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The Long Telegram: Imaginary Friends and Phantom Enemies
Posted on Mar 25, 2014
By Lena Herzog
Containment of Self
It is understood here and repeated ad nauseam that Russia made Ukraine choose between the European Union and itself, yet it was Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, who was the first to tell Ukraine, “Either a Customs Union with Russia or contract with us,” thus opening Pandora’s box with this ultimatum and provoking a mirror ultimatum by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both said “either us or them.” Ukraine is and always has been split between East and West, and now the gauntlet has been thrown. After centuries of bloody history over that very issue, Ukrainians had to decide on the spot. What followed in Maidan Square was not inevitable, but it was a logical reaction of the two opposing forces within Ukraine itself over the East-West split, in which western Ukraine wants to be part of Europe and the east and the south, including Crimea, lean eastward—to Russia.
More than 93 percent of Crimea’s voters declared a desire to be part of Russia (as the area had been for more than 200 years). Russia ratified the Crimean referendum based primarily on its own interests, national and historical self-definition as well as on the legal precedent set in 1999 by the U.S. and NATO in Kosovo. That referendum was acknowledged by the international community after the ethnic killings on both sides and 72 days of NATO-led bombing in the former Yugoslavia. This time, however, the United States decided the situation was different, declared sanctions and took a “stand.” The neocons dusted themselves off and are trolling cyberspace and the airwaves, urging “action” and raising the rhetoric of the Cold War to its highest pitch since the ’70s. Russophobia is back in. Naturally, anti-Americanism in Russia is resurfacing in response. But we were back to the old days, even before the events in Ukraine. “Something will detonate,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, referring to the Sochi Olympics. The entire coverage of the Olympic Games was permeated with this sentiment. Sometimes, it sounded almost hopeful. Then came Maidan Square.
As happened during and after the Arab Spring, as well as in the protests in Syria, radicals on all sides got inspired, joined in and came to the fore. They always do. The U.S. and Russia are egging on those they find convenient for their game. Ukraine is sizzling with possibilities for violence and provocation.
Have we learned nothing from the past? Do we really think that we can play old Cold War games now?
“Security in Europe is not possible against or without Russia but only with Russia. And if the crisis is overcome one day, one advantage could be that international law is finally recognized by all sides again,” said Gregor Gysi of the German party Die Linke. Few voices of reason are heard, but they are there.
Maintenance and self-reflection must be made the new sexy. Today’s containment should apply to everyone: states, the parties, militias, groups, governments and their opposition. Above all, let us praise the awareness and self-containment.
Let the specter of George Kennan and the Wise Men speak: “Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. … We must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After all, the greatest danger that can befall us … is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.” Today, Kennan would be saying this in regard to America’s imaginary friends, not its phantom enemies. And as he did in 1946, he would certainly have now the character to say this about his own nation.
The biggest test for us now is to step close to the mirror.
Lena Herzog is a widely published photographer and author who is also a Russian American.
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