How much should Ukraine let itself be squeezed?

China is now demanding repayment of a $3 billion advance to Ukraine against to the delivery of commodities. Russia is demanding back payment for gas amounting to $16 billion dollars. These two authoritarian regimes are putting increased pressure on Ukraine.  Putin actively undermined the demonstrators at Maidan.  When that failed, he took the fleeing Yanukovych and in short order annexed Crimea.  This demonstrated the West’s inability to oppose him on his own turf.  Russian propaganda, sadly echoed by many conservatives in the West such as Paul Craig Roberts, attempts to justify seizing Crimea.

Among other things, propagandists are denying the legitimacy of Yanukovych’s ouster as President. They claim that he was freely elected. That was not exactly the case. There was, as always in Ukraine, a great deal of actual fraud during the election itself, and of course Russia spent a massive amount on propaganda and dirty tricks to sway the election. One cannot, however, claim that the United States was clean either. We can only say that the Russians were more effective. The electorate here, like every place, is relatively simpleminded.  They could be bought.  Yanukovych won a supposedly fair election. He then proceeded to do as he had done throughout his career, plunder his constituents. After three years, the country rose up in rebellion. It was rather like the French Revolution. When the tyranny becomes unbearable, you do away with your masters.

Needless to say, just as in the French Revolution, the neighboring autocrats – Putin above all – are worried about the emergence of freely elected governments. The West has its own concerns. The authoritarian, bureaucratic regimes of Western Europe are hardly democratic, although they call themselves that. The problems with democracy have been described by a number of authors, among them Trenton Fervor in The Myth of American Democracy and Frenchman Alain Benoist with “The problems of democracy.”  They would rather not see something in the form of a democracy emerge unless they can somehow shape and control it.  If it turned out to be truly representative and free of debt, quel horreur!

On March 20 Europe extended to Ukraine the first step toward joining the EU, a partnership agreement. This is simple. It doesn’t cost them anything and it makes a statement against Russia. On the other hand, have been slow in coming up with money to bail Ukraine out.

It’s increasingly clear that Europe and the US themselves are bankrupt. They had really nothing but newly printed money to offer, and their citizens are skeptical of their ability to help abroad when things are falling apart at home.  A background issue is that Ukraine is really not part of modern Europe and is not likely to be. They maintain traditional values in the face of the hypermodern values of Europe and do not show much appetite for change.

While Europe is in fear of the Russians, they are perhaps in fear of an alternative to the European model of authoritarian bureaucratic socialism, the welfare state. Ukraine thus represents an anomaly in the modern world. A modern, educated country that has shown a genuine desire for democracy. A modern, educated country that is still economically backward because it has suffered under years of oppressive governments.   One might add that Ukraine has developed a culture that hinders economic development.  The Ukrainians still generally lack the level of trust needed to come together into associations such as the joint stock company which enabled the Great Britain and the Netherlands first to become rich about three centuries ago.   However, the Maidan demonstrations which overthrew their corrupt government were a major manifestation of the mutual trust that comes of desperation.  Maybe there is hope.

All of Ukraine’s open warfare scenarios are vastly asymmetric. In a conventional war between Russia and Ukraine, Russia would hold all of the advantages. They have a bigger, better funded, more experienced, more modern, and better equipped military.  Ukraine could not put up a resistance by itself.

If the west were to arm Ukraine, the country could well suffer the same kind of debacle as Georgia. There, the Russians captured a lot of expensive Western hardware after a minor struggle. Ukrainians could not be trained how to use hardware in time to use new equipment, and the United States could not afford or provide enough hardware to make a difference in a realistic frame of time.  Therefore, the only condition under which Ukraine could even consider engaging the Russians would be with the guarantee of substantial NATO and US support. Given the United States’ recent track record, they would be wise not to believe any such promises even if these parties were to make them. The West simply does not have the stomach for war.

At the end of the day, Ukraine has only passive defenses available.  Invading Ukraine would totally rupture relations with the West.  Completing its snatch of South Ossetia from Georgia in 2008 caused some ripples.  Taking Crimea has made a major dent in diplomatic and trade relations.  Further dismemberment of Ukraine would severely curtail trade and force the lazy Europeans to look elsewhere for energy.  Western public opinion is the first passive defense.

Moreover, even with the benefit of full information control and tight borders, the Soviets were never able to bring the Western Ukrainians to heel.   They do not like anything that smacks of Russia.  There is no fifth column to support Russia if they were to invade.  The world would see Russians for the brutal conquerors that they are, and the Ukrainians could be expected to fight them every step of the way.  The Russians would face a hard choice: seal the borders to both trade and information, as in Soviet times, and force all of Russia into self-sufficiency, or suffer insurgencies, smuggling, and all the ills that already beset the unwilling Russian fiefdoms of Chechnya and Dagestan.  Call this second passive defense the hedgehog defense.  A victory in Ukraine would not be worth cost.

Ukraine has to recognize that if Russia wanted to invade, they would make a pretext and do it.  The only thing restraining them is what it would do to their standing with the rest of the world.  Ukraine should not act out of fear; if the Russians are coming, they cannot be stopped.  But they probably won’t come.  In that case the first priority should be laying the foundation for a healthy country, starting with proper institutions such as honest courts, free elections and a logical delegation of power.  They should not roll over in the face of Russian and Chinese demands for payment.   Money isn’t the issue.


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