Thoughts on the Situation in Ukraine

by Adam Snyder

Chapter One: An Odd Thing I Noticed in the New York Times

This is a quote from President Obama which I copied and pasted directly from the New York Times Online on March 6:

"Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.
We are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of
democratically elected leaders."

This is the same quote, which I copied and pasted directly from the New York Times Online the next day, March 7:

"Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.
In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of
democratic leaders."

You will notice that the phrase “democratically elected leaders” has been changed to “democratic leaders.”

This might seem like a small detail, but words have the power to start wars or encourage peace. It’s worth considering why these particular words were so important that they were surgically altered in the New York Times from one day to the next.

Chapter Two: Why the Switch?

I did some homework. An article in the New York Daily News used the phrase “democratically elected leaders” and so did the Dallas News. Other news organizations used the other wording.

I found a video online of President Obama actually making the speech. In the video, Obama does say “democratic leaders,” which solves part of the mystery.

But how did several major news organizations publish alternate wording in the exact same way?

It’s quite possible the White House sent out an earlier version of the speech, which the Times initially used to prepare the article. Naturally the Times would later change the language to reflect what the President actually said.

This does not seem sinister, and we could probably choose to ignore it. But it remains significant because it offers us a window into the evolution of a singularly important detail in a policy-shaping speech being made by President Obama.

Chapter Three: What’s the Difference?

In Ukraine, the president is directly elected by the people. “Democratically elected” would mean that Ukraine held an election, in which its people went to the polls and actually voted either to keep Viktor Yanukovych, or replace him with someone else.

This is not what happened.

On February 22, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove Viktor Yanukovych. People unfamiliar with the Ukrainian system might think this parliamentary vote is democratic enough. After all, we have our own form of impeachment in the United States. But here’s the tricky part: it appears that Yanukovych’s impeachment did not follow the procedures of the current Ukrainian constitution.

Herein lies the dilemma.

Our own president is using increasingly powerful language, which suggests that it would be illegal for the people of Crimea to hold an election to determine their own future without the approval of the Ukrainian government.

But the legality of the current Ukrainian government remains in question, even if we use the phrase “democratic leaders” instead of “democratically elected leaders.”

(What does “democratic leaders” even mean? Is “democratic” just a flavor that can be added to make something seem more palatable?)

Chapter Four: Why Does This Matter?

This all matters because, at the moment, Viktor Yanukovych still declares himself to be the legitimate, democratically elected leader of the Ukraine. And, at the moment, he is recognized as such by Russia.

Chapter Five: Let Me Be Clear

Let me be clear: I am not a fan of Viktor Yanukovych, and I am not saying that I agree with Putin’s views, or the use of the Russian military in this situation.

I am also not bashing President Obama or the United States of America.

But there are profoundly important moves being made at this moment with potentially dire and longterm consequences. As citizens we need to see the biggest picture possible. I do not believe the press is doing a good enough job educating us at the moment. This is why I am taking the time to write this.

Chapter Six: The Cold War

Many would say the Cold War was about competing nuclear arsenals. Or about democracy vs. communism. In hindsight, is it possible that the Cold War was largely about, as the saying goes, “a failure to communicate”?

Chapter Seven: The Internet Age

We pride ourselves that we live in an age when previously rigid political borders have been made more porous, because of the direct flow of communication and ideas between people from around the globe.

Is it possible, instead of re-arming ourselves with fears and anger against Russia, to educate ourselves, to communicate more effectively? To remain awake to the possibility that the specter of a new Cold War is as much about how this situation is being presented to us as it is about what’s actually happening?

Chapter Eight: Russia, Briefly

Have you seen “My Perestroika”? I highly recommend this 2010 film, which documents several Russian people who were brought up behind the “Iron Curtain,” who then came of age during the collapse of the Soviet Union. When you watch the old footage, it’s remarkable how happy they looked, and how similar their families and birthday parties were to American families during the same time period.

This said, there are important differences between our own nation and Russia which are worth considering.

