There are many things that can be said about the situation in the Ukraine, and more specifically about the Crimea. The first thing to note is that in the international order the big powers do what they will and the small ones do what they must.
Thus, the Monroe Doctrine has involved the U.S. in invasions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and in organizing the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala, replacing it with a vicious dictatorship. It forced Cuba to grant it control of Guantanamo, as the price for granting Cuban independenceâ€”or, more accurately, dependence.
While it acts to secure its Latin perimeter, it also surrounds Russia with bases and secret prison-torture centres. Russia is not much concerned with what the U.S. does in the Americas, but it does not much like its invading what it sees as its security zone. All this is not said in defense of Russian actions, simply to understand its behavior in context.
The most important thing about the big power bullying exhibited by both the U.S. and Russia is the impact on international security.
Russia had every reason to be concerned about American behavior in the Ukraine. American and other Western funding of oppositional efforts in the Ukraine helped to undermine the Ukrainian government that was friendly to Russia. Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, went in person to the Ukraine last December and handed out cookies to demonstrators in Maidan Square, demonstrators engaged in trying to topple the government. A telephone conversation between her and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, intercepted and widely distributed, has the two of them plotting out just which individuals should be taking power in the Ukraine and which international organizations should be involved in arranging the transfer of power. She proposed involving the U.N. to mediate and help establish what might be termed â€œorder.â€ Why not the European Union? â€œFuck the EU,â€ she told the ambassador.
Vladimir Putinâ€™s actions in the Crimea are parallel to those of the U.S. in the world. Nuland might well take lessons from him, and perhaps she has. Nevertheless, Russiaâ€™s intervention is a danger to world peace and security equivalent to that of the American refusal to abide by the decision of the International Court of Justice.
When the Ukraine became independent in 1991, it had a truly massive stockpile of nuclear weapons. Three years later, it shipped these to Russia, in exchange for the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which it signed along with Russia, the U.S., and Britain. The memorandum made the Ukraine a non-nuclear power in exchange for a guarantee of its territorial integrity.
Regardless of what one might think of the various players on the political stage in the Ukraine, the Russian invasion of the Crimea is a serious blow to international security. Now any country considering giving up nuclear weapons will think at least twice before doing so. If the Ukraine had kept nuclear arms, a Russian invasion would have been far less likely.