America, Crimea, and Ukraine: The Desirable over the Achievable

American-Russian relations are characterized by irreconcilable contradictions and the aloofness of history.  The American official position is that Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.  Moscow's position is that Crimea has been "returned" – back to Russia.

The Crimea and Eastern Ukrainian conflicts are two of many ethnic conflicts that have become common in the post-Cold War period.  In many countries arbitrarily created after the Second World War the unifying principle was the power of the state that forced citizens to tolerate a plethora of incompatibilities.  Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Ukraine are prime products of this geopolitical engineering.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent demise of the so-called "socialist camp" resulted in weakening or overthrowing the authoritarian regimes.  The absence of enforcement gave rise to nationalistic aspirations that challenge the cohesiveness of the established order, in some instances, to the point of no order at all.

Modern Ukraine is an agglomeration of the territories of the original Ukrainian People's Republic created after the disintegration of the Russian Empire in 1917 and the neighboring countries with some historical and cultural links to Ukraine, and Novo-Russia, or Eastern Ukraine.  The most recent addition was Crimea, which Nikita Khrushchev, with proletarian generosity and in violation of the Soviet Constitution, transferred to Ukraine.

After the collapse of the USSR, the Russian population of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine found itself trapped under Ukrainian rule.  Pro-Russian sentiments – ranging from the recognition of the official status of the Russian language to outright secession – have always been prevalent in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and are the roots of the current conflict.

The United States has to synthesize the complex legacies and develop a strategic view of the process it so imprudently got involved in.  Here are some suggestions.  If Crimea is a fait accompli, Eastern Ukraine offers some interesting dynamics.

Usually, in conflicts, each side is pursuing an outcome incompatible with the strategic ambition of its adversary.  In this case, however, neither Petro Poroshenko nor Vladimir Putin wants Eastern Ukraine.  Putin could occupy Eastern Ukraine within 48 hours and face no resistance.  Poroshenko could accept a limited autonomy for the belligerent East, which it demanded from the outset, and avoid a bloody conflict altogether.

But the rulers in Kiev are not motivated by "one country, one destiny"; they are not motivated by concern for the stability and integrity of Ukraine.  Rather, they are moved by billions in financial aid.  The aspiration of Poroshenko and his cronies is to become in some sense the Palestinians of Europe, victims of Russian aggression, just as the actual Palestinians are perceived as being victims of Israel.  Defeated by superior force, they want the E.U. to adopt them and make Ukraine a black hole for billions of dollars and euros, with no end in sight.

The fact is that despite international support, Kiev lacks the means to preserve Ukraine as a unitary state.  Therefore, Poroshenko's survival is predicated on defeat.

Just as in the case of the Palestinians, whose every defeat functions as a catalyst to attract worldwide sympathy and international donors, the continuation of hostilities, for Poroshenko, is an inevitable necessity.  This should explain indiscriminate bombing of East Ukrainian cities and a recent border incident between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Putin's predicament is that although two million Eastern Ukrainians have already voted against Kiev with their feet, seeking refuge in Russia, unlike predominantly Russian Crimea, which voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, the binational population of Eastern Ukraine is hesitant to replace the Ukrainian mess with the uncertainty of joining the Russians' bedlam.  The prospects of having their sons drafted into the Russian army do not appeal to them, either.  Furthermore, heavily industrialized Eastern Ukraine can survive and prosper on its own.

Within this context, if the West accepts Crimea as part of Russia and recognizes the independence of Eastern Ukraine, paradoxically, all sides will achieve their respective objectives.  The populations of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine will acquire national identity; the United States and Russia could resume non-adversarial relations; Western Ukraine becomes an orphan of Europe; Poroshenko and his cronies, who provoked the conflict by declaring their intent to join the E.U. and NATO, get their payoff; and the E.U. adopts a much smaller country.

Woodrow Wilson would have no difficulty endorsing this approach.  Wilsonian principles of national self-determination should apply to Crimea and Eastern Ukraine just as they were applied to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Scotland, the Falkland Islands, and Cyprus.  So the central question is, why do we even care if there are two Ukraines – or even three or four?

Dealing with absolutes, those who promulgate adversarial relations with Russia have lost their grip on reality and are driven by hatred rather than American national interests.  The Russians see the acquisition of Crimea as a geopolitical issue paramount to their security as well as a fulfillment of nationalistic aspirations and are ready for sacrifices way beyond the West's comprehension.  In this manner, the outcome of the sanctions is preordained; even if sanctions are kept in place for the next hundred years, they will not weaken Russian's resolve.

If a strategy does not accomplish its stated objectives, a reasonable observer may conclude that the strategy has failed.  It is the time to distinguish between the desirable and the achievable.

Alexander G. Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a conservative think-tank hosted at King's College, New York City, which examines national security, energy, risk-analysis, and other public policy issues.  He is the author of Anatomy of a Bolshevik and Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It.  Mr. Markovsky is the owner and CEO of Litwin Management Services, LLC.

