1. Switzer: A Spectre once again haunts Europe, the specter of a new Cold War. Relations between Russia and the West have dramatically soured since Ukraine’s Janokowitcsch’s Government fell a year ago, and Moscow jumped in to seise part of Ukraine. Just this week, the Obama Administration threatened to send in defensive Weapons to bolster Ukrainian Forces. Washington and Brussels are extending Sanctions against Moscow. And meanwhile, in Russia, anti-Americanism has reached new highs while Putin has never been more popular. What’s behind this crisis, and how will it play out? Now I’ve argued we need to understand what caused this Crisis to have any Hope of trying to solve it, but let’s hear now from two distinguished voices in this filed. John Mearsheimer is . Timothy Snyder is . Unfortunately, icy conditions in Connecticut mean Tim is joining us on a slightly scratchy line, but let’s start this Discussion with what’s led to this Crisis in Ukraine.
John Mearsheimer, you argue that NATO and EU Expansion upset Russia’s strategic sensitivities and that the West has failed to understand how such policies would provoke Russia, but in Venice, didn’t the Nations in this Region, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltics, weren’t they clamouring for this NATO Expansion?
2. Mearsheimer: There’s no question about that. I think today most Ukrainians would like very much to be part of NATO and to be part of the EU, but the fact is that the Russians won’t tolerate a situation where Ukraine becomes a Western bulwark on its Border. The Russians have made it clear that if Ukraine continues to pursue this policy of trying to align itself with the West, that the end result will be that Russia will go to great lengths to wreck Ukraine as a functioning Society. I believe that that’s exactly what’s happening now.
What I find so amazing is that the West doesn’t understand this. After all, the United States has something called the Monroe Doctrine. According to the Monroe Doctrine, no Great Power from either Europe or Asia is allowed into the Western Hemisphere with its military Forces. We consider it completely unacceptable for any distant Great Power to march up to our Borders. That’s basically what’s going on here. The Russians are saying, There’s no way that NATO and the EU can march up to our Borders, we just won’t accept this. If the West continues to pursue this policy, what we will do is in effect destroy Ukraine. As I said, that’s what they’re doing.
3. Switzer: Tim Snyder, does the West, as John suggests, bear Responsibility for causing this Crisis, or is it just really all Putin’s fault that he’s bent on creating a new Russian Empire?
4. Snyder: I think contrary to appearances, what John has done is overestimated the West quite considerably. There wasn’t a Western policy towards Ukraine in 2013 which would have brought this about. There wasn’t support in Ukraine itself for NATO Enlargement. All the polls showed that Ukrainians were against it until they were invaded by Russia. The question of NATO Enlargement is only a real one after the Russian Invasion rather than before it. I think the crucial think when Americans discussed this, and we have two Americans here now, is to remember that we actually are not at the center of this story. The People who started this were the Ukrainians who were protesting for domestic reasons. The reason the crisis turned into a change of Government is that the Russian Government tried to pay off the Ukrainian Government to silence the protesters, which led to mass shooting. Then the other thing which we underestimate, and I think we fail to notice at times as Americans, is that NATO is not actually the story here. The US is not the story here. That’s the Russian Propaganda, but the actual Russian policy which has developed since the summer of 2013 is to weaken and disintegrate the European Union. They’ve been quite open about that. For them, the Ukraine is not about United States or NATO. For them, Ukraine is about getting in the European Union and making European Union fall apart. That’s the thing which I think everybody from Washington to Brussels has a hard time getting their head around.
5. Switzer: Tim, you mentioned this Russian Propaganda, which sounds like a fair point, but wasn’t NATO expansion in the ‘90s and in the 2000s. Couldn’t you argue that it was a repudiation of those implicit Agreements between President Gorbachev, President Bush Senior, [inaudible 00:04:34] that the quid pro quo for a unified Germany’s inclusion in NATO in the early 1990s was that the West would not extend Security guarantees to those former Warsaw Pact Countries, an Area that Russia had long deemed its sphere of influence?
6. Snyder: As far as I know, no one has ever turned up any document in any archive from any Country which has confirmed that there was such an understanding. Mark Kramer, who is one of the historians on this subject, has written a long article which demonstrates, I think, that that didn’t take place. But I think what’s more interesting is that it couldn’t have taken place because in 1990, when the conversations you’re referring to were supposed to have taken place, the Soviet Union had not yet fallen apart. Some of the Countries in Eastern Europe were not yet sovereign Countries. The idea that Washington and Moscow in 1990 could have been making sovereign choices for Countries which were not yet sovereign doesn’t really make sense.
Again, I think we miss the point when we concentrate too much on the History of NATO, because the present Russian offensive is not about NATO. The present Russian offensive is about weakening the European Union.
Switzer: John Mearsheimer.
