Michael Thomason

Michael Thomason

The conflict in Ukraine will soon enter its second year. It is astonishing how they have managed to stand up to Russian aggression for so long. Nobody thought they could have lasted a week. The Ukrainians are a tough people.

In studying the history of the region, no matter how far back in time you go, there has been some conflict or the other brewing between competing peoples. I can’t even begin to sort out all the regions and religions, countries and cultures that have fought for supremacy over there. It boggles the mind and makes me wonder if there ever can be true peace among them.

One of Russia’s issues is scarcity of natural borders. A contained area where most of the people are of one religion or culture seems more stable. Japan is an island. Great Britain consists of islands. North and South America are continents. But the greater region of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia is kind of a mixed up mess.

In Eastern Ukraine, there is a Russian speaking minority who identify with Moscow. The larger area of Western Ukraine is dominated by natives who speak Ukrainian and want better relations with nations to the west. Mixed in are dozens of other national and cultural identities with few actual natural borders to keep them apart.

So why do they have to be kept apart? Many times, it is to keep them from killing one another. It would seem more practical to learn how to get along, but that doesn’t work for some folks, some nations. The Russians are a suspicious people. They see or feel or suspect threats from all directions. Their borders are really zones of influence over neighboring countries. They feel if they can dominate or intimidate those around them, they will have a buffer between them and the west.

Russia has always sought this influence on their neighbors, especially Ukraine. The whole problem with Russia is how they seek influence. In broad terms, the West prefers the carrot, Russia prefers the stick. Probably the best way to describe Russian foreign policy is to call it heavy handed. So how do we deal with these folks?

In this most recent regional conflict, the western world has lined up in solidarity with Ukraine. Despite this, students of history will tell you there will forever be conflict in that region and it might be better to isolate than try to ‘solve’ it. Study up on the history of the region. Russia has always sought influence on the countries around them. And they have dominated these areas more or less over the centuries, all but one. Who is that one? That one is China. For a long while now, China and Russia have a border between them both recognize and respect. They coexist peacefully along approximately 2,500 miles of shared border. Why is this? It is because the Chinese are a strong and united people. Russia knows that the Chinese are no pushovers. Russia respects the strength of China.

But we in the west have been deceived and bluffed by Russia over the threat of nuclear war. Why aren’t the Russians afraid of our nuclear weapons? They are, I suspect, but don’t want to admit it because they don’t want to appear weak. But this whole Ukrainian episode has exposed Russia for what it is, a paper tiger. Yet they are a paper tiger with a bad attitude and nuclear weapons. The world needs to tread carefully in that minefield. That is why, in my opinion, unity is strength.

Back in 1991, weakness and internal rot was exposed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Fifteen of the USSR’s largest republics declared the end of their union with Russia and became independent again. The truth in this collapse was a clear indicator of the failure of socialism in general and communism in particular.

Some in Russia today justify the war with Ukraine by comparing it to a state like Kansas or Texas breaking away from the United States. Putin seeks to gather his wayward chicks back under the wings of mother Russia, to make it a great global power again, not by mutual interest, respect and culture as in the USA, but by bluff or brute force. Georgia, Chechnya and now Ukraine are recent examples. They are attempting to rebuild the U.S.S.R with Moscow its crown.

But now it has backfired on them because the west has remained unified in their support of Ukraine. Finland and Sweden have formally sought admission into NATO, something thought impossible just a year ago. This forces Russia to increase its defense along these northern borders. It’s all about unity and strength, the one thing that Russia respects and seems to possess less and less. We need to continue united. Near as I can tell.

Michael Thomason is a local business owner and award-winning columnist for the Herald-Press.

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