American-Russian relations are characterized by irreconcilable contradictions and the aloofness of history.  The American official position is that Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.  Moscow's position is that Crimea has been "returned" – back to Russia.

The Crimea and Eastern Ukrainian conflicts are two of many ethnic conflicts that have become common in the post-Cold War period.  In many countries arbitrarily created after the Second World War the unifying principle was the power of the state that forced citizens to tolerate a plethora of incompatibilities.  Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Ukraine are prime products of this geopolitical engineering.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent demise of the so-called "socialist camp" resulted in weakening or overthrowing the authoritarian regimes.  The absence of enforcement gave rise to nationalistic aspirations that challenge the cohesiveness of the established order, in some instances, to the point of no order at all.

Modern Ukraine is an agglomeration of the territories of the original Ukrainian People's Republic created after the disintegration of the Russian Empire in 1917 and the neighboring countries with some historical and cultural links to Ukraine, and Novo-Russia, or Eastern Ukraine.  The most recent addition was Crimea, which Nikita Khrushchev, with proletarian generosity and in violation of the Soviet Constitution, transferred to Ukraine.

After the collapse of the USSR, the Russian population of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine found itself trapped under Ukrainian rule.  Pro-Russian sentiments – ranging from the recognition of the official status of the Russian language to outright secession – have always been prevalent in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and are the roots of the current conflict.

The United States has to synthesize the complex legacies and develop a strategic view of the process it so imprudently got involved in.  Here are some suggestions.  If Crimea is a fait accompli, Eastern Ukraine offers some interesting dynamics.

Usually, in conflicts, each side is pursuing an outcome incompatible with the strategic ambition of its adversary.  In this case, however, neither Petro Poroshenko nor Vladimir Putin wants Eastern Ukraine.  Putin could occupy Eastern Ukraine within 48 hours and face no resistance.  Poroshenko could accept a limited autonomy for the belligerent East, which it demanded from the outset, and avoid a bloody conflict altogether.

But the rulers in Kiev are not motivated by "one country, one destiny"; they are not motivated by concern for the stability and integrity of Ukraine.  Rather, they are moved by billions in financial aid.  The aspiration of Poroshenko and his cronies is to become in some sense the Palestinians of Europe, victims of Russian aggression, just as the actual Palestinians are perceived as being victims of Israel.  Defeated by superior force, they want the E.U. to adopt them and make Ukraine a black hole for billions of dollars and euros, with no end in sight.

The fact is that despite international support, Kiev lacks the means to preserve Ukraine as a unitary state.  Therefore, Poroshenko's survival is predicated on defeat.

Just as in the case of the Palestinians, whose every defeat functions as a catalyst to attract worldwide sympathy and international donors, the continuation of hostilities, for Poroshenko, is an inevitable necessity.  This should explain indiscriminate bombing of East Ukrainian cities and a recent border incident between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Putin's predicament is that although two million Eastern Ukrainians have already voted against Kiev with their feet, seeking refuge in Russia, unlike predominantly Russian Crimea, which voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, the binational population of Eastern Ukraine is hesitant to replace the Ukrainian mess with the uncertainty of joining the Russians' bedlam.  The prospects of having their sons drafted into the Russian army do not appeal to them, either.  Furthermore, heavily industrialized Eastern Ukraine can survive and prosper on its own.

Within this context, if the West accepts Crimea as part of Russia and recognizes the independence of Eastern Ukraine, paradoxically, all sides will achieve their respective objectives.  The populations of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine will acquire national identity; the United States and Russia could resume non-adversarial relations; Western Ukraine becomes an orphan of Europe; Poroshenko and his cronies, who provoked the conflict by declaring their intent to join the E.U. and NATO, get their payoff; and the E.U. adopts a much smaller country.

Woodrow Wilson would have no difficulty endorsing this approach.  Wilsonian principles of national self-determination should apply to Crimea and Eastern Ukraine just as they were applied to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Scotland, the Falkland Islands, and Cyprus.  So the central question is, why do we even care if there are two Ukraines – or even three or four?

Dealing with absolutes, those who promulgate adversarial relations with Russia have lost their grip on reality and are driven by hatred rather than American national interests.  The Russians see the acquisition of Crimea as a geopolitical issue paramount to their security as well as a fulfillment of nationalistic aspirations and are ready for sacrifices way beyond the West's comprehension.  In this manner, the outcome of the sanctions is preordained; even if sanctions are kept in place for the next hundred years, they will not weaken Russian's resolve.

If a strategy does not accomplish its stated objectives, a reasonable observer may conclude that the strategy has failed.  It is the time to distinguish between the desirable and the achievable.

Alexander G. Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a conservative think-tank hosted at King's College, New York City, which examines national security, energy, risk-analysis, and other public policy issues.  He is the author of Anatomy of a Bolshevik and Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It.  Mr. Markovsky is the owner and CEO of Litwin Management Services, LLC.