by John E. Herbst
"All three of us were heavily engaged with policy development related to Ukraine and Russia in the mid-1990s. In retrospect, some of our concerns at the time were overblown. The infamous CIA National Intelligence Estimate, for example, which predicted that Ukraine might split in two, proved spectacularly wrong. Ukrainian politicians, despite their many flaws, largely managed the substantial differences in outlook between the country’s east and west.
Ukraine has also done an admirable job of containing the intolerant demons of its not-so-distant past. Anti-Semitism and difficult relations between Ukrainians and Poles were a feature of life in Ukraine for centuries. Today, dialogue between ethnic Ukrainians and Jews, and between Ukrainians and Poles, has become a feature of Ukrainian life. Moscow’s claims in 2014 that fascists had come to power in Kyiv and that anti-Semitism was rife proved to be Kremlin-concocted fantasies. In the past two years, extreme nationalist politicians have fared poorly in Ukrainian politics.
Sadly for Ukraine and for the people of Russia, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pursued a policy of growing authoritarianism at home and an ideal of empire abroad. This has sparked a major challenge for Kyiv. In a sense, Putin bet on the flawed analysis of the 1990s’ National Intelligence Estimate when he began his covert war to foster separatism in the Donbas. The unwillingness of most ethnic Russians and Russophones in the Donbas to rise up explains why the Kremlin needed to send in regular army units in August 2014 and again in February 2015 to keep the so-called “Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics” in operation. In fact, Putin’s illegal seizure of Crimea and war in the Donbas have fostered a modern Ukrainian consciousness and patriotism that is driving the country forward toward Europe and away from an imperial Russia."