There’s been a lot of talk about Vladimir Putin’s new territorial aggression in Ukraine and how permanent Russia’s icy rift with the West is. Some commenters have jumped on the “we’re in a new Cold War” bandwagon. Most of the experts I read find this term inappropriate, if for no other reason than Russia is a far, far weaker power than the Soviet union ever was. This weakness makes our relations with Russia a far lower priority than they used to be, anyway. Still, a new cold war (lower case version), even with a 3rd rate power version of Russia, is still worrisome. Putin could seek territory or hegemony in other parts of the former USSR, Our European allies depend on Russia for energy supplies. And, we all have to care about the fate of Russia’s Central Asian neighbors, with their large Muslim populations and – there we go again – huge energy supplies.
Mike suggested we talk about Russia for another reason. Some people view Putin’s actions as more defensive than offensive. Ukraine is three layers deep in the former USSR. We promised Russia in the early 1990s that NATO would never expand eastward into eastern Europe and beyond, and we broke our word and did that. Mike wants us to discuss this, and I think a good airing of why we always see other nations moves as aggression and our own as benign is in order. I do not want us to roll back NATO, but it’s worth discussing this broader point, at least.
I’m out of town now through Sunday night, so I won’t say much in my introduction. I’ll preface the topic for those who don’t read the background, and then let Mike do a short summary of his argument.
Discussion Questions –
- What are Putin’s motives here? Is he acting in a fundamentally aggressive way, or are his actions really defensive, as Mike has argued? How does the answer to this question relate to who is to blame for this situation?
- Regardless of one man’s motives, have Russia’s interests just diverged from ours and the West’s? If so, why?
- Is Russia crazy to do be doing this, anyway, because it’s too interconnected to the world economy to throw it all away for a little more territory and local influence? Or, is the opposite true: Does Western dependence on Russian energy render it helpless to stop Putin?
- Should we have done anything different to prevent or manage this crisis over Ukraine? Or, has Obama done a pretty good job (see link below)?
- In the 21st century, can regional powers still demand a buffer zone of weak states on their borders? (We will have an entire meeting related to this subject in July.)
- [UPDATE Sunday: Read this one.]
- RUSSIA’S ROLE:
- 25 years of Russian post-Soviet weakness is over. Recommended.
- We need a new containment strategy even though Putin’s actions are partly defensive.
- In fact, like the Cold War, the fault is partially ours and we need to give Russia hegemony in its immediate backyard. Recommended.
- U.S. ROLE:
- MIKE’S POINT: Russia is the aggrieved party here. Same thing by same author here. Recommended since it was Mike’s meeting idea.
NEXT WEEK: Is there Still a Sexual Double Standard In Our Society?