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Post-Soviet Ukraine

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. The pressure had been building for a while but the secession of Ukraine was the tipping point. Interestingly, Ukraine itself was a federation of sorts and the Ukraine that left the USSR was not the same geographic region that entered it almost 70 years prior. One of the interesting changes was the addition of Crimea, a gift from Russia in 1954.

Map of fighting in Ukraine (Click for Interactive Map)

While Ukraine was closely allied with Russia, it wasn’t significant that the two were separate countries. However, as the “original” Ukraine began to pull west, eastern Ukraine started to get nervous. Likewise, Russia got nervous (and then some) as it saw yet another former sister-state drifting away—with Russia’s only warm water naval base.

As I see it, the struggles going on in Ukraine today are a delayed fallout from the breakup of the Soviet Union. These are internal struggles that it will have to work out like so many other nations have done. In the U.S., we are no strangers to such internal struggles; our four-year Civil War was America’s deadliest war. Fortunately, it ended in what would eventually be a stronger Union. Other civil wars, such as in Vietnam and Korea, did not end in unity. As we know, though, war is not the only way to settle such differences. For example, the people of Scotland voted in September, 2014 to remain a part of the United Kingdom despite their many grievances against England. In contrast, on 1 January 1993 the people of Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

With that backdrop in mind, I believe that it would be a bad idea for the U.S. to provide military support to Ukraine for three reasons.

1) Russia has a larger stockpile of weapons and soldiers than the U.S. is willing or able to invest in this battle. Moreover, the American people do not support a war with Russia. If U.S.-backed Ukrainian forces paint Russia into a corner and she comes out fighting, she will most certainly win. Let’s not try to put Russia’s back up against a wall.

2) Civil wars and talks of secession are ideological battles for which solutions achieved through violence are unlikely to be amicable or long-lasting. The U.S. Civil War is an exception because eventually the ideologies and financial incentives that propelled us into war were no longer prevalent. The rationale that justifies Russian annexation of eastern Ukraine will still exist even if its proponents suffer a military defeat. Only negotiation and only Ukraine can settle it.

3) The European Union, which Ukraine seeks to join, is working on a diplomatic solution. As those physically closer to the problem and the first place where an all-out war would spill over, one would expect the EU to have a clear perspective on what’s at stake. In addition, although Ukraine is a founding member of the UN, I see the EU as having primary jurisdiction over how to proceed. It would be like people in southern Texas wanting to rejoin Mexico and France sending military support to the State while Washington is preparing to negotiate.

4) A bonus reason is that, as we’ve seen in several battles against IS and Al Qaida, supplying military equipment to Ukrainian forces—even defensive, whatever that means—could ultimately be a provision to the rebels if any Ukrainian position should fall to Russian-backed forces.