The Politics of Ukraine in an Ohio Town
Plus, Putin and the nuclear endgame.
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DANIEL MCGRAW on The Politics of Ukraine in an Ohio Town.
George Salo runs a family meat market and deli in Parma. His father was born in Ukraine and he explained to me an odd reaction he’s gotten from his customers over the last week—at least the ones’ who weren’t Ukrainian. These folks come into his market to buy pierogies and sausage and then handing him extra cash and asking him to find a way to get it overseas into the hands of Ukrainian fighters.
“Some give me $10, one guy gave me a hundred, but it’s not a dollar here and a dollar there,” Salo told me. “It was really odd at first because I didn’t put up any signs asking for this. The public wanted to help and they were asking me to help them help. And now it is normal that I get $200 a day from customers.”
“I just get the feeling that everyone in America is starting to feel the same way we do in Parma,” he continued. “We’ll see, but I’m seeing that people are seeing this as a fight for freedom, and Americans usually get that.”
Salo takes the money to one of the Ukrainian Catholic churches nearby (there are about a half dozen Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox churches in the area, with gold-colored, gilded onion domes). Volunteers at these churches are buying and shipping essential relief items for the fighters and refugees daily.
The American public rallying to support people in trouble isn’t unusual. What is unusual about Parma is the domestic political ramifications.
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Ukraine Coverage 🇺🇦
THEODORE R. JOHNSON: Explaining the Ukraine Invasion.
If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were strictly a matter of stopping the enlargement of NATO, creating a buffer between democracy and the Russian state, securing the pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine, or some other realist objective, the world—and certainly American foreign policy—would be much better positioned to address Russia’s actions and perhaps find ways to create off-ramps.
But ontological security doesn’t play by the same rules. As Anne Applebaum has written, “[Nations] do not, as some academics have long imagined, have eternal interests or permanent geopolitical orientations, fixed motivations or predictable goals. Nor do human beings always react the way they are supposed to react.” It is much more difficult to address the concerns of an autocratic leader feeling a national identity crisis who is thus incentivized to seek conflict as a means of finding security. Steele has articulated that a nation-state seeking to stabilize its sense of self may be compelled to act in ways that seem irrational, but which are wholly consistent with trying to ameliorate that which has been disrupted.
The United States has commissioned privateers in undeclared wars, such as the Quasi-War with France (1798–1800), when French and American vessels battled at sea following an affront to American diplomats. But that conflict was what legal theorists called an “imperfect war” or an undeclared war limited in scope. A perfect war, by contrast, was a declared war that called out all possible war-making capabilities. Imperfect war, though, was still always war, as the Supreme Court affirmed for the Quasi-War in Bas v. Tingy (1800).
For all the justified American anger over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and all the responses by private companies and individuals, the United States is not at war with Russia. Officially, we are neutral. That status could change quickly if the United States acts like a belligerent by doing things like issuing letters of marque. Gooden insists his bill is about “finding creative ways to do so [i.e., to seize the oligarch’s vessels] without escalating the current conflict,” as he told the Washington Post. The risk, though, is that the actions would be considered by the adversary to be acts of an undeclared war.
Modern privateering enthusiasts also misunderstand how admiralty law was essential to the financial incentives of privateering. Privateers got to keep what they captured only after submitting to a legal proceeding in an admiralty court, full of the usual legal paperwork and procedures: filings, arguments, and testimony of captains and crews.
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: Putin and the Nuclear End Game.
If the Russian military continues to be stymied in the north, it’s possible that Putin could explore a negotiated settlement in which the Ukrainian government surrenders the Donbass and offers some “guarantees” to Russia.
On the other hand, it is possible that Putin views a negotiated settlement as a risk to his domestic political position. In which case, Putin may escalate in an attempt to sever NATO’s material support of Ukraine in an attempt to crush the Ukrainian government.
In the case of an escalation, we would expect to see intelligence reports from the French or German government that Russia is arming its battlefield ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads and has activated the command circuits used for issuing authorization to employ nuclear weapons. Putin would most likely privately approach either German Prime Minister Olaf Scholz or French President Emmanuel Macron, who has thus far been his chosen interlocutor, and tell them that they have a last chance to avoid a nuclear strike by ending NATO military supplies to Ukraine through German air bases.
At which point, what would NATO do? And what could America do? These are questions we ought to be gaming out now, even if we hope such a moment does not come to pass.
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