by Robert Maynard
Russia is starting to conjure the boogeyman of “liberalism” as an excuse for imperialism, where it once pointed toward the CIA. Of course the “liberalism” lamented by leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin is the Jeffersonian variety, rather than the progressive distortion of this political ideology of liberty that has come to define the word here in the U.S. This is what is behind the Ukrainian crisis, as pointed out by the Editors of the National Review:
The first and last thing to be said about the current Ukraine crisis is that it was designed and manufactured in Moscow. It is Vladimir Putin’s crisis. It is not Moscow’s response to some action by Kiev, or by the U.S., or by the European Union, or by something called “liberalism,” which seems to have replaced the CIA in some overheated ideological imaginations in Moscow and on the European far right. Ukraine would today be enjoying the shabby peace of economic stagnation and despair if the Russian president had not imposed sanctions on Ukraine’s agricultural produce and threatened wider measures unless President Yanukovych abandoned a modest free-trade deal with the European Union. His counteroffer to Ukraine of membership in a Moscow-led zollverein turned out, almost amusingly, to be an offer that Yanukovych couldn’t refuse. But he couldn’t accept it either, because ordinary Ukrainian citizens occupied the main square to protest against this sale of their country. And when Yanukovych fired on the crowd repeatedly, killing as many as 75 and injuring many others, he lost whatever democratic credentials he had enjoyed at the outset of the crisis. But he fired the shots as Putin’s lieutenant.
When Yanukovych fled, Putin lost the first round of the crisis. He immediately set about winning the second round. When the evils that many shrewd observers had predicted following the change of power failed to occur, Putin ensured their spontaneous appearance. The new parliamentary government failed to act brutally or crudely; Moscow denounced the “terrorists” in Kiev. Eastern Ukraine failed to rally to Yanukovych; the ousted leader, now a Russian pensioner, called on Russia to intervene militarily to save Ukraine, and relatively small bands of thugs seized a few government buildings. In Crimea, Moscow cast aside all pretense — well, not quite all; its soldiers wore no official insignia, as if they were, well, terrorists — and simply occupied the province, surrounding Ukrainian military installations, television stations, and the local parliament.
To the naked eye it may seem that Putin is winning this round hands down. We doubt that he thinks so. He has overreached twice, and the second gamble is still undecided. In most of Ukraine he is hated and opposed. It is a mark of his miscalculation that he had to create his own rebellion there rather than being able to take advantage of a genuine domestic resistance to the Kiev revolutionary regime. None of his present choices are ideal: To intervene further in Ukraine in order to threaten Kiev risks getting bogged down in a prolonged guerrilla war. To sit tight in Crimea illegally could — assuming the Western will — soon degenerate into an endless crisis between East and West at some unknown cost to Russia in trade and financial sanctions. And to withdraw under cover of diplomacy would be seen as a humiliation. The world’s resigned but quick acceptance of a lightning coup — for which he must have hoped — doesn’t seem to be in the cards.