An excellent review.

However, let me take up a couple of points.

A leader in this week’s Economist also lamented lack of support from Global South. The very next leader was about Israel and that Biden finds its actions “unfortunate “. Israel has abandoned the two state proposition, is absorbing Palestine lands in West Bank through illegal settlements backed by Army (not much different from Russia in Ukraine) and the strongest that US can say is that this is”unfortunate “!

No wonder that the global South finds US and the West hypocritical. Do the Palestinians deserve less sympathy than the Ukrainians - or is it that they are powerless in the global power politics?

Expand full comment

It's tough to overstate the potential impact of the Jeddah Summit. Saudi Arabia appears more respectable on the world stage (what human rights issues?), China gets to show Russia (and the world) that it is the big brother in the relationship and doesn't really have a "no limits partnership" after all (whew for the west!), and a greater consensus for condemning the war seems to be much, much closer. This is a huge event with far-reaching consequences.

Expand full comment

Very thought provoking post (as usual).

Isn’t the lesson that Putin will eventually learn if he hasn’t already be that the aggressor / occupier rarely wins. Putin forgets that the Soviet Union defeated the Nazis because they had the support of major powers and because Germany were the aggressors. Same with Napoleon. If he continues to pursue this war he will lose. Ukraine is a nation not a subset of Greater Russia. THe nations of the world apart from one or two (N. Korea, Iran possibly, Eritrea) are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Expand full comment

Putin’s article of June 2021 made two points. The point that Ukrainians were not true nation, one can discount as false. The Ukrainian culture, language, history and myths are distinct from that of Russia. Their national poet Taras Shevchenko and national historian Hrushevsky have put this argument of Putin as false. The second point is, however, important. What are Ukraine’s borders? Can a nationalist Russian, just like Adam von Trott who is celebrated now as a resistance fighter, claim parts of Ukraine rationally?

Ukraine is the Polish word for borderlands. It became part of Poland after Lithuanian Duchy offered these borderland of swamps and dark earth to Poland as part of the marriage of Jagiellon (Lithuanian) to Jadwiga (Polish Crown Princess) in 14th century. The Polish landlords colonised the land, sent their Jewish bailiffs to exact taxes from the local residents. Many locals escaped into the swamps—they formed bands. These bands were local Slavs, plus the Tartars who had settled around these parts from the remnants of the Golden Horde, and there were Pechnegs and other Iranian tribes, and Turkish tribes such as Bulgars. They started calling themselves “Cossacks” – that is the “free” people, NOT serfs, NOT slaves. They were ruled by an elected Hetman.

In 1654 the Cossacks rebelled against the Polish lords. Hetman Khmelnitsky of the Zaporizhian group led the revolt. The Cossacks were mainly Orthodox, a religion of the delta of Dnieper, and not Catholic like the Polish lords. The Cossacks by the Treaty of Perislava accepted the Grand Duke Alexis Romanov of Moscow as their new overlord, who promised them autonomy and self-rule. Over the years Moscow did not keep its promise. There were several uprisings also agaisnt the Moscow, but it was futile, Finally Catherine the Great abolished Hetmanship, and sent Russian bureaucrats from Moscow to russify the Cossacks. Russian law, Russian education was imposed.

In the last dismemberment of Poland, the rest of Ukraine lands were shared between Russia, Austria (Prussia took mainly Polish part of the Teutonic lands). Galicia with Ukrainians (also called Ruthenia) was part of Austria, where an enlightened monarchy allowed literature and culture to flourish in local language Ukrainian. The Russian parts east and west of Dnieper remained tightly controlled.

In 1917, with the defeat of Russia – Ukraine in Russia centring on Kiev declared an independent republic. It was recognised by German Empire. After several change of leadership, its final Hetman was Petliura.

Also, in 1918, the Austrian Ukraine, or Galicia, declared itself as a new Republic with Lvov as its capital. This was hotly disputed by the local Polish population, who were as numerous as the Ukrainian speaking population [Lvov itself was mainly Jewish]. The League of Nations in 1923 awarded Galicia to the new Poland, bringing an end to the civil war in Galicia.

Meanwhile, Hetman Petliura fought successive battles against White Russians of Denikin, the new Poland of Pilsudski, and the Communist Russia (which wanted this province back) of Trotsky’s Red Army based in Kharkov. Finally by 1922, the Communists had won. The Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic, capital Kiev, joined the USSR.

Ukraine SSR did NOT contain Lvov, did not contain Crimea, did not contain Carpathian regions of today’s west Ukraine.

