Yesterday I posted my thoughts on the fraught relationship between Russia and Ukraine. Then last evening on the PBS Newshour, Nick Schifrin interviewed Oksana Markarova, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States. You can watch the interview below:
While one would not wish to excuse Russian aggression towards her country, Markarova's comments reveal the unrealistic aspirations of the current Volodymyr Zelensky administration in Kiev. This is why NATO would be unwise to take on Ukraine as a full member.
There are principal issues which are very important for Ukraine, as I said: to be independent, to be sovereign, to decide our future by ourselves, to be part of the European Union and NATO, and to be whole again, to restore our territorial integrity.
Given the divided character of Ukraine, these goals are almost certainly mutually incompatible. With the southern and eastern sections of the country within the Russian cultural orbit for more than two centuries, we cannot reasonably expect that their inhabitants would countenance full membership in the EU and NATO, which they perceive to be inimical to their own interests and to those of their close neighbours across the border in Russia. Even if Moscow were to tolerate such affiliations, which is unlikely, western-leaning Ukrainians would view their restive compatriots in the Donbas and Novorossiya as potential or real fifth columnists, ready to betray their country to the Russian Federation's interests.
The only way that membership in the EU and NATO might be feasible would be for Kiev to accept jurisdiction over a much smaller territory encompassing only those parts of present-day Ukraine that view themselves as part of a larger European civilization. This would likely divide the country along the historic boundary once separating the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth from the former Russian Empire, deprive Ukraine of its Black Sea coast, and effectively make it the largest landlocked country in Europe. That such a rump Ukraine is unpalatable to Zelensky and his supporters is understandable, but they will undoubtedly have to choose which of the goals Markarova lists above is most important to them.
As for deciding their future by themselves, few nations, except perhaps for the most powerful, are in a position to do this. This is why, for example, Hannah Arendt disliked the notion of sovereignty, which is based on a denial of the human condition of plurality and on the grand pretence that we can go it alone without considering the impact of our decisions on our neighbours. Ukrainians are deceiving themselves if they continue to assume that their future is theirs to determine on their own. Far from bringing lasting peace to a war-torn Europe, Woodrow Wilson's proposed principle of national self-determination sowed the seeds of further conflict because it failed to account for the complex realities conditioning all these ostensibly sovereign national selves.
If Ukraine continues on its present path, attempting to achieve all the aims articulated by Markarova without qualification, then conflict with Russia is probably inevitable. If, however, the Zelensky administration will take a more realistic approach, it might yet avert the coming conflict.