In a stunning development it is reported that Russia has sent in military reinforcements around their base in Crimea and caused the shut down of airports in the vicinity. This prompted the Ukrainian government to invoke the provisions of the 1991 Budapest Memorandum signed by Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma – the then-rulers of the USA, UK, Russia and Ukraine, that promised to protect Ukraine’s borders, in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons. The day before, in a display of its military might, Russia mobilized its army on Ukraine’s borders.
These developments call to mind the events that led to World War I where Russia mobilized its forces following an ultimatum that was issued by the Austro- Hungarian Empire after their heir apparent was assassinated in Sarajevo. Military alliances forged by treaties drew Western nations into the conflict that followed. But this time the stakes are much higher.
The conflict is not just about Russia and Ukraine. The conflict is over whether Russia should have a free hand in meddling in Ukraine and whether the promises of Western Powers to secure the border of a state in exchange for military disarmament mean anything. Why should Russia be able to intrude into Ukraine’s internal affairs without recrimination? And consider what may come of Western assurance in peace accords of the future with countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea if the United States and Britain do not live up to their commitment to Ukraine in the Budapest Accord.
Similar thoughts were at play at the beginning of World War II when Britain and France considered whether they should initiate war against Nazi Germany for invading Poland in September 1939. They had drawn the line at Poland and were prepared to back up their promise with deeds. Are the Western allies today prepared to make the same move?
The Ukrainian Crimean crisis is a very serious moment in world history. Much is at stake. At the very least the West should present an ultimatum to Russia. “Hands off Ukraine” as the demonstrators chanted in front of the Russian Consulate today at noon in Toronto, should be the essence of such an ultimatum to Russia. Are we ready to put ourselves on the line? Are the Western powers prepared to stand up to Putin ala the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or will the United States and Great Britain whimper out on their deal with Ukraine and forever more relegate themselves into the “dustbin of history?”