In Putin’s essay, he says at one stage that “Ukraine must leave with what it came with”, he implies the diminished Ukraine as represented by the original Ukraine SSR.

In 1939, Stalin invaded Poland within weeks of Nazi invasion. He absorbed the Galicia oblast, and Lvov, and gave it to the Ukraine SSR.

In 1945, the Carpathian region was taken from Rumania and Hungary and given to Ukraine SSR.

In 1954, Khrushchev , the Politburo member from Ukraine SSR and a Russian from Donbas, gave Crimea (with 80-90% Russian residents – the Tatars had been displaced earlier by Stalin) to Ukraine SSR without any referendum of its local citizens. The strategy (according to Wilson Center) was to have more Russian population in a restive Ukraine – which throughout the 1920s and 1930s had shown resistance to the Russian imposed communism (collectivisation), and had rebelled and allied with the Germans in WWII (under Stefen Bandera). The same strategy was followed in the Baltic states.

The Crimea transfer happened to commemorate the 300 years of Treaty of Perislava when Ukraine had asked for Russian protection.

What the above shows is that it is indeed difficult to define a natural border of Ukraine.

Today, Russia claims Crimea back, as well as parts of eastern Ukraine (Donbas, Luhansk) with majority Russian population; Poland which had been hostile to Ukraine about its historical grievance about Lvov, has buried the hatchet for the time being.

This reminds me of Adam von Trott, celebrated with a tablet at Balliol today, but who never gave up on his German nationalist attitude towards Sudetenland or East Prussia, absorbed into Poland.

How does one settle a Nation State’s borders? In fact, Woodrow Wilson could not even properly define a ‘Nation’ according to his aide Colonel House. One way is to eliminate the minority completely, Ataturk did this in Smyrna in 1922. After WWII, Poland and Czechoslovakia expelled ALL Germans from the Polish East Prussia and Sudetenland – there were 13mm displaced Germans in 1946-47 travelling back to West Germany with their belongings in carts, old women, children (men were already dead in the war or in gulags).

Once the minority is completely displaced, there is no longer a minority problem!

Expand full comment
Aug 13·edited Aug 13

Thank you

This is an excellent overview, very helpful. This is an horrible war on Ukraine, unprovoked. And it's taken awhile to budge global views. Putin is still very intransigent outwardly maybe to stay in power. It's hard to understand how he can see this ending favorably for him. So if he can't have Ukraine, then he will destroy it. He is sticking to his story and deep convictions. Russia is paying and will pay. There is no possibility of a peace when he is actively moving towards the long haul, more conscription, more funds for war.

It's taken awhile to start somewhat peeling away the countries that have been indifferent or neutral, in their various alliances. It's good to have this summary of the various meetings. (When Putin sends Lavrov, it's a joke.) But meanwhile Ukraine is being torn, devastated. It's a test of wills and support also in the West among the populace.

Zelensky has been a godsend not only for Ukraine but as the chief actor, shouting to the world, traveling and meeting world leaders about what is at stake- an agreed upon UN/international order. This while he is trying to keep his country together, hopeful, soldiers pushing on in a situation that looks so dismal, so painful daily. The Ukraine 10 point peace plan shows how strong this will to survive is. Countries should start ratifying it. After all, if self interest is the be all end all- there but for the grace of God go they each: this aggression could happen to them.

The US, thankfully and rightfully has led militarily but we are in a multipolar world now. Hopefully Putin and Russia will be feeling this isolation- something Putin must feel now and Russians should have had to feel already. The squeeze could be tightened, the arms, sad to say, fast forwarded. And China could be enormously helpful. China could be key.

Expand full comment

With all the different groupings mentioned in this article, including even ASEAN, I’m surprised APEC didn’t get mentioned, especially as it includes the US, China and Russia

I am curious if you believe there is any role it could play here/what should APEC do about Russias membership

Expand full comment

"the attention devoted to Ukraine’s plight ..." Huh? Ooooo.... Sooooo compassionate!

Expand full comment

Lots of things one can argue in history, but not the ones you take in relation to Russian aggression in Ukraine. I’m surprised you didn’t go back to Peter and Catherine.

Expand full comment

It's a common mistake to use the term "Third World" in opposition to the First (Capitalist) and Second (Communist) worlds but it's not how the term was originally conceived by the French authors who developed it. It was supposed to mean Third as in "Third Party" - the Party to whom things are done without their consent.

Expand full comment

Interesting. It's hard to understand why 'realist' countries who 'make a point of not following an American lead' are aligning around the UN charter. How does this serve their interests?

Expand full comment