The Cold War gets hotter, thanks to Russian ambitions to rebuild the Soviet empire—but, veteran foreign correspondent Kalb (The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed, 2013, etc.) writes, thanks as well to Western ineptitude.
It all comes down to Ukraine, a country that is really two countries, one Western-facing, the other bound to Russia. It’s the eastern one that Russia has been gnawing into, claiming bits of territory here and there, most notably the Crimea after the last Winter Olympics. There has been much mishandling on all sides, not least when pro-Russian forces shot down a civilian airliner, killing hundreds of mostly Dutch travelers. However, argues the author, who was nearly finished with a doctorate in Russian before being whisked off into journalism by Edward R. Murrow, much that has occurred recently seems nearly inevitable. It will not please Moscow to read his criticisms of Putin, but neither will it please Kiev to learn that he considers much of its claim to autonomy from Russia to be misguided. Even though Russia has been the aggressor in the recent strife, he suggests that any accommodation will largely have to come from the Ukrainian side: “the first step out of the current crisis is an acceptable modus vivendi between Russia and Ukraine, an arrangement under which Russia, because it is by far the stronger of the two, gets the larger half of the loaf, Ukraine the smaller one.” Kalb also writes casually of inborn “Slavic indolence,” which is not likely to win him points on the eastern shore of the Danube and beyond. Finally, correct or not, the present administration is unlikely to warm to Kalb’s policy recommendations, since he paints President Barack Obama as someone alternately bewildered by and uninterested in Russian affairs, particularly the boss, Putin.
“Ukraine deserves its place in the sun as a truly independent nation, but it must be realistic about the journey to that goal.” Realism is a keyword in this think-tank treatise of much interest to policy wonks.