A view on the unfolding situation in Ukraine

April 23rd, 2014

KeylorAs tensions continue over the situation in Ukraine, the war of words between the United States and Russia appear to be at their most precarious since the end of the Cold War. International relations professor William Keylor, author of  A World of Nations: The International Order Since 1945,” offers his view on the current situation.

In searching for Cold War precedents for the unfolding situation in Ukraine, there are three events worth remembering.

In 1956 and 1968, the Soviet Union employed military force to crush the Hungarian Revolution and the ‘Prague Spring,’ respectively.  Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson declined to respond forcefully to these two clear violations of national sovereignty because of the unspoken acceptance — despite all the rhetoric about the right of self-determination of Poland and Czechoslovakia — of Moscow’s right to maintain control of its ‘sphere of interest’ in Eastern Europe.

In 1979, the Soviet Union employed military force to install a friendly regime in Afghanistan.  The Carter and Reagan administrations responded vigorously to this clear violation of national sovereignty with extensive economic sanctions and arms deliveries to the anti-Soviet resistance, a policy that eventually contributed to the withdrawal of Soviet troops and, some would argue, to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

If Moscow proceeds to employ military force in eastern Ukraine to ‘defend’ Russian speakers there, the Obama administration will have to decide which precedent it will follow: Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968, or Afghanistan 1979-1989.

Contact Keylor at 617-359-0197 or wrkeylor@bu.edu.

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