John J. Mearsheimer’s article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault,” shows his contempt for democracy, national sovereignty, and international law, says a leading analyst.
His thesis is that Russia has the right to decide the fate of the countries in its neighborhood in its own interest, the Petersen Institute’s Anders Aslund observes:
Mearsheimer invokes the role of popular will in two instances in his article. In one case, he claims that most of the people in Crimea “wanted out of Ukraine.” But the evidence is missing. Opinion polls before the “referendum” under Russian military control showed nothing of the sort, and the referendum was a blatant fake.
The other case is when Mearsheimer, again without evidence, claims that Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted through a “coup.” He lost his parliamentary majority on February 20 after having ordered the killing of 100 citizens, and he was voted out with a constitutional majority of two-thirds. One may complain that a more complex impeachment procedure should have been applied, but Mearsheimer’s hero Putin is not even democratically elected.
Aslund might also have noted that Mearsheimer exhibits a rather mechanistic conception of political change in his suggestion that the National Endowment for Democracy and similar democracy assistance groups are able to foment regime change through some form of political engineering. Similarly, his suggestion that the popular mobilization which led to Yanukovych’s resignation was a ‘coup’ effectively delegitimizes any citizen action to counter government corruption, misgovernance or authoritarian rule.
Indeed, Mearsheimer misrepresents the NED’s Carl Gershman’s reference, in a Washington Post op-ed last fall, to Ukraine as “the biggest prize,” when it was clear that the phrase referred to Russia’s proprietary attitudes towards its neighbor.
Mearsheimer also defends Putin’s rationality, which is a tall order, Aslund continues:
Putin clearly believes, as former US Ambassador Michael McFaul has so eloquently put it, that no popular uprising can happen anywhere, and that everything is instigated by security services, notably the US services. Therefore, it could not have been the Ukrainians who ousted their corrupt dictator Yanukovych—it had to be the Americans. Only a conspiratorial and paranoid mind like Putin’s can take that at face value, but Mearsheimer bolsters him.
With Mearsheimer’s arguments, any crackpot military aggression anywhere in the world could be defended. He could use the same arguments to justify Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, or Saddam Hussein, which suggests that these arguments in defense of Putin might not be of much value.
Ukrainians’ attitudes toward Russia have changed significantly (July 2014 NYT). In 2011, which was the last time Pew conducted a poll there, more than eight in 10 Ukrainians had a favorable opinion of Russia. Now only 35 percent of respondents have a positive view. Within Ukraine, there are deep divisions based on geography and language. Residents of the western part of the country were most unfavorable toward Russia, while Russian-speakers in the east were less unfavorable.
According to a recent poll from the International Republican Institute, a majority of Ukrainians support closer ties with Europe:
Fifty-two percent of respondents now favor joining the European Union over the Russian-led Customs Union, up from 41 percent in February. Although divisions remain between the east and west of Ukraine, 53 percent said they would vote to join the European Union if a referendum were held. When asked the same question about joining the Customs Union, 28 percent said they would vote to join.
According to the principal findings from the latest survey in Ukraine (above) by the Pew Research Center:
Ukrainians are far from satisfied with the involvement of foreign powers to date. The European Union fairs best in the eyes of Ukrainians, with a 45%-plurality describing its influence in Ukraine as good. Meanwhile, assessments of the U.S. impact on Ukraine are split: 38% positive, 38% negative.
Russia is viewed with the greatest suspicion. Three times as many Ukrainians say Russia is having a bad influence on their country as say it is having a good impact (67% vs. 22%). At the same time, overall confidence in Putin’s handling of world affairs has plummeted from 56% in 2007 to 23% today.