8. Mearsheimer: I think that it’s very important to understand that up until this present Crisis, Tim is correct that there was sentiment in Ukraine not to join NATO, but the point is that NATO itself was continuing to pursue Expansion eastward. After the April 2008 Summit in Bucharest, NATO said explicitly that eventually Ukraine and Georgia would be included in NATO, and the Russians made it clear at the time from top to bottom that this was categorically unacceptable. NATO Expansion was still on the table from the West perspective. Second point I would make is it’s not just NATO Expansion that bothered the Russians greatly. It’s also EU Expansion and our efforts at Democracy-promotion, because what Democracy-promotion is really all about is putting into Power leaders in Ukraine, and maybe even ultimately Russia, who are pro-Western. It was the February 22 Coup d’État in Kiev that actually precipitated the present Crisis. In a very important way, NATO Expansion and EU Expansion were background factors. It was the Coup d’État in Ukraine that really tripped Things off. What’s happened as a Consequence is that the Russians have taken the Crimea, and they have made it clear that unless the West backs off, which it shows no interest in doing, what is going to happen is that Russia will wreck Ukraine.
9. Switzer: If you’ve just joined us, this is Between the Lines on ABC RN. I’m Tom Switzer, and I’m discussing the Ukraine Crisis with John Mearsheimer  and Timothy Snyder .
Let’s talk about the Ukrainians themselves now. It seems to me that the Ukrainians are exerting a form of Nationalism, if you like. They want to determine their own destiny, they see themselves as a sovereign, independent State. Nationalism, as John I think you’ve argued, is the most powerful Force that has been unleashed on the World in the Modern Era. Is this Nationalism the Force that’s carrying the day here? If that’s the case, what on earth can the United States or Russia do about it? John?
10. Mearsheimer: I think that what’s going on here is that the Ukrainians believe and People in the West believe in self-determination. Self-determination is at the heart of Nationalism for sure, and it’s also at the heart of Democracy. The argument in the West and again in Ukraine is that the if the Ukrainian People what to side with the West, given that they’re a sovereign state, they have a Right to do this. I believe this is a foolish way to think about international Politics. States that live next to Great Powers don’t have the Right to pursue any Foreign Policy they want. Cuba did not have a Right in the Cold War, at least from the Americans’ point of view, to form a military Alliance with the Soviet Union, and invite the Soviet Union to put missiles and naval and ground forces in Cuba. We were enraged that they did that. Taiwan today does not have the Right to declare its Independence. China would not tolerate that, and the United States goes along with China on this point. The fact is Ukraine is going to end up destroying itself, if it continues to act as if it has the Right to join Forces with the West. What the West is in effect doing is leading the Ukrainians down the primrose path by encouraging them to pursue this foolish policy when the West has no interest whatsoever in coming in to back up the Ukrainians as they get into more and more trouble.
Switzer: Tim Snyder.
I think Nationalism
is a problem, but I think we have to be clear about what our terms are when we
talk about Nationalism. The normal desire for you to live in Australia or for me to live in
the United States, I wouldn’t call that Nationalism. The Idea that People are Citizens
and Borders are Borders is pretty standard. John is certainly Right that it matters what your [Region] is in,
but I think we have a real difference here about what kind of system leads to Peace
and Stability. It seems to me that the European system [the Grand Strategy] has
done a pretty good job after the Second World War in precisely preventing War.
It’s the largest Zone of Peace and prosperity in the History of the World. What Russia is doing is not reacting
to some Threat from Europe, what Russia is doing is initiating a Threat to
Europe. In so far as Nationalism is a problem in small Countries, it’s a much,
much bigger problem in big Countries. When Russia says, for example, that it has the Right to protect People
who speak Russian around the World or that it has a Right to expand Russian Civilisation,
it’s breaking precisely the Rules of Sovereignty in a way which History shows
is very dangerous. The turn to the Right
since we’re talking about Nationalism in Russia is far more pronounced. It’s on
the scale of very Bad things in the 1920s and the 1930s. There has been no turn
to the Right in Ukraine. Ukraine is governed by a chocolatier and an accountant.
13. Switzer: Let’s look at how the West is or at least should be responding to this crisis. In a very important article in Foreign Affairs late last year, John Mearsheimer argued that Ukraine should in a sense become a buffer neutral State, akin to Austria during the Cold War, but you could argue that from the time of its Independence in late ‘91, early ‘92 until 2013 when this crisis was about to brew, Ukraine was essentially a buffer state. The Russians, Tim Snyder, showed no interest in invading Ukraine. What’s changed in the last year?
14. Snyder: I think that’s a brilliant question because what’s changed in the last year has very little to do with Ukraine, and very little to do with the West, and a lot to do with Russia. In the summer of 2013, and this is very important, the chronology is very important. In the summer of 2013, Russian Foreign Policy took a very substantial turn against the European Union. It categorized the European Union for the first time as an adversary. In Russian Propaganda, Europe was defined as decadent, where decadent means something that is falling apart. Europe is supposed to represent a dying part of Civilisation, which Russia is going to preserve. All of this is happening in the summer of 2013. It’s followed in the fall of 2013 by something called the Eurasian Project, which is meant Ideologically, politically and eventually militarily to replace and supplant the European Union as an alternative from Portugal to Vladivostok. What’s changed in 2013, and we can ask why, but what changed in 2013 was Russia’s Foreign Policy orientation. Unfortunately, Ukraine is a side effect of this. There is no way therefore to settle this War inside Ukraine. The only way for this to be settled is some kind of deal with Russia and the European Union.
