split on the issue, my theory went, the result was a sort of constant see-saw and polarization on the single issue that undermined stability, encouraged rampant corruption (since the only issue that really mattered politically was the Russian issue), and largely prevented the government from pursuing other issues (since either political coalition was defined by the single issue and lacked other cohesive group interests). By losing the most pro-Russian portion of the country, it seems to my brain that the relatively even split on the issue will cease to exist, forcing political coalitions to be built on a broader range of issues and also putting an end to the see-saw economic effects of alternating between closer ties with Russia and closer ties with the EU.

      This is incredibly speculative and ill-informed on my part, though, so I’m curious as to where I’m wrong.

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      • Russia’s only warm water port and largest navel base is in Sevastapol on the Crimea. That always gave the Russians a major and likely impossible to realistically surrender interest in that area. If Crimea is no longer part of the Ukraine that removes that touchy and difficult situation. The Ukraine is better off without having such an important place for the R’s in their territory. At least on that one point it seems better off for the Ukraine to not have the Crimea

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      • Crimea is a net loss economically for Ukraine, and they’re a major distraction from all the other domestic issues – corruption, poor public services, no jobs, bad roads. With Crimea gone, it’s possible that it will give Ukraine an opportunity to focus on the other issues instead of arguing with Russia.

        Crimea has no industry, no exportable agriculture, and no worthwhile minerals or ores to mine. If it wasn’t for the North-Crimean canal pulling in water from the Dnieper River, Crimea wouldn’t even have enough water to support its population. This is exactly why it was given to Ukraine – it’s dependent on Ukraine for basic needs.

        Crimea also has an increasing median age, and a shrinking population – creating more and more wards of the state that need pensions, medical care and don’t pay taxes.

        Ukraine doesn’t need Crimea. Russia doesn’t need Crimea. But Russia will take Crimea to show the rest of the world that it doesn’t like not getting its way. Picture a school bully that takes another kids lunch. It’s not that he wants the lunch, he just wants to be seen as being able to get his way.

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    • North:

      It isn’t quite that easy. Russia gave Ukraine the Crimea back in the 50’s as a gesture of socialist fraternity never thinking that the whole rotten empire would one day collapse. That being said however, the situation is complicated by the 1994 Budapest memorandum between Ukraine, Russia, Britain and the United States in which the three powers guaranteed the territorial integrity of the former Soviet republic in exchange for Kiev giving up their nuclear weapons.

      The Ukrainians were fools to think that the west would really protect them or that the Russians would honor the agreement. They should have kept the nukes

      The bottom line is Putin knows he can get away with this as Obama is incompetent and not going to do anything about it. We all saw him sputter about “red lines” in Syria and then turn tail.

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      • They should have kept the nukes

        I don’t think so. Nukes are a pain in the ass, they would have had to worry themselves about the necessary security over what would be a juicy target for terrorists to try to acquire fissile material, and the presence of Nukes would have made them even more of a tug of war between US and Russia, while there’s no way they could have dared threaten Russia with a good nuking.

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      • I’m going to have to disagree about this “gesture of socialist fraternity”.

        Crimea was “given” to Ukraine because it was a pain in the ass. NOT ONCE in the last 100 years did Moscow give anything of value to Ukraine. The other “gifts” from Moscow were holodomor and Chernobyl. Crimea is dependent on Ukraine for water, food, electricity, and tourists. Basically, Russia no longer had to deal with maintaining it, but reserved the right to use it for military purposes.

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      • Notme:
        The situation is complicated for the US and Britain, certainly, since they’re essentially breaking the Budapest deal if they quietly let Russia carve Crimea off of Ukraine. That’s not so much Ukraine’s problem since Crimea really is a problematic region for the Ukraine polity anyhow, they’re most likely better off without them.

        As to the nukes, that strikes me as wrong-headed. Ukraine would never have used them, Russia knows they never would have used them, so it would have been an empty threat. Also it would have made Ukraine a pariah from the rest of the world if they had clung to them so they likely wouldn’t have even had the planes to deliver them.

        As to your bottom line, that strikes me as discredited neocon nonsense. Would a GOP neocon president have been able to stare Putin down on his own bloody border? Don’t make me laugh. Especially since by now a neocon would have us hip deep in Syria and probably Iran by now. The amusing thing about all the GOP/neocon carping on this subject is they have no actual solutions to suggest but chest thumping and sending other people’s children off to die in their hobby wars. I will agree, however, that Obama has a lamentable habit of talking too much- but at least he’s not dumb enough to let the liberal interventionists and neocons dragoon us into another idiotic intervention. The country has done quite well not getting mired into conflicts in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, neocon pearl clutching notwithstanding.

