This week: a conversation with Anatol Lieven about Ukraine, Russia, and a way out of a crisis. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our site.
Amid high tensions between Russia and the US over Ukraine, we’re talking this week about deescalation possibilities with Anatol Lieven, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. There’s much to learn from him; as a commenter wrote on our site: “Anatole Lieven is a humanist in the best sense of that term and tradition. What a refreshing and welcome breath of fresh air to hear him think and speak. I would love to have been one of his students. This show, perhaps, is the next best thing.”
One strategy described by Lieven is a kind of mental technique, inspired by the American theorist of international relations Hans Morgenthau. Says Lieven:
He said that it was a fundamental duty of statesmen to put themselves in the shoes of their opposite numbers in order to understand, not necessarily always to agree with them, in order to understand what they regard as their country’s vital interests. Now, any country dealing with the United States has to understand that America for almost 200 years, you know, under the rubric of the Monroe Doctrine, has regarded the exclusion of hostile or potentially hostile alliances from its backyard as a vital American interest for which in the last resort, America is prepared to go to war. And short of that, of course, America has backed a long, long set of really horrible regimes in Central America and the Caribbean, as long as they have sided with America in excluding that kind of foreign or communist influence, and there is no doubt at all that America will go on doing that.
Morganthau’s point, of course, is that—setting aside self-righteousness and American exceptionalism—Russia makes exactly the same calculations. There is nothing at all mysterious or weird or hidden or concealed about Russia’s motives. They are very much those of the United States in similar circumstances.
Another consideration for Americans should be that the situation in Ukraine is far from simple. Lieven on this week show reminds us:
The Ukrainians are, of course, deeply divided on this subject. When the West talks about the Ukrainian people, that is a very misleading formula. After all, until 2014, in election after election, it was a bit like the Democrats and the Republicans in America. The vote between pro-Russian parties and more or less anti-Russian or pro-Western parties really only shifted from election to election over about three or four percent. In other words, getting on for half of Ukrainians always wanted to maintain a good relationship with Russia. And it’s very important to note from that point of view that while a majority of Ukrainians always wanted to join the European Union (for very understandable economic reasons) they always saw that, as full membership of the European Union, not what they’ve got, which is a bit like Turkey, an endless, endless waiting room. But according to every opinion poll, large majorities—two-thirds or more of Ukrainians—before 2014 always opposed Ukrainian membership with NATO for the simple reason that they knew that this would lead to a drastic deterioration of relations with Russia.
Lieven poses a question that might clarify things:
Are you prepared to fight? Are you prepared for America to go to war with Russia, to defend Ukraine? Oh, and by the way, one might add to that: are you personally prepared to go and fight for Ukraine, or are you prepared to see your children, your son, go and fight? Because if you’re not, then logically, you must be prepared in the last resort to accept some kind of compromise. Because after all, as I’ve said, saying that we must keep the offer of NATO membership open for Ukraine, if you admit that we’re not going to fight ever to defend Ukraine, I mean, that is nothing more nor less than a lie. You’re lying. You’re saying you’re prepared to fight someone when you’re not.
Watch: The Ascent
Consider the films of Larisa Shepitko, Ukrainian Soviet director of The Ascent (1977)—a morally intense, passionately stressful movie. Here’s Zack Hatfield, writing for Artforum:
Shepitko was a great evangelist of the human face. Framed in classical Academy ratio, The Ascent dramatizes violence not through explosions and gunplay (the lone extended battle scene occurs as the opening credits roll), but through a claustral treatment of physiognomy, Vladimir Chukhnov and Pavel Lebeshev’s camerawork seemingly inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928), but mostly handheld. Impassioned close-ups abound, entreat, accuse — those of Rybak and Sotnikov, but also the raft of other souls whose fates have become miserably entwined with theirs. In its tendency to iconize and graven, the movie often resorts to overly schematic symbolism (Plotnikov, who died at age seventy last month, was specifically cast for his likeness to Orthodox depictions of Christ), but there are just as many moments of startling nuance and grace.
Read: Babel’s Odessa Tales
Isaac Babel’s stories of gangsters and early twentieth-century Odessa life are surprising, grim, funny classics. Full of jolts and hectic momentum, they convey the mood of a city of innumerable dramas, comedies, stilted conflicts. From The Guardian:
Here, for me at least, is one of those “where have you been all my life?” books. Set roughly 100 years ago, these tales tell of the lives of the people of the Ukrainian port — a free port for half the previous century, and with a strongly lingering sense of that freedom.
This week’s ephemeral library
Did This Week’s US-NATO-Russia Meetings Push Us Closer to War? Bill McKibben: What Happens If You Greenwash Greenwash? More Mojo, Joe! Caleb Crain on Stanislaw Lem. Katy Waldman in praise of Station Eleven. The Visions of Penelope Cruz. The Mission: Martin Luther King’s Final Chapter.
That’s all for this week, folks. Stay warm!
The OS Diplomats