On Ukraine, America needs to listen to Russia

When it comes to Russian foreign and domestic policy, geography is nearly everything.  It does not make a difference who is in power.  It could be the tsar, Stalin, Khrushchev, or Putin.  Given its position on the globe, there are outcomes Russia needs.

Russia will always need a warm water port on the west.  Although rich in minerals, Russia needs access to mineral imports because its cold climate impedes mining and transportation.  Russia needs to feed itself.  Its harsh and long winters have an impact on its harvests, and unlike Japan, it does not have an export economy to compensate.

Ukraine has been the breadbasket of Russia.  Moreover, its moderate climate makes for easier access to its mineral wealth, which Russia needs.  Two major Russian pipelines supplying oil and gas to Europe run through Ukraine.

But most of all, Russia needs strategic security.  Russia lost an estimated 27 million people in World War II.  Russia has strategic depth, but the vast open plains on its borders seem to be an invitation to those who would attack it.  Napoleon, the Russo-Polish Border War, and two world wars are seared in the Russian experience.

Russia's strategic concerns are seen in its unilateral redrawing the borders of Eastern Europe after World War II.  That should have been an indelible statement to America and its European allies.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO rushed to include members of the old Warsaw Pact, like Poland, which bordered the former Soviet Union, into NATO.  If Russia needed to heighten its strategic anxieties, this policy certainly achieved that. 

Imagine if the Soviet Union had incorporated Mexico and Guatemala in the Warsaw Pact, and you have an idea of what the Russians are experiencing.

Now Russia is seeing Ukraine forging bonds with the West to the point of wanting to join NATO.  No Russian leader could permit that.  NATO in Ukraine is as provocative as the Warsaw Pact in Canada.

NATO in its hubris, and its refusal to acknowledge Russia's strategic concerns, has provoked the current situation.

American pundits are talking about the right of nation-states in the post–World War II environment to forge their own destiny.  Where might we find that agreement?

War, if it does occur, will be unpredictable.  Germany understands that and understands further that no matter who wins a war in Europe, Germany will probably be the big loser.  The potential for armies to fight across German soil is always in the offing.

Germany's refusal to permit arms transfers across its territory is not an act of betrayal, but an act of preservation and sanity.

Sending more American troops to Europe is an act of provocation that would not stop Russia from storming into the Fulda Gap.

Nation-states are not proponents of moral virtues or moral policies.  Nation-states have interests.  What interests do we have in Ukraine?  It is clear what Russia's interests are in Ukraine.

In the end, the Biden administration needs to stop provoking the Russian bear.  Let there be a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian problem that recognizes Russia's strategic needs.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.

Image: Metal Chris.

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