John McCain Can't Change Ukraine

A deeply divided country won't be fixed by blunt diplomacy.

You can’t explain this seesaw political history exclusively through political corruption, although it’s easy to believe there has been plenty of that on both sides. Rather, it is explained largely through the reality of Ukraine as a cleft country, with two distinct enclaves of cultural sensibility and political interest.

So when McCain travels to Kiev and waxes pugnacious against the Ukrainian government, it’s wise to keep in mind that his pronouncements don’t square much with reality. When The Wall Street Journal suggests an economic boycott against the Ukrainian government "and its allies," it similarly is taking a blunt-instrument approach that can’t realistically address the complexities of the situation.

Ukraine will have to find its way through its historical predicament. Russia no doubt will play a role in whatever outcome emerges, if any. After all, Russia has been involved in the fate of Ukraine since 1654. Europe may have a role to play as well, given its proximity and the Western affinity of Ukraine’s western regions. But the United States has almost no standing to interfere.

What will be the outcome? Will Ukraine eventually split in two, each half going in its favored direction? It’s difficult to see such an eventuality absent a major international crisis in the region, although there will always be those who advocate such a course. As one Russian general once mused, "Ukraine or rather Eastern Ukraine will come back [into the Russian fold] in five, ten or fifteen years. Western Ukraine can go to hell!"

More likely, the country will continue to muddle through its current political conundrum as best it can. Huntington speculated that "Ukraine will remain united, remain cleft, remain independent, and generally cooperate closely with Russia." He quotes author John Morrison as saying that the Russian-Ukrainian relationship is to Eastern Europe what the Franco-German relationship is to western Europe. Huntington explains, "Just as the latter provides the core of the European Union, the former is the core essential to unity in the Orthodox world."

Such fundamental realities aren’t easily upended by John McCain’s brand of blunt instrument diplomacy.

Robert W. Merry is political editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His most recent book is Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians.

Image from John McCain's Twitter feed.