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Role Playing Ukraine

Professor Mark Katz at George Mason University organized his 79 undergraduate students in teams to play out the current situation in Ukraine. Here he describes their moves and the tentative outcome: LobeLog    Sound plausible? possible? unlikely?

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Plausible.  The question is:  Is this another  de facto Munich, a fateful appeasement of Russia which will lead to more annexations?


Ann, Or were Abkhazia and South Ossetia Munich, and Crimea Poland and now we are up to France and Belgium? In which case, Obama is worse than Chamberlain. Or are we only up to Ukraine is Poland? In which case, Obama has a chance to be Churchill. Or would that be David Cameron while OIbama would be FDR? 

The point being, historical analogies go only so far, and after they have gone that short distance, the conclusions one draws are the conclusions he went in with.

Tom B. --

No, we don't know -- yet.  But we'd be foolish not to think ahead to the possibilities.  

Today (Wednesday, May 7), Putin says that Russian troops have pulled back from the border with Ukraine. Also reported: he asked separatists to postpone a referendum scheduled for Sunday.

Hmmm! I am going to assume that Putin has achieved what he wanted, chaos and uncertainty in Ukraine, and is now stepping back to see what will happen.


I was just saying that if we want to think ahead to the possibilities, it is better to start by acknowledging that our problem is Vladimir Putin, not Adolf Hitler. Putin seems to want to restore Russia's pre-Gorbachev (or even pre-Brezhnev) clout in the world. Russia's rulers have always coveted Ukraine when they didn't have it, although they had it a lot of the time. A lot of Ukrainians grew up as subjects of the powerful Soviet Union (whereas the Germans in Czechoslovakia had only Wilhelmine Germany to look back on) and feel in a position to choose their future from Russia or Ukraine.

Thinking further, Russia can mass troops on the Ukranian border, but there is no France to mass troops on Russia's border to create at least the possibility of a standoff. As in 1940, Russia is ready for war (at least with Ukraine) and Europe is ready for peace. That is a point of comparison. But neither France nor Britain were ever reliant on Germany for their natural gas as our European friends rely on Russia. And so on. And, of course, nobody had the Bomb in 1940, but now both we and the Russians do. That limits our options in ways no one's options were limited back then.

The comparisons are thinner than the differences.

While it is popular to view every leader we don't like as the next Adoph Hitler, I don't know that such an analysis is likely to lead to sensible policy.  But the other thing is, even if Putin has some vaguely Hitlerian scheme of European domination, (unlikely in most people's view) what should we do about it now?  The europeans seem only marginally concerned.  And in an odd way, isn't the west in a bit of an uncomfortable position of backing a coup, while the Russians make the case that they are concerned because a pro-Russian President, who was duly elected was unconstitutionally overthrown. 

At moments it looks like the U.S. cares more about the situation in Ukraine than does Western Europe. See this op ed piece by the foreign affairs editor of Die Welt. Why Germans Love Russia.

Of course, Poland is nervous as are the Baltic countries.

I read and hear many comments about doing "something" about this, but very few about what exactly the US can or even for that matter should do.  And the things we are doing, to the extent they work at all, are extremely long range in their impact.  One need look only at Cuba and Iran to see that the effects of embargos and such take over 50 years (Cuba) to bring about the change we want.  Short of a military confrontation, which as you pointed out would be a case of Europe holding our coat while we do the fighting, what real solution is out there? 


Maybe we have to count on Putin to step back. And then we have to hope that the Ukrainians don't start their own war with each other. Not impossible especially if the CIA and/or the State Department, etc., are fomenting trouble (don't know that they are, but wouldn't be surprised).

Jim Dunn,

I always get worried when people start calling for us to "do something." It reveals that the need for a sense of control has overwhelmed our ability to evaluate the relative merits of various courses of action.

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