UKRAINE, TRUMP, AND THE JAVELINS
Commentary by Myroslaw Smorodsky, Esq.
In the past few weeks, mass media of all political stripe have been buzzing about Ukraine suddenly terminating its cooperation with the Mueller investigation of Paul Manafort on the one hand, and on the other, the Trump administration “coincidentally” permitting the sale and delivery of sophisticated Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine. The unspoken implication is that there is something nefarious in this “coincidental” intersection of events. These crossing incidents are best understood from a historical point of view: America’s attitude and behavior towards Ukraine’s independence juxtaposed with the unquestionable axiom that the primary function of government is to protect its populace and territory from unwarranted attack by its external neighbors.
In the waning days of the Soviet Union [August 1, 1991], Pres. George H. W. Bush gave the infamous “Chicken Kiev Speech” to the Ukrainian Soviet Parliament warning that independence would be “suicidal” and that Ukraine should stay within a unified Kremlin led state. Evidently, he nor his advisers where at all cognizant of [or chose to ignore] the deep-seated centuries old aspiration of the Ukrainian people to have an independent state. On August 24, 1991. the Ukrainian Parliament ignored Pres. Bush’s warning, and by a nearly unanimous vote declared Ukraine’s independence from the USSR. This declaration was endorsed by a national referendum on December 1, 1991 with a 92% majority vote. On December 26, 1991, the USSR ceased to exist. Most historians acknowledge that Ukraine’s independence declaration was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and caused the demise of the USSR much to the surprise and chagrin of Pres. H. W. Bush’s Administration.
On December 5, 1994, [on President Clinton’s watch] Ukraine agreed - at the strong insistence of the US - to remove and to have destroyed all nuclear weapons on its territory. All that Ukraine asked in return was to be given security assurances [of its political, territorial, and economic independence] by the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom upon its accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. These security assurances were given and are commonly known as the Budapest Memorandum. In reliance on these assurances, Ukraine surrendered approximately 1900 nuclear warheads, the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The Budapest Memorandum was a significant and dramatic step in furtherance of the United States' then long term strategic goal to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
In the first decade of the 21st century, Pres. George W. Bush gazed into Putin’s eyes and found a “trustworthy” person; Putin even confided in Pres. Bush that he believed “Ukraine is not even a state”. Thus, true intentions having been confessed, the Kremlin proceeded to endeavor to economically destroy Ukrainian independence and imposed gouging prices for gas, poisoned a Ukrainian presidential candidate in a rigged Ukrainian presidential election which resulted in the Orange Revolution; thereafter, it shut off gas supplies to Ukraine and to Europe in the middle of winter, invaded Chechnya, and militarily occupied portions of Georgia -- all without any significant or effective economic or political consequences being imposed on Russia by the United States or its allies for its actions.
During the Obama administration, Russia -- now emboldened by America’s weak response to its past belligerence -- not only accelerated its economic and political subversion of Ukrainian independence, but now used military aggression to try to bend Ukraine to its will. In 2010, Russia installed a pro-Russian puppet, Viktor Yanukovych, as President of Ukraine by manipulating and infiltrating mass media. In 2013, overwhelmingly popular and governmental support buttressed Ukraine’s desire to sign preliminary agreements to join the European Union. [Dec. 2013] At the very last moment, the Kremlin directed its puppet president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, to scuttle all such efforts. In February 2014, the Ukrainian people peacefully protested this subservient decision only to be met by brutal violence that killed over 100 people. [the Euro Maidan Revolution] Ultimately, on February 22, 2014, Yanukovych was overthrown and fled the country for asylum in Russia. Having failed to undermine Ukraine from within, in early March of 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine. First, Russian troops assaulted and annexed Crimea; then the Ukrainian eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk were invaded by Russian mercenary and regular army forces. In the process of the war, the Russians shot down a civilian airliner. [MH17] The US government’s initial response to Russia’s blatant acts in violation of international rule of law was muted verbal condemnation only to be followed by anemic economic sanctions against Russian and later by providing military advisors and non-combat equipment to Ukraine. Although the U.S. Congress authorized the transfer of defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine, [e.g. Javelin missiles] and notwithstanding Ukrainian Pres. Poroshenko’s impassioned plea before a Joint Session of Congress for such armaments [Sept. 18, 2014], the Obama administration refused to deliver any lethal weaponry to assist Ukraine to defend itself.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the first year of his presidency displayed a new isolationist foreign policy accentuated by numerous events displaying inexplicable tolerance of Russian behavior - only a few of many examples follow: Russian intervention in US elections without any response from the Trump administration; surreptitious removal from the GOP platform by the candidate’s staff of a foreign policy plank supporting transfer of lethal weapons to Ukraine; Pres. Trump’s unabashed adulation of Russian Pres. Putin and a staunch refusal to criticize him; and Pres. Trump’s adamant refusal to increase sanctions against Russia as mandated by near unanimously adopted congressional legislation.
Nor has it gone unnoticed by Ukrainians that during the past half-century, the United States has readily given lethal weapons to countries and to political groups which had or have substantially less trustworthiness and credibility than Ukraine. It is now crystal clear that the guarantees of economic, political, and territorial security promised by the United States and by the other signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum were not worth the paper they were written on. America’s new isolationist policy and willingness to unilaterally walk away on short notice from international agreements does not give much hope nor any reasonable reliance on future US promises. It is also painfully obvious that the sanctions imposed to date against Russia have not blunted Russian aggression against Ukraine. With this stark historical reality in mind, Ukraine now must deal with a seemingly unending war initiated by Russia without cause, having parts of its territory annexed by its bellicose neighbor, the economy of two of its provinces destroyed and their territory occupied by Soviet mercenaries and regular army troops; a frozen war zone on its eastern front, 10,000 citizens killed to date, and 1.5 million displaced citizens. Russian tanks are poised on the eastern border, military fire-fights are a daily occurrence, and Ukraine must be on the ever ready to defend itself and its citizens with only limited resources.
If political fate presented a rare and exceptional opportunity for Ukraine to obtain lethal military weapons such as Javelin missiles from the United States to greatly help defend itself and its populace, [which weapons it had begged for since the Russian invasion in 2014], it would be governmental malfeasance – if not treason - not to take advantage of such an unanticipated and invaluable chance; even if it required a “coincidental” withdrawal of cooperation with the Muller investigation. After all, it is axiomatic that the primary purpose of any government is to protect its populace and territory from unwarranted attack by its external neighbors. Every government in Ukraine’s position would act in like fashion.
May 9, 2018
Myroslaw Smorodsky, Esq.
Communications Director of the Ukrainian American Bar Association (UABA)
Former President, Chairman of the Board, and Founding Member of the UABA
Former Public member – US Delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE - Madrid 1980)