For one thing, while America’s national identity goes back over 200 years, the Russians can trace their own national identity back over 1,000 years. Even without considering political ideologies and the ravages of wars, their sheer longevity suggests a vastly different sense of national identity than our own.

The Crimean peninsula was long part of Russia. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been based there for over 200 years. It’s hard not to imagine that certain nationalistic sentiments would not continue to exist, on top of obvious strategic interests.

Imagine, if you will, that there is a country bordering the United States that was formerly part of our nation. We continue to maintain a naval base there in a distinct region where many people who still consider themselves American happen to live. Imagine now that some sort of political turmoil takes place in this country. Would the world be surprised if we moved to secure the region?

Putin says he believes a coup has taken place in the country next to his, and this is how he is able to justify involvement in an area important to Russian national security.

Chapter Nine: Back to the Beginning

This brings us back to the initial premise of this discussion.

We do not have to agree with Putin’s stated assessment of the situation. But we are not free to dismiss his assessment as baseless, either.

The definition of a “coup” is the illegal seizure of power from a government.

If there remains uncertainty about the legality of the transfer of power in Ukraine, then it appears possible that Putin can at least reasonably make the case that the sudden ouster of Viktor Yanukovych was a coup, even if the U.S. chooses to view the situation differently.

Chapter Ten: Creating Monsters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been widely quoted in the press as saying that Putin has “lost touch with reality.”

Isn’t it likewise possible to suggest that Vladimir Putin is not in touch with OUR reality?

We have a choice, at this juncture.

We can choose to portray Putin as a powerful person with whom we disagree. This requires a willingness to keep our minds open to another’s point of view. It requires a strenuous process of communication. It requires, in short, the tools of democracy on an international stage.

Alternatively, we can choose to portray Putin as crazy, unreliable, someone we can’t possibly communicate with, perhaps even a new monster.

By portraying Putin as an adversary who can’t be negotiated with, we set the stage for the justification of a wide range of U.S. policy decisions.

Chapter Eleven: Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

It’s possible that U.S. involvement in the Ukraine situation has only to do with maintaining peace in Europe. It’s possible that our intensions are solely about standing up for democracy. Even though, as we see, democracy can be blurry around the edges.

This being said, it’s clear there are issues that are not widely being discussed in the press.

This essay is a plea for wider discussion in the press, for greater communication and open-mindedness. It would be a disservice to the spirit and intention of this writing to go too far into “conspiracy” territory, but I feel we must talk about possibilities amongst ourselves in the absence of multiple viewpoints being presented in the media.

The following ideas are suggested in the spirit of the quote by President Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

The same week as Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, the Pentagon displayed rare flexibility, suggesting they would shrink the U.S. Army to pre-World War Two levels. A perceived New Cold War with Russia might be used to justify reversing this trend.

Meanwhile, while President Obama has declared “The War on Terror” over, the U.S. finds itself in an increasingly murky drone war around the globe. Heightened focus on Russian military maneuvers beyond its borders draws attention away from our own.

Chapter Twelve: Follow The Money

Most curiously, it is being suggested that one way to keep Putin in check is to use our new-found natural gas resources as a counter measure.

Given what we know about the scope and lobbying power of the energy industry, is it possible that U.S. multi-national energy companies only started thinking about Ukraine’s 45 million energy consumers in response to Putin’s recent moves in Crimea? Or has this emerging market already been targeted, with the Russia situation being used as a convenient excuse to move forward?

It’s estimated that hydraulic fracturing in the United States can produce more natural gas than we can possibly use ourselves. Given the growing controversy due to pollutants being pumped into the ground water and other potentially destabilizing factors, energy companies will have to justify why they’re pushing to increase fracking rather than dialing it back. The economic argument will only sway so many people. But what if it could be argued that increased gas production was necessary for international security, to keep a rising threat from Russia in check?

Another interesting thing appeared in the New York Times the other day. Double check your map to remind yourself that Poland is right next to Ukraine:

Halliburton has starting fracking in Poland.

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