The tough-talking officials of the George W. Bush administration pressed eastern expansion of NATO, including membership by both Georgia and Ukraine. Not surprisingly, Russia became alarmed.
During this period, Georgia launched a military attack on breakaway South Ossetia. In reaction, the Red Army in 2008 invaded. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France brokered the cease fire; the Bush administration did nothing.
Ethnic instability is endemic to the entire region. During World War II, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin suddenly arbitrarily deported the sizable population of Meskhetin Turks from Georgia as part of a vast relocation of an estimated 1.5 million people to Central Asia and Siberia.
An estimated 700,000 Georgians fought in the Red Army. Smaller but still substantial numbers joined Hitler’s forces. The forces on both sides earned in blood deserved reputations as dedicated warriors.
Ukraine, likewise, is historically entangled with Russia in complex ways. The beginning of the Russian revolution in 1917 sparked an independence movement. After years of struggle, Ukraine eventually was absorbed into the new Soviet Union.
The Soviet regime forced collectivization of farms, resulting in vast mass starvation. Moscow authorities still suppress the details of this crime. Ukraine was also the target of murderous Stalinist purges aimed at destroying any independence sentiments.
Given this history, essential caution should define U.S. policy, including on human rights. The Obama administration in this regard represents an improvement from the Bush boasters.
An important additional factor is the steadily expanding economic power of Germany across Europe, encouraging rapprochement with Russia. This will limit future U.S. influence, but that is a subject for a future column.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact him at email@example.com.