History repeated

Ukraine is Europe's Cuba Crisis

Ukrainian soldiers on a tank Source DPA
The Minsk II ceasefire has largely held but shots are still occasionally being exchanged.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Ukraine crisis could spiral out of control if Europe and the United States further antagonize Russia.

  • Facts


    • Violating international law in Ukraine is Russia’s reaction to fears over NATO, says the author.
    • Russia’s Black Sea fleet is stationed in Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow last year.
    • The author compares the Ukraine crisis to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
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In 1962, the Soviet Union and Cuba agreed to have Soviet nuclear missiles deployed on the island nation, just 90 miles from the United States. They were two sovereign states, so no one had the right to prevent them from doing this – if you follow the West’s prevailing arguments in the current Ukraine crisis.

But U.S. President John F. Kennedy saw a security threat. By threatening military force, he compelled the Soviet Union to dismantle missile sites and imposed tough sanctions on Cuba.

According to today’s arguments on Ukraine, the U.S.’s intervention in Cuba clearly violated international law. But most of the world appreciated what President Kennedy did at the time. The United States had already violated international law a year earlier, by supporting exiled Cubans in their failed Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government.

The Ukraine crisis offers an ideal opportunity for the United States to weaken both Europe and Russia and drive them apart.

The parallels to the Ukraine crisis are obvious. A change of government was enforced in full public view, with the United States and Great Britain supporting the new leadership in Ukraine to join NATO. That set up the prospect that Crimea, the strategic peninsula where the Russian Black Sea fleet is stationed, could one day be under NATO control.

Is anyone really surprised then that Russia saw this as a threat and reacted accordingly?

Yes, Russia annexing Crimea and supporting separatists in Donbass violates international law. But what are U.S. mercenaries doing in Ukrainian private militia? And what are U.S. military advisers, the CIA and Vice President Joe Biden doing in Kiev?

As Europeans we have to stand up for all peoples’ rights to regulate their own internal matters. We want to be good neighbors of Ukraine, and we want Ukraine and Russia to be good neighbors or to become good neighbors again.

What other interests are involved in the Ukraine conflict?

First, what do Ukrainians want? That is not as clear as it seems.

They want to regulate their internal matters themselves. Yes, we have to stand up for their right to do that – vis-à-vis all participants of the conflict. But how? By arming government troops and reinforcing their struggle with the separatists?

As all participants agree, the conflict cannot be solved militarily. More arms will only lead to more fighting and more dead, as Moscow will not accept defeat of the separatists. A worst-case scenario would be the crisis escalating out of control.


Locator Ukraine neu-01 map


What do the Russians want? Ever since Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the communist party in the Soviet Union, they have wanted a connection to Europe. Boris Yeltsin wanted it. Vladimir Putin wanted it too. In 2010, he even declared in Berlin that he could imagine the euro being the Russian currency one day.

Russia has the raw materials that Europe needs, and Europe has the technology that Russia needs to modernize. But a not-so-unified continental Europe, one that he could easily interfere with, would also suit Mr. Putin nicely.

What then are the interests of the United States? It is still the only single superpower, and that’s what it wants to remain for as long as possible.  It is not interested in a multipolar world, which could only diminish its influence. So U.S. enthusiasm for a strong, unified continental Europe is extremely limited – all the more so when it is closely connected economically with its neighbor Russia.

So the Ukraine crisis offers an ideal opportunity to weaken both and drive them apart. That is why the United States occasionally adds fuel to the fire, as does David Cameron, their surrogate European arm. That explains the toxic remarks, especially from U.S. Republican leaders, about peace efforts by Germany and France.

And what are the interests of continental Europeans?  We don’t want war. We have to put ourselves in a position to regulate European matters ourselves, to self-confidently create a framework for beneficial cooperation with Russia.

To do that, we continental Europeans – it would be good if the Brits also joined in – have to move closer together. One possibility would be a joint national defense system, so the Baltic States and Poland can also be safe. We should be inseparable.

And yes to an energy union, which could make a stable partnership with Russia possible in all questions of energy.

And finally, a resounding yes to a great free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok.


To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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