Ukraine: American Illusions and Russian Delusions

To further intimidate Kyiv, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the deputy speaker of Russia’s Lower House and head of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, reminded Ukraine that it has inherited lands belonging to its neighbors, including Romanian lands. And he alluded to the possible further dismemberment of Ukraine. While annexing Crimea, President Putin assured Kyiv that Moscow would react severely if Romania dares to make a territorial claim. It was not the first Russian threat against Romania. Previously, Putin had warned Romania that it would suffer grave consequences if it accepted the new American missile shield on its territory.


By Nicholas Dima l May 7, 2014


The University of Texas Library

There are several contradictions, incompatibilities, and potential clashes worldwide at the beginning of this 21st Century. There is the contradiction between nationalism and internationalism; the clash between economic expansionism and national sovereignty; and, the deepening gap between the rich and poor countries. One such incompatibility with a potential confrontation is between the American illusions and the Russian delusions that confront the two powers in Eastern Europe.

In March and April of this year, I spent six weeks in Eastern Europe, mostly teaching in Romania. My visit occurred during the radical events that shook Ukraine followed by the Russian annexation of Crimea. The Russian aggression jolted Romania and adjacent Moldova having chilling effects on other European countries bordering Russia, especially the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Apparently, Moscow continues to consider Eastern Europe as part of its exclusive sphere of influence. Armed with a “Eurasianist” agenda, if not a new doctrine, Vladimir Putin seems determined to reestablish the former Soviet Union, wherever ethnic Russian speakers reside in significant numbers. In this regard, it appears that Crimea is only the beginning, and the Russian people approve of the annexation unreservedly. Even the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, concurred and said that Putin should not stop at Crimea. However, the conflict in Ukraine is nothing but a proxy fight between Russia and the West, although some fear it could lead to the Third World War, unless Putin is deterred.

Russia has been unable to match the development of the West. Fearing American economic power and influence, Moscow is responding with westward territorial expansion further into Europe long ignoring Ukraine’s political independence and territorial integrity. Ironically, the Russian Federation constitutes the largest national landmass on earth. If the breakup of the Soviet Union had left Russia solely upon the European Plain with the Ural Mountains as its eastern border then Putin’s insecurity might be more understandable. But that is clearly not the case.

There is, in fact, a clash of interests. The West led by the United States is looking for economic globalization, while downplaying the importance of the traditional nation-state. Russia, however, is still set in the framework of 19th Century geopolitics. That means sheer territorial annexations when possible, spheres of influence at the periphery, and buffer zones to separate Russia from other powers. This time, the battleground is Ukraine, a large country that separates Russia from NATO. With Crimea already annexed, Moscow is eying the Donetsk and Odessa regions. Odessa, however, could also incorporate Transnistria and may reach the Danube, thus bordering Romania. This is where Romania is worried and apprehensive, as I found out for myself on multiple occasions. For now, it may be just a matter of perception, but Romania knows all too well Eastern hypocrisy and brutality.

To further intimidate Kyiv, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the deputy speaker of Russia’s Lower House and head of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, reminded Ukraine that it has inherited lands belonging to its neighbors, including Romanian lands. And he alluded to the possible further dismemberment of Ukraine.  While annexing Crimea, President Putin assured Kyiv that Moscow would react severely if Romania dares to make a territorial claim. It was not the first Russian threat against Romania. Previously, Putin had warned Romania that it would suffer grave consequences, if it accepted the new American missile shield on its territory.

The Russian annexation of Crimea and the fear of further territorial expansion are alarming for all those countries that have known repeatedly Russian aggression. Moldova and the Baltic states fear military interventions similar to those preceding the Second World War.  Transnistria, a small region of Moldova located mostly on the left bank of Dnestr River, has already been under Russian control since the dismemberment of the USSR. Like Ukraine, Moldova is not a member of NATO and thus it feels vulnerable. In addition, Latvia and Estonia have large Russian ethnic minorities and fear Russian intervention under the pretext of defending those minorities.

As for Romania, all officials strongly support the American position with regard to Ukraine, stand by NATO, and denounce the Russian aggression. On an intellectual level, the analysts stress the past Romanian experience and insist that Moscow cannot be trusted. But they are apprehensive, especially after President Obama renounced the installations of the American missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and after ‘resetting’ Washington’s relations with Moscow. Some analysts even question the reliability of Western Europe and the North Atlantic Alliance? As a rule they trust NATO, but ask themselves how soon would Romania be defended in case of a surprise Russian attack? And professors of history and geopolitics remind people that Romania received territorial guaranties from France and Great Britain before the Second World War only to be brutally trampled by Moscow and Berlin.

Ukraine’s territorial guaranties under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances have been violated by one of the three guarantors consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation. In return for its political independence and territorial integrity, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons arsenal.

The attitude of the average Romanian is more nuanced. Instinctively, and for good reason, ordinary people do not trust Russia and its intentions, but they have also lost their trust in the West. They embraced the European Union with open arms only to see their former industrial enterprises ruined, their employment gone, and many of their dreams dashed. There is freedom and more democracy in Romania, but the communists of yesterday are the new rich and crooked political class of today. Corruption is widespread and immorality is king.  All this with the acquiescence and even the participation of the West.

These days Romania seems to be an experiment on how to subdue and control a country. Nationalism and economic isolation are no longer real options for the small countries like Romania. Communism is gone, but some ordinary people are already nostalgic for the old system. Only a small layer of the population has benefited from the post-communist changes. Economic globalization is not helping the small and underdeveloped countries like Romania. The West and the United States must do more to win over the hearts and minds of average people. This is true for most Eastern European countries. Russia, however, is a different ballgame. It sticks to its nationalism and it has the resources and apparently the will power to oppose Western domination of the world.  As for Ukraine, the country is now the battleground between Russia and the West. If it chooses to join the European Union, Ukraine will have to radically reform its economy. Consequently, numerous factories in the highly industrialized East that are currently uncompetitive will have to close. I have seen scores of such ruined factories in Romania and they look as if they were ravaged by war. Millions of Ukrainians will become unemployed and for a while they will have a hard time adjusting to a new order. That will be dangerous in a country already split between pro-Russian and pro-Western tendencies. Although some may disdain the ‘old’ regime of Viktor Yanukovych and its strong ties to Russia, in the end they may experience a change of heart, and opt for Moscow.


Nicholas Dima, Ph.D, is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. He currently lectures and is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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