In the case of the Ukraine, however, the people clearly see their future more with Europe than tied solely to Russia. It is in the United States’s interests to see European-style liberalism triumph over retrograde Russian-led rejectionism. When the United States does not stand up rhetorically for liberal principles [bold mine-DL], it only strengthens Russia’s hand and demoralizes those who want something more. There is nothing sophisticated about dictatorships, and the last thing Ukrainians need is the continuance of Chicken Kiev attitudes among our senior statesmen. Ukraine has a choice between East and West. Under tremendous pressure from Vladimir Putin, Yanukovich has chosen East. Ukrainians have taken to the streets to demand West. It’s time to stand up for the rightful demands of the Ukrainian people.
First, it is true that significantly more Ukrainians approve of the association agreement with the EU rather than joining Russia’s customs union. According to one poll, 45% preferred the former and just 14% preferred the latter. I can understand the pro-EU position, since integrating economically with Europe is likely to prove beneficial to Ukraine in the long run, but it’s worth bearing in mind that it still represents a minority of Ukrainians. That doesn’t make the minority wrong in what it wants, but it tells us that “the Ukrainian people” are at best seriously divided over what should happen to their country. Pro-EU protesters may have “rightful demands,” but how is it conceivably America’s business to treat the demands of a minority of the people in another country as if they represented the entire country? What good could possibly come of American meddling in what is ultimately an internal Ukrainian argument?
Let’s also understand that this is not really a struggle over “liberal principles.” Leaving aside the fact that some of the protesters are virulent Ukrainian nationalists of the worst kind that are not the least bit interested in liberal principles, the current dispute is over pulling Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit or maintaining the status quo. Some Westerners seem to believe dragging Ukraine away from Moscow to be so important that the preferences of most Ukrainians should be ignored and the “correct” outcome should be reached, but it’s a mystery why the U.S. should follow their advice. It is not up to our government to be more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians’ own leaders.
Since Rubin invoked George H.W. Bush’s 1991 “Chicken Kiev” speech here, it might be useful to remember what the “attitudes” associated with it were. Among other things, Bush said this:
We will support those in the center and the Republics who pursue freedom, democracy, and economic liberty. We will determine our support not on the basis of personalities but on the basis of principles.We cannot tell you how to reform your society. We will not try to pick winners and losers in political competitions between Republics or between Republics and the center. That is your business; that’s not the business of the United States of America [bold mine-DL].
That was a sensible and responsible position then, and it remains so today. It was foolish trying to “pick winners and losers” as the USSR was breaking up, and it is no less foolish to try doing this in the internal politics of former Soviet states. That is their business, and it is not the business of the United States of America.