Tag Archives: Russian aggression

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How Long Can We Ask Ukraine to be NATO’s Defender?

photo from The New York Times
                               The New York Times

The moral quandary of the West’s position sits in clear view.

As others have noted, the Ukraine war is “asymmetrical.”  Russia is in the privileged position of attacking Ukrainian citizens with little fear of direct retaliation to its forces or equipment staged on their side of the border. Vladimir Putin has essentially used nuclear blackmail to deter the west from engaging in direct military retaliation. Russians are mostly experiencing only modest economic hardships, but nothing equal to the deaths and homelessness of thousands of Ukrainians whose towns in the east have been leveled.

It’s easy for some to say this isn’t our fight. But NATO leaders and individual governments have noted that it is unthinkable to let Russia pull another Crimea by taking the territory of a separate and emerging democracy. Putin, of course, claims he is only occupying what belongs to his pathetically out of date map that included what was once known as “little Russia.”

Everyone following this appalling war understands that NATO member states have contributed to financing and supplying Ukraine with advanced weapons to stave off a full invasion. The usual observation as per our own Secretary of Defense is that we cannot allow Russia to succeed in its continual thirst for more lands to put under its control. That seems self-evident, especially in light of a delusional Putin who recently declared himself the heir to the legacy of Peter the Great.

But the moral quandary of the West’s position sits in clear view.  How long can we ask the Ukrainians to sacrifice their citizens in the interests of NATO’s strategic goals? To be sure, containment is required in order to rein in a leader trying to expand a nation already faltering.  Except for gas and vodka, no one is buying what Russia is selling.

Russia remains one of the physically largest nations in the world. But most of its citizens still find it hard to identify with others in the hinterlands in the far east. They cherish European vitality, even though many seem to lack the national will to function with anything like the norms of a civil society.

We must be on the scene with the Ukrainians. 

ukraine flag graphicIf the idea of “western values” means anything, it should include doing more than supplying weapons with the handicapping proviso that they only be used for defense. I am no military analyst, but if there were justice in this quagmire, Russia should be forced to feel the sting of its mostly unanswered military attacks. They should face retaliation in their own regions which are used to stage assaults on Ukraine.

In addition, and at a minimum, the nearly fifty countries around the world supporting Ukraine must be prepared to strengthen threatened cities like Odesa and other land that may soon be under siege. A true multinational force could function as a peacekeeping presence in areas threatened by Russian attacks. A model for this form of ‘drawing a line in the sand’ might be Berlin after World War II. In 1948 Allied forces helped maintain the free zones of the large city, placing themselves firmly in the way of Soviet goals to move west. Food and household items were often the weapons of choice in the aircraft-centered Berlin airlift. It helped citizens live a semi-normalized life.  If the same approach was used now, the idea of attacking a true multi-national peacekeeping force should be too much even for Putin.

No doubt this would still look like “aggression” to murderous Russian leader, who seems to lack even an elemental understanding of the idea of national sovereignty. As well, authoritarians almost always overestimate their self-importance, usually scouring the empty closets of their history to justify their faded rhetoric of political hegemony. Such an incremental step of western citizens joining Ukrainians as guardians of their own nation might finally call Putin’s bluff.

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Our Distended Nervous System

There is a clear sense that things have seriously gone off the rails. 

More of us are wearing our worries and concerns on our sleeves: ready to offer a sour retort or a note of pessimism to anyone defending thoughts we consider to be beyond the pale. We may not witness shouting matches, but we can’t help but see news accounts where others are all too ready to empty themselves of their rage, and sometimes other lethal means for settling a grievance. The rest of us are more controlled, sometimes falling into silence, where a sense of hopelessness that has muted our former expressiveness. Chatty kids remind us of who we were; grumpy Uncle Fred is a stand-in for what many of us have become.

To be sure, the world is a mess, and we are showing a collective fatigue. Promises of American greatness, fairness and opportunity still seem out of reach for too many, blunting our previous national optimism, even among those with the advantages of wealth and without the disadvantages of the ‘wrong’ skin color. It is now harder to dismiss evidence that the game of prosperity is rigged. Then, too, in the era of 24/7 news and information, our sense organs are regularly assaulted to absorb the images and sounds of the world’s woes. At least in a metaphorical way, our senses have become distended, moving well beyond a consciousness of self to an overload of images and challenges offered by our media.

In medicine, a “distended” organ of the body is one that is bloated or dangerously strained. And its an apt term to describe assaulting senses sagging under the weight of more troubling views of mayhem, war or racial injustice. All this accumulated angst is because our media emersion is nearly total. Our senses are obviously tuned to print, aural and visual media that reflect the hyperactive news that, like the remains of a traffic accident, we must slow down and see for ourselves.  The constancy of this has burned us out.

Politics has become an American Blood Sport

As causes to this national discontent I hear others cite the present, with the COVID virus, intense news coverage of unprovoked mass shootings, Court decisions repealing a key component of health care for women, and unequal access to housing and good schools. And then there is the smoldering political fire of sedition and rigged elections, sadly fueled by low levels of factual information and a brand of politics that has become a blood sport. For the rest of us, angst comes in the smallest details, like an Annenberg study noting that only half of all Americans could name the three branches of government.

Even with our current malaise, we would be wrong to think that ours is a rare time when the stars are out of alignment. Turmoil is a given in American life. We could cite the transformative war years in the 40s, the Vietnam era, or the polio scares and misinformation in the first half of the last century.  Or we can find other rough parallels to the present in the stormy past: McCarthy-type reactionism resurfacing in modern equivalents of right wing authoritarianism; the racial strife and assassinations of the 60s and 70s now transformed into myriad examples of lethal injustice; high crime rates and bankruptcy of New York City in the 70s duplicated today in other big cities; and the Cold War that has morphed into a proxy war with Russia that spills Ukrainian blood. Yet again, Moscow is playing its part, using assassination and the theft of sovereignty as its only choices in an empty diplomatic toolbox.

Still, the pressure to acknowledge that things have seriously gone off the rails seems more apparent. The destruction of Mariupol or Bucha is as clear as the nightmares that Hollywood regularly conjures for the big screen. We are now intimate witnesses to interesting times, made worse by our immersion in media that rarely let up.