The current crisis in Ukraine is the most perilous confrontation between nuclear armed states since the end of the Cold War. It could even escalate into a nuclear war. No party to the Ukraine crisis is blameless, but Americans should understand our own country's sorry role in creating this predicament.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, if not earlier, the United States has endeavored to be the global economic and political hegemon, and to prevent the emergence of any rival superpower. Therefore every U.S. administration has sought to weaken Russia and to forestall its comeback as a serious global power. This entailed diminishing the bonds between Ukraine and Russia and incorporating Ukraine into NATO. Russia, understandably, regards the stationing of NATO missiles on its border as a severe security threat and is determined to block Ukraine's NATO membership.
The February 2014 coup in Kiev brought matters to a head. This coup, partially facilitated by the U.S., overthrew a corrupt but elected government. It empowered a new regime unfriendly to Russia, with several ultra right ministers, and eager to join NATO. The southeastern (Donbass) region of Ukraine, which is Russian speaking and has strong historical ties to Russia, repudiated the upstart Kiev government. When the new government moved to curtail the region's cultural and linguistic autonomy, opposition morphed into open rebellion. The Kiev government is now attempting to crush the Donbass rebellion by force. Thousands of people have already been killed and over a million Ukrainians have become refugees.
The Obama administration defines the rebels as terrorists and creatures of Russia. They are neither. The rebellion has broad support in the Donbass. The Russia supports the rebels (the extent of Russian military support remains uncertain) and Putin has said he will not allow the rebellion to be drowned in blood. However, Moscow does not control the uprising: the rebels are far more socialist than Putin would like. Obama endorses the Kiev government's military campaign against the rebellion and ignores Russia's frequent calls for a ceasefire. The U.S. media routinely demonize Putin and seem hell-bent to foment an antagonistic relationship with Russia.
Continued escalation and possible catastrophe can be avoided if the following steps are taken. First there must be durable cease fire with separation of contending forces and departure of all non-Ukrainian military personnel. This should be followed by UN sanctioned negotiations between representatives from all regions of Ukraine. A workable political agreement would embody these elements: 1) a federated (non-centralized) Ukrainian state allowing substantial regional autonomy; 2) economic relations encouraged with both Russia and the EU; 3) military neutrality and no membership in military alliances including NATO.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" column runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.