Ukraine, Crimea, Russia: Is This a New Cold War?

Pope PatriarchSviatoslav

Patriarch Saitsolav Shevchuk and Pope Francis say mass together. Source Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation.

Patriarch Svaitsolav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church warned us a few weeks ago.

“Humanity may be on the verge of a new Cold War,” he said in early February on the Voice of America. “It is about the future of democracy in Europe.” Referring to Russia, he warned of the danger of “aggression, violence and interference from our northern neighbor.”

I didn’t write about it then because I didn’t — and don’t — understand the situation. I gather that the original protests were sparked by disagreements over the current Ukrainian economic situation and whether to ally economically with the European Union or with Russia.

As I understand it, the Ukrainian prime minister backed out of a promise he had made to sign an economic agreement with the European Union. He was under pressure from Russia, which included threats of trade sanctions, not to sign. Also, the agreement would have required the prime minister to release one of his political rivals from prison.

Was it more complicated than that?

I think so. I am surmising that the underlying considerations — and the cause of the demonstrations — were not just pure economics, but the question of who would control the country. Was Ukraine going to become a European democracy, or would it be pulled back into economic and political servitude to the Russian bear?

Were there other factors we don’t know about?

Almost certainly.

But what has happened since seems, at least in terms of the broad strokes, painfully obvious.

Ukraine exploded with prolonged and increasingly violent protests that have resulted in the deaths of Ukrainian citizens at the hands of their own government.

Now, Russia has invaded both Ukraine and Crimea. This armed invasion can not be viewed as anything less than an act of war.

The question rises almost immediately: Is Russia also going to invade other former Soviet satellite states? Will they eventually exit Ukraine and Crimea peacefully, or is this a military takeover and permanent re-colonization?

I wish I could give you a more intelligent read on this situation, but I feel hamstrung by the simple fact that I don’t know who to believe. I am not referring here to Ukrainian and Russian news sources, but rather to our own. There are so many agendas operating in American news, and our president has lied to us so many times, that I’m more than a little chary of taking what any of them say at face value.

One thing is clear: Patriarch Shevchuk understood the situation and spoke with prescient clarity.

  • SisterCynthia

    I went to nursing school with a number of Ukrainian girls, and so have been watching this for a while, hoping their families will not get caught up in the mess. :(
    I’m pretty confident Putin would gladly retake every bit of land the USSR used to rule, and the only questions in his mind are, how much can I take and how slowly must I go so as to not possibly scare the West into actually reacting with more than girly-man threats about my place in history? Thanks to our financial weakness and prevailing lack of fortitude in the West, Russia is in a good place to retake land, and Putin knows it. If this weren’t the case, he wouldn’t have moved.

    • kenofken

      It’s not a matter of fortitude. We don’t have a lot of leverage over there. Ukraine is not a NATO member, and they are deeply divided on whether their identity as Russian or Western. To the extent it is the latter, it is Europe to which they will look, and Europe which has the only real strategic interest in them via Russian gas. We should use what pressure points we have, including sanctions, which are no trivial threat due to the massive outflow of capital from corrupt oligarchs who look to the West for investment and safekeeping opportunities. Russia also cares about its image, to some extent. It doesn’t want to be seen as a rogue nation. It’s massive PR efforts during Sochi demonstrate that it wants to be treated as a modern and relevant and civilized nation.

      Boots on the ground or even flyovers are not even remotely an option. Russia is a nuclear state, and it still has a very capable conventional military. Even reckless posturing in the direction of war will strengthen Putin’s position that he’s just defending against western and anti-Russian aggression in his own backyard. And you’re right about financial weakness. We’re in no place at all to undertake a new Cold War, due to the ruinous cost of the first one and a decade of war as our primary took of foreign relations. If you think Obamacare is ruinously expensive, it’s couch cushion change next to what another war or arms race would cost.

      • SisterCynthia

        I didn’t mean deploying troops, unless there is truly no other way to avoid a new creeping conquest from Russia’s Emperialists. Fortitude isn’t a euphemism for war in my book, it implies a moral compass and iron will to implement what is necessary to bring the pain to those who would swallow other nations, to force them to stop because it has become in their best interests to do so. That pain can be economic (sadly, that is rarely enough to ever effect change, but it’s a necessary first step). The key is to actually follow thru and not make empty threats of any kind while HOPING no one calls your bluff. I don’t want our men in Ukraine any more than I did Syria. And when I said West, I meant “the West,” not merely America. This should concern European countries even more than us. But no leaders, here or abroad, seem to have the clarity or will to do more than bluster and hope Putin will content himself with Crimea or maybe Ukraine at most. For now.

  • Dave

    Patriarch Shevchuk is actually the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. All I know is that we need to pray. Russia actually gave Crimea to Ukraine 60 years ago or so (when they were all one big unhappy family) and now they apparently want it back.

    As bad as it already is that Russia has essentially invaded Ukraine by taking control of Crimea, the bigger issue is whether it will stop there. Putin is probably evaluating the West’s reaction to what he has done so far. It doesn’t help that we have an amateur at the helm.

    The main thing is that we really need to pray. Ukraine has suffered enough at the hands of the Russians over the last 100 years.

  • FW Ken
  • Mary E.

    My reflections about the events of the past few days–Patriarch Shevchuk certainly saw what was ahead, didn’t he? Events are moving so quickly that the best I can do is to try and keep up. But the overall course of events feels all too familiar. Russia has been an expansionist empire for centuries. That did not change during the decades of the Soviet Union, and though the past few decades has been a time of disarray and confusion after the fall of the Soviet empire, Vladimir Putin has risen to power, and has maintained power by reviving the old imperalist impulses.