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    • I think that the international community allowing Russia to annex the Crimea would set a horribly dangerous precedent. There has been a consensus in the international community lasting since the end of WWII that it is illegitimate for a nation to acquire territory through war. The exceptions to this rule are very rare and internationally condemned (i.e.: Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories).

      If Russia annexes the Crimea, it sends a message to the whole world that this principle is dead in the water, at least as pertains to the actions of great powers. For any nation which is not a great power, that’s incredibly threatening – and potentially a strong incentive to acquire nuclear weapons, thereby making the world even more insecure.

      Moreover, there’s the fact that this is not the first time post-Soviet Russia has invaded and annexed portions of its neighbours – it de facto annexed South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia in 2008. In Ukraine, it’s moved up to de jure annexation in a form that the international community can’t just recognize as “independence” or “autonomy” for the Crimea. Godwin’s Law is invoked far too often, and almost always inappropriately, in discussions of international conflict, but I have yet to think of an argument for why this is not a comparable situation to the Sudetenland. If Putin isn’t shown that the international community is unwilling to tolerate such actions, what’s to stop him from invading and annexing the Ukraine entirely next time they show a desire for closer association with the EU?

      If the Crimea had held a referendum and chosen to leave the Ukraine and join Russia, that would be something else entirely. But no decision on such matters made in the presence (or even recent aftermath) of a foreign occupation can be legitimate.

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      • The problem is – Putin doesn’t care. He’s figured out that the world’s disapproval is just a piece of paper. He doesn’t care about international law, or even the economic effects of this. The value metrics for each side are completely different. This is like fighting a war against terrorists – they’re not afraid to die; they want to die.

        Likewise, Putin isn’t afraid of sanctions. He would LOVE sanctions. Sanctions strengthen his platform at home that the West is against Russia, and allow him to explain that the reason life sucks for ordinary Russians is not because of his policies, but because the West hates them.

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      • Katherine

        I get your point, but the breakup of the USSR was not necessarily the end of the process as much as the beginning. As long as Russia focuses on areas that are predominantly Russian, there’s a somewhat plausible argument that it’s just some ongoing sorting out of the borders. Crimea’s a perfect case in point, because only by a decision by Kruschev some half century ago did it become a part of Ukraine to split off anyway. Had he not attached it to Ukraine for whatever reasons then, it would not have been split off with Ukraine and we wouldn’t be here.

        For that reason, I don’t think it sets such a big precedent. Given that, what’s the value to the U.S. and the rest of the west of preventing this?

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      • I get your point, but the breakup of the USSR was not necessarily the end of the process as much as the beginning. As long as Russia focuses on areas that are predominantly Russian, there’s a somewhat plausible argument that it’s just some ongoing sorting out of the borders.

        James – Germany in the 1930s initially focused on areas that were predominantly German(ic) – Austria and the Sudetenland – and people said it was all right because they were just overthrowing the unjust Treaty of Versailles and returning to their natural ethnic borders.

        As I said – what’s to stop Russia from taking all of the Ukraine later, if they decide it’s getting too friendly with the EU?

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      • what’s the value to the U.S. and the rest of the west of preventing this?

        There’s significant value in highlighting the legitimate means to settle the concerns Russia raises; so if Russia has concerns about the human rights of Russian speakers, there are OSCE and UN routes to pursue those. Simply moving military forces into territory a neighboring country is definitely a means the US and West want to steer along the already established, legitimate channels wherever possible. Especially given the outstanding agreements Russia has on Ukraine’s borders (e.g. Budapest Memorandum). But for the huge restraint of Ukrainian forces, there could already be an armed conflict.

        And were Russia’s behavior to be pursued by other major powers, we’d have even more trouble in potential world flashpoints. Imagine Russia’s behavior repeated in disputes like China-Taiwan, various South China Sea claims, various East Asian islands claimed by South Korea or China or North Korea or Japan, India-Pakistan and Kashmir, China-India… The number of headaches this can cause, military force as early pathway to dispute settlement, is immense.

        Given that, it is worth raising the price of pursuing Russia’s chosen path, bearing in mind the pushback from the US and West need be proportionate. So targeted sanctions, expulsion from the G-8, and other steps to show that policies along these lines will be discouraged.

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      • And how many of those uses of force, after the creation of UN, was for purposes of annexation?

        Irredentist wars are something the US, West, and international system want to prevent. With very good reason, as the tens of millions who died in 20th century conflicts can attest..

