The situation in Ukraine poses the most serious crisis in Europe since the demise of the Soviet Union, reviving, to many, memories of the old Cold War between “the West” and the former Soviet Union. The Russian Federation’s incursion into the Crimean peninsula in violation of Ukrainian sovereignty has created a frightening threat to peace worldwide. Having grown up in the Cold War, I can say with some legitimacy that we do not want to “go there” again and must avoid a new Cold (or hot) War at any cost.
In both the West and in the Russian Federation, politicians and the media are too often engaging in an onslaught of nationalist propaganda, building up public emotions with the drumbeats of war. Sunday morning talk shows and the 24-hour news channels, including the Russian media, feature the “usual suspects” trying to work up “war fervor” on both sides. Cooler heads need to prevail.
War is hell, no matter for what reason, no matter where it is. War must be avoided by every means available. What can “locals” here in Chester County do? They can appeal to the two U.S. Senators, Casey and Toomey, as well as to their Congressional representatives, to work to bring peace to this situation by diplomacy.
However, with the brand-new fledgling Ukrainian government, in a disastrous financial situation, diplomacy will not be enough. What is needed in the Ukraine is a “Marshall Plan” – an enormous influx of cold, hard cash – not hot, hard war. That government is facing emergencies on all fronts that could lead to a cataclysmic situation. Our government, with President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry in the lead, appears to be attempting to lead efforts to get that financial assistance to Ukraine post haste – and they will require unified support in those efforts from the American people.
This situation did not arise overnight. I was in Moscow in the fall when the Ukrainian situation was “top news” before it had even registered on the U.S. public radar screen. Reading and watching both the international and Russian media daily, I then saw unfolding a potential horror show that just did not seem to register with the American public – until now. The mistakes that have led to this crisis were occurring then, the emergency situation rapidly escalating into disaster. One of the real problems leading to the current crisis was Ukraine’s desperate need for economic help. In the fall, the Russian Federation “won” temporarily by stepping in with promised emergency assistance when the European Union was vacillating and promising very little in terms of desperately needed help. The EU was promising “European values,” which I think most Ukrainians want to aspire to, while Russia was promising cold, hard cash – which Ukrainians needed desperately. Ukraine’s leadership took the help where it could get it. The EU simply lost the “blackmail” game in the fall. At one point, Russia proposed tripartite (EU, Ukraine, Russia) negotiations, and the EU refused – that’s when I started getting worried, as did many others. Negotiations should have started then, back in October and November; but they did not – and here we are.
But back to the present: It is what it is. Playing politics here in the U.S. simply does not help. The more politicians and the media ramp up war talk, the more they hurt the Ukrainian people by limiting solutions. The valiant Maidan protestors cannot appear to be stooges of “the West.” Their independence and their sovereignty must be respected. However, they do need a huge influx of western aid – cash now.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), whose Ukrainian background and affiliations give her a strong motivation to do what is best for the Ukrainian people, and who has traveled to that country more than any other member of the U.S. Congress, is the kind of voice we should all be listening to. She realizes that, while Russia has legitimate historical and geopolitical interests in Crimea and eastern Ukraine (which we simply cannot and must not cavalierly dismiss) we must support the Ukrainian people with the full forces of diplomacy and substantial economic assistance. Rep. Kaptur is the kind of voice Americans should listen to – not the political- and media-driven drumbeats of war. She is telling the American public what it needs to hear.
Again, what can people here in Chester County do? They can let their elected representatives know with phone calls, e-mails, and letters that they support diplomatic efforts and emergency economic assistance for Ukraine. They can also inform themselves by listening to and reading information from many sources – not just the 24-hour media (either U.S. or Russian). It takes time to be informed, but we are fortunate to live in a country were we can be informed and have a duty in such difficult times to make our own judgments and not be swayed by emotional nationalistic appeals from any side. I read and watch U.S., Russian, and European media – all of which can be propaganda-filled and can misinform. However, we have other news sources – online, in print, and broadcast media from around the world. Democracy and our democratic responsibilities can be time-consuming, but we are fortunate to have access to many points of view so that we do not have to respond to situations like this one with nothing but emotion and misinformation.
The stakes are simply too high.