    One big thing to remember: Russia has never been a true democracy at any point in its history. As someone who has grown up in a repesentative democracy and who takes the existence of that form of government as as given, it is difficult for me to imagine living in a country that has never experienced it. There are democratic forces there, Russians who want to see a open, free democracy established, but there are others who are susceptible to following strong, autocratic rulers like the czars and Soviet leaders who have gone before. So to keep power, Putin must be seen to be exercising strength on behalf of the Russian nation, while suppressing those who would seriously challenge his authority. Perhaps he believes that his idea of Russian destiny is the best thing for the country or perhaps he is merely interested in using the country to maintain his own power. His actions are what finally matter, and in the way of dictators everywhere, he seizes opportunities where he sees them, and makes the most of them. The important thing for is to keep in mind is that again, like most dictators, he is more an actor than a thinker, and once he has taken an aggressive action, the rest of the world is forced to play catch-up, to react, regroup and respond. It takes strength of will not to be thrown off-balance.

  • kenofken

    To use the phrase “new Cold War” implies the first one ever ended. The total picture is of course complex and utterly beyond the grasp – or inclination of our contemporary media to understand. Nevertheless, at the root of it is a sense of Russian prerogative to dictate regional power as it did in Soviet times. Putin and his regime are really just Soviets who went to business school and decided that power could stand as its own justification without the silly trappings and uniforms of an uber-ideology like Communism.

    • Jakeithus

      I was coming to post the same thing. To speak of the Cold War every actually ending might be the mistake. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia might have lost the political, military and economic power to be engaged in even a Cold War with the West, but they are no longer in the same position that they were 20 years ago.

      It’s never easy to draw comparisons to World War 2, but it does come to mind. After Germany was defeated in World War One, the conflict never really ended either, as it was only a matter of time before Germany would regain its strength, along with a healthy sense of resentment towards their opposition. It took peacefully integrating Germany into the democratic West to end the conflict, in the same way there will continue to be conflict with Russia until it is integrated in the same way. NATO and the EU grabbing up territory in the Russian sphere of influence without consideration for Russia itself only further strengthens the idea that a conflict is still going on.

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    No, it’s a hot war

    • SisterCynthia

      What are you hearing there in Britain, Fabio, and on the Italian wire? Our news here is almost worthless when world events are concerned (as Rebecca notes in another post!). A friend whose father was Ukrainian and who speaks their language (and German, his mother’s language), tends to repost stuff he gets off their wires, with a little English summary for his monolingual American friends… But he has become rather quiet now, and that worries me. :-/

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    “Now, Russia has invaded both Ukraine and Crimea. This armed invasion can not be viewed as anything less than an act of war.”

    Depends on if you believe Putin or not. There is an interpretation that is somewhat less than an act of war:
    Given the military pact between the Ukraine and Russia, and the meltdown of the government of Ukraine, and Putin’s buddy Viktor Yanukovich taking refuge in Russia, there is certainly reason to fear for the security of the naval base at Sevastopol, even though most of it is supposed to be decommissioned, which would justify sending peacekeeping troops onto the Crimean Peninsula (but nowhere else in the Ukraine).

    When tanks roll in Kiev, I’ll be much more worried, and no, I don’t take this story of protecting ethnic Russians seriously.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Way back you did not acknowledge that our weakness and ridicule by Putin over Syria would have any lasting effect. Now you know why American weakness causes an unstable world. Obama is a disaster. Without American power the world degenrates into chaos. If we’re lucky this is only going to be a cold war. You cannot have regular relations with Putin now after his ridicule of America during the Syrian episode and now this. No way. We have to have a strong economic response and a military build up in Europe, otherwise this aggression signals further weakness. Now it’s time to put the missile defense back in Poland and central Europe as originally planned, before that is Obama was gullible to believe Putin was an ally. Remember Hillary and Obama had supposedly “reset” relations with Russia? Just unbelivable. You cannot trust Democrats with either the economy or national defense.

  • vito

    “Invaded both Ukraine and Crimea” sounds like “invaded both the USA and Texas”. There is no “Ukraine and Crimea”. It is all Ukraine. Crimea is a Ukrainian region, with autonomy rights, yes, but still fully integral part part of Ukraine, and definitely not Russia. Connecting Crimea to Ukraine was done in the fifties by the USSR, of which Russia is a successor. It, actually, never disputed that.

  • JohnStefanyszyn

    Leaders of the Catholic (general) church ….are directing “Christians” to pray for, to die for FREEDOM.

    “The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has called on the people to be ready to sacrifice their lives to protect the country’s freedom…”…..”We must stand up for our country, to be ready — if necessary — to sacrifice our lives in order to protect the sovereign, free, independent, and unified state.”

    Pope Francis has called on Christians around the world to pray for Ukraine, urging dialogue between the sides involved in the conflict.

    These leaders, these commanders ( these “scorpions”) are directing “christians” to serve the god of freedom, the ‘god of fortresses” of President Obama….leader of the free world.

    …and President Obama has confessed that this FREEDOM is the “light” and will of his ‘god’.

    But the Lord Jesus Christ said to give to Ceasar what is caesar’s and to give to the One God what belongs to the One God…the servitude and obedience to love Only Him and to do good to your friend or foe.

    But man embraces instead his will…to do what is right in his own eyes, to serve and magnify oneself (XES, to live by a FREEDOM that dictates that it is RIGHT (one’s self defined right) to be free to worship ANY ‘god’.

    The return of the One King jesus Christ is soon, and He will rule the earth in power according to and in obedience to the Will of the One Jehowah Elohim and NOT according to man’s first love for his “freedom”.

    John Stefanyszyn

    …a bondman of the One King Jesus Christ, Son of the One Creator God.


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