US and Western mass media coverage of the Ukrainian crisis has remained fairly uniform in its condemnation of Russia’s role through the spring and summer of 2014, with the latest developments surrounding the crash of the Malaysian airliner over separatist held territory in Eastern Ukraine tending to further lock out any hint of controversy over Russian intentions and culpability. The reporting perspective tends to be day-to-day, with the accent on human interest aspects of the day’s haul of news, such as the disposition of the corpses and body parts of the unfortunate passengers. Background information is largely missing. We are not told about the state of war in the zone where the crash occurred, about the other horrors going on amidst the Ukrainian army’s assault on cities in the Donbas.
Sadly, US professional journals are not much more diligent in searching for and communicating what might constitute a view coming from the other side of the present confrontation with Russia. A worthy exception is the July-August issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, which offers two back-to-back essays that buck the trend. One is by an authoritative Russian professor at the diplomatic academy under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Lukin. This is a rare instance when official Russia is given the microphone, and Lukin has used the opportunity well. He explains why the continuing advance of the EU and of NATO into states bordering Russia like Moldova, Georgia and now Ukraine in violation of the understandings reached at the end of the first Cold War is tearing those states apart and threatening direct military conflict between the West and Russia. He strongly suggests the solution lies in the West’s agreeing to neutrality for these buffer states.
The other essay, by the eminent professor emeritus of Columbia University Robert Legvold, is titled “Managing the New Cold War.” Legvold takes a neutral position, urging the United States and Russia to try harder to understand the reasoning and motivation of the other side in this dispute so as to head towards a political resolution and shallow period of rough relations. He does not spell out where that political compromise might lie. He also seems unwilling to consider the possibility that one side has no interest in returning to normal intercourse, by which I mean Washington, and this possibility looks more like a probability upon close inspection. Perhaps Legvold is worried about the slings and arrows of his colleagues, who are mostly promoters of the New Cold War?
Given that the confrontation over Ukraine has moved beyond the neighborhood, and indeed beyond bilateral US-Russian relations to the point where it now has compelled large swaths of the global community to take sides in the sanctions game, one might ask where are the traditional critics of US foreign policy within the broader academic community. One of the most visible and consistent authors denouncing the American Empire in recent years has been Boston University Professor of International Relations Andrew Bacevich. Yet he is conspicuously silent on Russia and Ukraine for reasons unknown. Perhaps as a non-expert on the countries involved, Bacevich has waited for those in the field to take the lead.
Or some other factor may be operative. The ur-critic, the Great American Dissident, MIT professor Noam Chomsky took a while to weigh in, holding his silence until his distaste for American bullying of Russia and its aggressive hypocrisy outweighed his distaste for what he construed as Mr. Putin’s authoritarian regime. When he did emerge, however, Chomsky was eloquent: see his “Red Lines in Ukraine and Elsewhere,” published on May 2 in the online resource Truthout.