What Ukraine Shows Us About US Policy


The war in Ukraine does not directly involve the United States. More than two-thirds of Americans oppose any US military involvement in Ukraine. But Americans are hardly neutral. At more than three to one (75 to 22%), Americans to sympathize more with Ukraine than with Russia.

It is essentially a moral sentiment. Americans see Russia as a bully, and you have to stand up to the bullies. This is exactly what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is doing, with the support of the United States. Sixty-four percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Zelensky. And Russian President Vladimir Putin? 11 percent.

The war between Russia and Ukraine is not just a regional conflict. It has global resonance because it represents a clash of civilizations — Russia against “the West”. Putin sees himself as the savior of Russian civilization – orthodox in its religion, traditional in its values ​​and authoritarian – against the liberal, democratic and pluralistic “West”.

Putin appears genuinely shocked by the fierce resistance his forces are facing, both from Ukrainians themselves and from the United States and Europe. He published an essay last year (“On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”) arguing that Russians and Ukrainians are actually “one people” with the same origins and values, aligned against “the West”.

Ukraine is truly a frontier country in the clash of civilizations. Catholics are concentrated in western Ukraine, historically dominated by Poland. Orthodox Christians predominate in the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country. The confrontation took place in the “Orange Revolution” in the aftermath of Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election when, after a tumultuous campaign of protests, strikes and civil disobedience, the most pro-Western candidate was elected.

It’s a division on politics, not just on religion. Western Ukraine traditionally identifies more with “the West” and its tradition of liberal democracy. Eastern Ukraine traditionally identifies more with Russia and its tradition of authoritarian rule. A The Ukrainian historian writes recently that Putin’s invasion is “based on the belief that he is at war, not with Ukraine, but with the West on Ukrainian lands”.

Accordingly, the West – that is, the United States and other NATO countries – provides strong support for Ukraine. It has become a war between Western civilization and Putin’s “Eurasianism”, which combines Orthodox religion, traditional moral and sexual values ​​and the restoration of the Russian Empire across Europe and Asia. In the West, however, Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has sparked a global political confrontation between democracy and authoritarianism. A new cold war.

Speaking in Warsaw on Saturday, Biden said: “The battle for democracy could not and did not end with the end of the Cold War.” He even tried to enlist the support of the Russian people saying, “For God’s sake, this man [Putin] can’t stay in power. Many Russians do not understand why they are at war with Ukraine. But Russia, of course, is not a democracy.

This conflict has a certain resonance in American politics. The American political tradition is deeply anti-authoritarian (“Don’t Tread On Me”), which is why Putin receives so little support from the American public. But the radical right, which came to power with Donald Trump in 2017, includes a fringe that sometimes expresses authoritarian feelings.

Trump himself called Putin “smart”, “genius” and “savvy” (“He took over a country for two dollars in sanctions…just by entering”). When President Trump’s own intelligence community concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump sided with Putinwho denied.

Republicans now have a problem with Putin.

Some Republicans who criticized Putin tried to blame President Biden for facilitating the invasion. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said, “Putin is a megalomaniac dictator. Biden is the president who decided to lift the sanctions against him and give the green light to the project that Putin was building in order to allow him to invade Ukraine.

A far-right Republican even harshly criticized Zelensky. “Remember that Zelensky is a thug,” said Rep. Madison Cawthorn (RN.C.) in a town hall. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and incredibly evil and has pushed ‘woke’ ideologies,” he said.

This is a clue that helps explain Putin’s appeal to the radical right. Putin is on their side in the culture wars, attacking gay people, defending Russia’s ‘traditional values’ and criticizing the “sexless and infertile” liberalism of the West. He supports strongman politics and – something communists could never do – he embraces Christian nationalism. Like Trump, Putin may not be personally religious, but he accepts religion as a source of national identity.

Anne Applebaumauthor of “Twilight of democracy: the seductive lure of authoritarianismwrites that Putin wants to “remove the power of democratic rhetoric that so many people in his part of the world still associate with America.” It is a persistent contradiction that the United States is the most religious advanced industrial country in the world and also the most committed to democracy.

A few years ago, when the American Catholic Church was under attack over sex scandals, Catholic laity demanded a greater voice in church governance. I interviewed a bishop, who told me: “The Church does not work according to the principle of democracy. The church operates on the principle of authority.

Russia too.

And if Putin succeeds, much of the world will too.

The authoritarian threat replaces the communist threat.


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