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      • &

        I don’t think the examples of Germany or the suggestion that other superpowers are going to follow Russia’s lead are valid.

        And when you say we need to raise the price of Russia’s action, that all sounds well, but it’s not like a store raising a price on a customer. To raise the price for Russia we may very well need to accept a very sizable cost.

        How much of a cost should the U.S., U.K., etc. all accept to raise this price? Enough to raise the price just until it smarts but doesn’t deter Russia? Enough to make them pull out of the Crimea completely?

        Do we really want to risk war with Russia?

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      • James, my own take is that the current indications are that the UK and Europe have no interest in raising the prices much at all. They have no interest in bearing the costs over a Ukrainian region that is part of Ukraine only by a soviet quirk of history, that is pro-Russian annexation (though pity those poor Tartars) and is quite literally on Putin’s doorstep.

        Russia’s elites, oligarchs and plunderers park their dough in London. Many of those fine new financial towers up and down the Thames are built using Russian and Eastern European money. England could make Russia howl in agony if they went after those assets but they’d also be damaging their own economy badly if they did so. Do the English want to kick a tire off their economy over Crimea? Of course they don’t; they’d vote any government that chose to out on their asses.

        Germany is an economic powerhouse, they buy tons of things from Russia not the least of which is energy. If Germany started doing sanctions that’d snap Uncle Vlad’s head around right quick. But if they did that there’d be a huge spike in energy costs on top of their already serious energy problems. There’s only so much room for windmills and solar reflectors in Germany and they’re dead set on not building any more nukes. Does Merkle want to pay the cost in economic damage and energy crisis over Crimea? Of course she doesn’t, she knows the Germans would throw her out on her ass.

        So instead we’ll get a lot of bloviating and some symbolic but relatively cost free gestures. This will primarily be because everyone knows deep down that Putin isn’t really changing much. We’re talking about the literal border of Russia here. Fifty years ago people seriously worried that the Russian order threatened to take over from Cuba to China; now Putin is fighting a rearguard action on his literal doorstep? This is Fukuyama end of history* level stuff here.

        *With deeply regretful acknowledgement that this is far from ideal for the Ukrainians in Crimea and especially the Tartars, poor buggers.

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      • n bearing the costs over a Ukrainian region that is part of Ukraine only by a soviet quirk of history

        To be fair, what nation Crimea is part of has been a quirk of a lot of histories for a long time, and part of the reason Crimea is so Russian today is because of ethnic cleansing under the Soviets in the 30s and 40s, and the Soviet importation of ethnic Russians in order to make Crimea more Russian (and less Tatar).

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      • Do we really want to risk war with Russia?

        No, I’m not suggesting war with Russia. There is considerable room for policy between do nothing and send in the marines.

        I’d say the US should be on the side of raising the cost such that Russia withdraws from Crimea, particularly acting through targeted sanctions, expulsion from the G-8, and I’d even make Russia’s isolation readily apparent on the UN Security Council by forcing them to veto a resolution on Crimea (I haven’t seen Russia getting any cover from other UNSC members). There’s also stuff that can easily be put on ice, negotiations for visa-free travel between Europe and Russia, negotiations for freeing trade between the US and Russia.

        With regard to tougher sanctions, raising the cost so high would require considerable cooperation with European allies and the US may not convince Germany and the UK to go that far. But as a position for the outset, within negotiations with allies as to how to respond, that’s where I’d suggest the US should be.

        I’d also suggest the US assist in helping various European nations recast their relationships with Russia in the medium to longer term. Particularly with regard to efforts to diversifying energy supplies: non-Russia routes for pipelines, new liquefied natural gas terminals where needed, etc. There needs to be US-encouraged, renewed urgency in getting Germany, Poland, the Baltics, and other European nations alternatives to Gazprom.

        As mentioned upthread, there are considerable, longstanding norms at stake in the international system; additionally, there are the prior commitments of Russia. Pacta sunt servanda, agreements must be kept, is a pretty important idea in international law. Russia agreed, several times, to Ukraine’s borders; Khrushchev’s actions decades ago (1954) are far less important than treaties that are in force now. Only madness lay along the pathway of reversing treaties in that way – an agreement is never an agreement if 60 years later, contrary to subsequent agreements, Russia can say “Changed my mind”. The UK Ambassador to the UN cites at least four agreements violated by Russia: the UN Charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the 1997 bilateral Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between Russian and Ukraine, and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

        Russia should not be allowed to pretend those treaties didn’t happen and they certainly shouldn’t get an easy pass having violated those agreements. Russia’s armed intervention in Ukraine undermines these prior agreements and those norms against changing borders in this way – especially since Russia hasn’t even made a good faith effort at the legitimate routes for pursuing their aims.

