The Huffington Post and The Jerusalem Post
April 24, 2014
crisis continues. At this stage, no one can safely predict where the country
will be a month from now, let alone a year down the road.
a few things appear crystal-clear.
history will record this as a high-stakes, even defining, crisis. What happens
in Ukraine matters – first and foremost, of course, to the Ukrainian people—but
it doesn’t stop there. The reverberations can already be felt across the region
No, 2014 is
not 1938, and Russia today is not Germany then. But that doesn’t mean there
aren’t echoes of the past in the present – Crimea as Sudetenland? Ukraine as
Czechoslovakia? Other Russian-speaking areas, such as Transnistria, to follow,
based on assertions they are being persecuted by “neo-Nazi” regimes wielding
power in capitals from Kiev to Chisinau to who knows where, and whose residents
allegedly clamor for salvation from Moscow?
is a test of America’s global leadership. From what I learned on my visit to
Kiev earlier this week, which overlapped with the arrival of U.S. Vice
President Joe Biden and a Congressional delegation, it is abundantly clear that
Ukraine is looking to Washington for significant help.
includes direct assistance to bolster the country’s perilous economic
condition, reduce its vulnerability to Russian energy dependence, and strengthen
its security capabilities.
And it means
standing up unflinchingly to Russia, something that only the U.S. has the capacity
is a critical test for the European Union.
The EU may
not have America’s hard power, but it has no shortage of soft power that, in
its political, economic, and moral weight, is not inconsequential.
borders on four EU countries – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania – which together
effectively constitute the regional bloc’s eastern border. Moreover, the Maidan
protests, lasting months and costing the lives of over 100 Ukrainians, were
triggered by popular anger at the policy u-turn of President Yanukovych, who,
at the last minute, spurned an historic deal with the EU that his own
government had pursued, and turned instead to Moscow. Will the EU stand by
those Ukrainians who aspire to a pro-European future for their nation?
key point has to do with Ukraine itself.
Here is the
chance for the country to prove it can pull itself together, even in the midst
of the crises in its southern and eastern districts, and create a “new” Ukraine
– anchored in democratic values, tackling endemic corruption and the need for
administrative reform, affording equal opportunity and protection to all its
citizens within its multi-ethnic society, and winning the battle against the lingering
demons of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
To be sure,
Ukraine has a painful history of anti-Semitism that dates back centuries.
But, and this
is a big but, since the rebirth of Ukrainian independence in 1991, many have
struggled to create a receptive new environment for the hundreds of thousands
of Ukrainian Jews – and there’s much to show for the effort up the present day.
hasn’t totally disappeared, especially among ultra-nationalist, far-right
groups (and also, it must be said, among those outside the country who
currently seek to destabilize it by cynically playing the anti-Semitism “card”).
At the same
time, Jewish life in Ukraine has been revitalized, Jewish groups abound,
relations with Israel are excellent, and, currently, a Deputy Prime Minister is
Jewish, one of the 450 members of Parliament wears a kippah, and a few
governors and mayors are also Jewish.
outside Ukraine may find it difficult to acknowledge these changes. Their views
of Ukraine are essentially frozen in time, based on their own, or their
families’, tragic experiences. While entirely understandable, it would nonetheless
be a mistake to fail to recognize the changes that have occurred, the
opportunities that have been created, and the potential that exists for still
there are certain similarities here to the positive evolution, or perhaps even
revolution, in the relations of Jews with Germany, Poland, the Baltic states,
and the Catholic Church.
A few in the
Jewish world, including AJC, saw the opportunities early on and pursued them
relentlessly; others opposed their every move; and still others were, shall we
say, asleep at the wheel.
there are those who argue that Ukraine isn’t worth a confrontation with Russia.
It’s too risky. It’s the wrong time. It’s much ado about very little.
I beg to
While no one
should seek diplomatic confrontation for its own sake, and Russia remains an
absolutely key country in many important respects, if we don’t stand up now we
almost inevitably risk having to do so later – and at a still higher price. No,
it’s never the right time, but such moments are rarely of our choosing. And no,
it’s not about very little, but actually about quite a lot.
countries, Ukraine and its people should have the right to choose their own
destiny as a sovereign, democratic nation. Their borders should not be
violated, their land annexed, and their government intimidated by a saber-rattling
neighbor. That’s not the kind of 21st-century world we want to live
in, and Moscow needs to understand that it will pay an escalating diplomatic,
political, and economic cost if it insists on playing by its own rules.
make that point now, convincingly, or take our chances. Here’s hoping we make
the right choice.