The Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault. That has been the contention of a slew of foreign-policy experts, notably the distinguished political scientist John Mearsheimer, who wrote a much-quoted piece in Foreign Affairs in August last year called “The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.”
For those who missed it, Mearsheimer blamed the crisis in Ukraine on NATO enlargement, saying that Russia had adamantly opposed it (which is not true); that it breached undertakings given to the Soviet Union (also false); and that Putin feared that the “coup” against Yanukovych was a prelude to a NATO base in Crimea (also untrue).
Mearsheimer also argued that the EU had been “marching eastward” and therefore provoking Russia and that the West was recklessly promoting democracy with the aim of turning Ukraine into a “Western stronghold on Russia’s doorstep.”
The counter-arguments to this are well known. The biggest is that they remove from Ukrainians and others any say in their own future. They are just counters in a board game played by others. As Mearsheimer argues, might is right and countries Ukraine’s position just have to get used to it.
That is both inaccurate and morally dubious (given how much the countries of the “bloodlands” have suffered in the past century). It is right to say that Russia, not the West, gets to decide what constitutes a threat to Russia. We can’t help it if Russia’s ex-KGB regime is afflicted by paranoia. But if Russia’s threat-perception becomes the paramount and unchallenged factor in regional security, we are in effect assenting to a new Yalta.
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