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      • “such that Russia withdraws from Crimea”

        I meant the status quo ante. I think the G-7 leaders put the outcome envisioned well,

        We call on the Russian Federation to de-escalate the conflict in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine immediately, withdraw its forces back to their pre-crisis numbers and garrisons, begin direct discussions with the Government of Ukraine, and avail itself of international mediation and observation offers to address any legitimate concerns it may have. We, the leaders of the G-7, urge Russia to join us in working together through diplomatic processes to resolve the current crisis and support progress for a sovereign independent, inclusive and united Ukraine.

        http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2014/03/12/g-7-statement-on-russia-and-ukraine/

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      • I grant all of that Chris without reservation. The Soviets were monsters. The facts on the ground, however, are striven towards because they are, right or wrong, facts on the ground. Crimea’s current population is strongly pro-Russian and that complicates the situation (and also makes Ukraine better off without Crimea).

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      • North answers better than I could have–I am in 100% agreement with what he wrote.

        I didn’t mean to imply that you thought the U.S. should go to war over Crimea (and I’m sorry if that’s how my comment read; my bad), but what if Russia does decide to go for all of Ukraine? Should the U.S. militarily intervene? If not, why not?

        As for the costs short of war, again, read what North wrote. Yes, there’s plenty of room between doing more than we’re doing now and putting boots on the ground, but nothing in that in-between space is free. So my question still stands–what cost should the U.S., UK, etc. be willing to pay to keep Russia from confiscating Crimea?

        Pointing to a very bad horrible no good thing is all well and good, but deciding whether the cost of stopping that very bad horrible no good thing has a positive benefit/cost ratio is where the rubber meets the road.

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  8. Thanks for this post. It was both informative and personal. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Now, I want to learn more about Taras Shevechenko, who I know through a few paintings, but that’s about it.

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      • I’m embarrassed to say I only previously knew the name from this (The Ukrainian National Home, New York City):

        Great post, Boris. Despite having a good friend of Ukrainian descent, this was all new to me (she was born here in the States, so I am not sure how much of your experience would be familiar to her – my exposure to her culture was more of the “Folk Festival” variety – dancing and food, basically). I will be forwarding this to her. Thanks.

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  9. My thinking is that the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation is a fait accompli, and there aren’t any diplomatic avenues to reverse it – just ineffectual tut-tuting.

    We could put sanctions on Russia, and freeze assets of certain Russians, but besides the aforementioned problems of getting enough of the international players onboard, you don’t get to be Russian oligarch – particularly one friendly with the post-Yeltsin regime – without knowing how to make a few Randall Stevenses

    Making trade more difficult for the honest person is just going to help the already connected and shady operators that make up a disproportionate share of the Russian economy. And hence help the current Russian regime maintain their power.

    If it goes to the UNSC, China will likely have Russia’s back at the end of the day. The PRC has its own interest in protecting ethnic Hans in its near abroad, and over the long term, may wind up pulling the same stunt in eastern Siberia in a half-century’s time.

    As for the G-8, I have no idea (seriously) what benefit either Russia or the US or the rest of the G-7 gets from Russia’s membership. The G-7 has some small nominal use as clubhouse for the Winners of History, but Russia is not a member of that club, and has little overlapping interests with the G-7 that are not already covered by its permanent membership in the UNSC.

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    • I’d be quite curious to see what way China voted on this subject. I’m not so certain they’d back Putin up on this as China really likes no muss no fuss when it comes to international affairs and I doubt they’re happy at the idea of fractious borders being redrawn because of the public opinion of the residents (see Taiwan and Tibet for instance).

      Sanctioning is easy for the US, our trade with Russia is a pittance, concurrently the pain US sanctions would cause would similarily be a pittance. The people Russia would actually fear having sanctions from don’t want to sanction them because sanctions hurt the sanctioner too.

      As for the G-8, it’d sting Russian price a bit to be dumped out of the club but who’re we fooling, they’ll be back in eventually. Perhaps, though, the US et all can make them pay admission dues to get back in.

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      • The UNSC hasn’t taking any action yet in terms of presenting a resolution for a vote. The latest I can find from the AP indicates that the western powers are trying to bring China over to their side, or at least just abstain. (the latter, imo, is as much a victory for Russia as it is for the other 3 permanent members)

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