Vladimir Putin’s threat to invade Ukraine is the first headline crisis of the new year. The headlines and the ‘crisis’ word come almost automatically when the story is Russia and its wily autocrat. We see the Russian bear on the prowl, the American eagle circling on high. We make it man-to-man personal, too: Is affable Joe Biden tough enough for a ruthless Russian? Is Vladimir Putin crazy enough to shoot first? It might be simpler than that. What if Putin sees our NATO weapons in Ukraine and thinks the NUPIMBY rule that the US declares for itself: No Unfriendly Powers in My Back Yard? Could East and West both sleep better if Ukraine, still the great bread-basket of Europe, were re-classified as neutral?
Kyiv at night.
Talks on the Ukraine crisis with Russia are under-way this week. They will draw on a full range of family feelings between cousin countries, geographically the two largest nations in Europe. The urgent issue is their political and military tilts toward one another and the West after the bonds of the Soviet Union broke thirty years ago. Already the threats and warnings make it gamesmanship galore. Our guest with a lifetime’s experience watching Ukraine and Russia and the West says we’d do better to frame the situation as a predictable problem with a ready solution. Anatol Lieven’s striking piece on Ukraine in the Quincy Institute letter this week might have nearly dissolved the crisis by framing it differently. He says: neutralize Ukraine, and enlist the US and Russia in keeping it sovereign and out of play in the wider world. It’s a strategy with a history and a certain logic.
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