The Ukraine crisis has slowed to a temporary halt as none of the significant actors will speak directly to anyone else in a position to break the stalemate.

John Kerry has cancelled his proposed visit to Moscow because he wanted Vladimir Putin to talk to the new government in Ukraine. Russia rejects relations with what they regard as a rump government formed under American tutelage, as the result of an American-instigated and supported mob in Kiev, composed of ex-Nazis and American mercenaries (among the proofs being that the American Assistant Secretary of State was there to distribute cookies to the mob beforehand).

In any case its new prime minister pro-tem, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, (“Yats’ the guy,” as Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland identified him to the American ambassador) will be in Washington this week to be rewarded (Moscow assumes) and given his further orders by Barack Obama.

Russia will deal only with Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s president, chased from his office, and from his sumptuous, gilded residence near Kiev, by the demonstrators (although he has a second home being built in Crimea, which may prove to have been a prudent precaution). He is, for the Russians, the legitimately elected head of the Ukrainian state, temporarily dispossessed. Moscow, respecting legality, will deal only with him.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, says Russia has its own proposals to make in order to put the situation back into a framework of international legality, but these are unlikely to interest Washington, for whom the change of Ukrainian government seems taken as a fait accompli.

Crimeans, meanwhile, are preparing to vote on Sunday to confirm their permanent re-attachment to the Federation of Russia (Nikita Khrushchev having fecklessly given Crimea to Ukraine in 1954).

But a legal complication exists, which the Kiev parliament has raised. The United States, Russia and Britain in 1994 signed a Memorandum of Security Assurance when Ukraine agreed to give up the nuclear weapons that had been installed there when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

The agreement, signed by the then leader of the Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, was also signed by Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, and John Major as guarantors of the borders of Ukraine. Under international law, the U.S., the U.K. and Russia committed themselves to go to war in defense of Ukraine.

The Kiev authorities in place now claim that their country is being invaded by Russia, its borders violated, and they demand that this agreement be activated.

Last weekend in Washington there was much talk of an American military response to what has happened in Ukraine. CNN noted an unconfirmed proposal that NATO move troops and aircraft to Poland, which would have been certain to produce a Russian military response, at best a similar move of troops up to the existing Ukrainian border, and possibly, at worst, an advance into Ukraine to restore Mr. Yanukovych to presidential office.

If the American response to either of those actions were to be dictated by the same reckless sentiments responsible in recent years for promoting NATO membership for Ukraine, and for the demonstrations in Kiev that caused the parliamentary coup that overthrew Viktor Yanukovych on February 22, the U.S. and Russia would possibly be at war this week.

NATO has put observation aircraft into Romania and Poland, whose utility is unclear, other than as a signal to President Putin. The signal is meant to be that of America’s determination. From the quality of the controversy going on in the U.S. press and public opinion, it is also an unintended signal of something more serious — of ideology, confusion and something like hysteria in high places.

The media have turned to the figures considered the wise men of the American foreign policy establishment, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Both are urging all sides to calm down. Both mention the Finland solution, which kept the peace in a highly sensitive period of the Cold War, with Finland ally neither of NATO nor of the Soviet Union, and willing to fight either to defend its neutrality.

It often is forgotten that before the Second World War Finland was invaded by Stalin, who wished to annex Finnish territory to give Russia strategic depth in a likely war. The Finns fought back, and expelled the Russian invaders, but had to yield some ground to Russia. When the war did come, the Finns joined Nazi Germany in fighting the Soviet Union, so as to recover their lost territory, and once again they lost, as the German army began to collapse and retreat, and the Finns had to make an onerous separate peace with Russia.

Ukraine, whose historical relations with Russia have been very difficult, fought the Nazis alongside the Russians. But some Ukrainians also joined the Nazis to defeat Russia and revenge their nation’s sufferings under the Bolsheviks. At the end of the war there were scores to be settled on all sides, and a certain number of Ukrainians went into the forests and continued a fight for Ukrainian independence. They again lost. They finally got independence in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. But they and Russia were left with many hard feelings.

Ukraine has, for many years, been a troubled society, afflicted by the internal communitarian and linguistic tensions that have been the source of all too many wars in the region. Their relationship with Russia has been tense and passionate, the two societies intimately related to one another. The past must never be forgotten when trying to make peace between them.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at

© 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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