February 27, 2020

Thoughts on Ukraine

Recent events in Ukraine have hit home for the Paredes family in a personal way. My Romanian wife spent 18 months as a Mormon missionary in Russia, where she developed a great love for the Russian people. In addition, the LDS temple in Kiev is the one that is designated for church members in Romania to attend, there being no temple – yet – in Romania, so she has Ukrainian as well as Russian friends. I started out college as a Russian major and spent a semester abroad in Moscow. I also paid a brief visit to Kiev during my travels, and once had a Ukrainian girlfriend. My wife and I both speak Russian, and plan to teach the language to our daughter.

Interestingly enough, the Mormon Church is growing at a slow but steady pace in both countries. Ukraine has over 11,000 church members, while nearly 22,000 Russians have been baptized. Russia does not have a temple, but it does have two stakes (= dioceses) in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There is one Ukrainian stake in Kiev. Needless to say, the LDS Church is remaining neutral on the Crimea invasion and annexation. I read with interest recent media reports claiming that many Jews in Crimea support the Russian annexation.

Unlike some talking heads in the media, I find this issue to be rather complex. First of all, it’s hard to support a country’s invasion of the territory of a sovereign country under the guise of “defending” members of its own ethnic group who are in absolutely no danger of persecution. On the other hand, there is no question that Crimea is of great strategic importance to Russia, which is willing to sacrifice a great deal in order to keep the peninsula’s two million residents within Russia’s sphere of influence. Indeed, I believe that Crimea is so important to Russians that Putin would be willing to wage a conventional war  — a Second Crimean War – for the peninsula. After all, Russians have bled and died for Crimea on at least two occasions (WWII and the Crimean War); to the best of my knowledge, no independent Ukrainian state has.

I am not President Obama’s biggest fan, especially on foreign policy, but I think that he’s being unfairly criticized by his legions of detractors on this issue. Even if Teddy Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan were in the  Oval Office today, Putin would still annex Crimea. It simply means a lot more to him that it does to any U.S. leader. Since Americans are certainly not willing to fight and die for Ukraine, we are the ones who wind up blinking in the Obama-Putin presidential standoff over the country’s sovereignty. If Putin tried to invade Mexico, it is he who would be blinking right now.

The Paredes family will be praying mightily for a just and peaceful resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, both the Russian occupation of Crimea and the rule of corrupt kleptocrats. Over the long term, it will be especially interesting from a religious standpoint to note the progress of Russian expansionism, which is alive and well in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. Will an expansionist Russia ultimately prove to be a force for good in the world? The early results aren’t exactly encouraging.