Center for Strategic Communication

By James Schumaker, Guest Contributor

(James Schumaker, a retired Foreign Service Officer, has served in various capacities in the United States Government over the past several decades, with professional experience in the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.)

I don’t agree with everything Ambassador McFaul says in his recent New York Times op-ed, but I do believe he is on the right track.

I also see that a lot of the featured commenters on his Op-ed are swallowing whole the Russian line that somehow Eastern Ukraine is naturally Russian because a majority there speaks Russian, and that Ukraine is not really one country but two.  The fact is that while a minority of Eastern Ukrainians would like to move closer to Russia, a majority are for a united Ukraine, and favor closer connections with the West.

This is why Putin has had to move in Russian equipment and “volunteers” to keep the separatist movement going, and this is why the separatist leaders themselves are mainly Russian citizens with ties to Russian intelligence (Strelkov, Bezler, Borodai, et al),  I can understand why NYT readers would want to avoid war, but it cannot be done at the expense of sacrificing another country to Vladimir Putin’s brand of messianic nationalism. 

After all, Putin has already indicated that he wants to reverse the results of the Cold War.  He has his eye not just on Ukraine, which he has repeatedly said is not a state, but on all the formerly Soviet-dominated countries on Russia’s border. 

We’ll have to stand up to him sooner or later, and sooner would be better. In my opinion, neither the Europeans nor the Americans have been sufficiently active in supporting Ukraine.  This does not mean that we have to intervene militarily, but it does mean that we should step up our economic and military assistance markedly. 

For example, while it is obvious that Ukraine could not win a conventional war against Russia,  if Ukraine’s ability to conduct a guerrilla war against invading forces were significantly enhanced, this would act as a strong deterrent to some of Putin’s darker fantasies. 

 We also need to be ready to step up the penalties on Putin’s Russia should he opt to continue making trouble in Eastern Ukraine.  Russia’s suggestion to open “humanitarian corridors” from Russia into separatist-controlled areas is just the latest gambit to prolong the instability there and give Moscow’s agents a chance to recover.  The longer we delay in exercising leadership, and in leading the way to help Ukraine, the more Putin will take advantage of the chaos he has created.

Excerpts from James Schumaker’s personal memoirs can be found on his blog.

See also David Remnick’s “Watching the Eclipse” in the August 11 & 18, 2014 New Yorker.