15. Switzer: Tim, John’s argument would be that Putin’s calculations in the last year are really based on an old truth of Power Politics, that Great Powers will fight tooth and nail when their vital strategic Interests are at stake. This is unfortunate, it’s sad, but isn’t that the way the World works and always has?
16. Snyder: In a way, I wish both Washington and Moscow were as rational as John suggests they are. Unfortunately, Putin is not a great strategist. If he had been a great strategist, he would have acted in such a way as to keep the Leaders in Ukraine who were pro-Russian in Power. [That’s quite a statement.] Instead, he made a series of mistakes beginning with opposing the Association Agreement with the European Union and concluding with funding the Ukrainian Government to shoot its own People. What Russia has done the last year has weakened its position catastrophically. Strategically, what Russia had the whole time was a balance between the European Union and China. They’ve tossed that away for Crimea, and now they’re on the way to becoming a junior Satellite of China. We can’t save them from that unfortunately. These are decisions that they’ve made by themselves.
Switzer: John Mearsheimer.
that the Crisis started in the Summer of 2013, and that’s when Russian Foreign
Policy began to change. I don’t believe that’s the case. Russian Foreign Policy
changed drastically after the February 22 Coup d’État where, with the help from the West,
the Government in Kiev, which was pro-Russian, was overthrown. You want to remember
that the Russians took Crimea in March 2014, not in the summer of 2014. The
trouble in Ukraine started in March 2014, not in the summer of 2014. This was
all done in response to the fact that NATO and the European Union were
encroaching on Russia’s Border. The Russians had long made it clear that that
was categorically unacceptable.
19. Switzer: Tim Snyder, you’ve argued that a free and independent Ukraine is a critical US interest and test and that by “helping Ukraine, we’re helping People who share our Values and want nothing more than to be like us.” That’s your line in the New Republic last year, but is it really prudent to pick a fight with a Nuclear Power over a Region where, let’s face it, no US Army has ever fought? This is a point that I think John Mearsheimer has made in the past, I’ve made it as well. Even John McCain who’s never known a War he hasn’t supported, he rules out US Military intervention, yet Ukraine remains a vital Russian interest. Why should Putin take Obama’s Threat seriously?
20. Snyder: You don’t get to pick your fights. Your fights very often come to you. [This motherfucker’s crazy.] In this case, the fight is not between Russia, and the United States or even between Russia and Ukraine. The chief fight is between Russia and the European Union. I think that’s the most important thing to understand. Whether [the United States] actually does intervene in Ukraine or whether Russian Propaganda simply insists that it already has done. If you watch Russian Television, you realise that the Russians are being told that we did this. We funded what Professor Mearsheimer calls the Coup d’État, all of these things which simply aren’t the case. There was no Coup d’État. This Government was overturned as a result of massive popular unrest, which resulted from the mass shooting of People who were assembled. They were assembled because the Government of Ukraine, at that time, passed a series of Laws denying them fundamental Freedom including Speech & Assembly, which it did because of poor Russian Foreign Policy. Russian Foreign Policy was to pay Ukraine to suppress its own People. That’s what set off the crisis, that’s what led to Russia invading the Crimea. There was no precipitant event which had to do with NATO or the EU there. The precipitant event unfortunately was Russia’s Bad choices.
21. Switzer: Before we wrap up, if the US and Europe continue to expand NATO’s reach, and the Ukrainian Government has signaled it wants to join NATO, if the West keeps beefing up military support to Kiev, tightening more economic Sanctions, how will the Crisis play out in Eastern Ukraine? Is there a danger that we could risk serious escalation? First you, John Mearsheimer.
22. Mearsheimer: I think there’s no question that there will be serious escalation if what you describe happens. If we up the ante, especially if we start to arm the Ukrainians, the Russians will respond by moving more Troops and more Equipment into Eastern Ukraine. The fighting will become bloodier, and Ukraine will be destroyed even faster than it’s even now being destroyed. I would note that if we’re at all successful in thwarting the Russians, we’re going to make them more desperate. What you’re doing here is you’re taking a Great Power that has thousands of nuclear weapons, and you’re scaring the living bejeesus out of it. This is asking for trouble especially when it makes absolutely no strategic sense to do this.
Switzer: Tim Snyder, just quickly.
24. Snyder: The whole Russian miscalculation is based upon the idea that Ukraine was going to fall apart. The reason this War is going on is that Things are just not that simple. They’re now setting themselves up for a struggle with the European Union, which is going to have the same Consequence. I might perhaps agree with John about something fundamental, however. The Russians have to be given a way out. This is a disastrous War for everyone concerned, perhaps above all, Russia. Regardless of the brave face they put on it, this has been a disaster for them especially after dropping oil prices. They will need a way out.
25. Switzer: A very enlightening discussion. Thanks to John Mearsheimer  and Timothy Snyder .