Today, in the midst of my other activities and concerns, I reflected a great deal on the Russian invasion of Crimea  and why it has happened. What would make a Russia that had just finished basking in the glow of goodwill over the Sochi Olympics  almost immediately decide to invade its neighbor over a longstanding boundary problem? It is not as if the fate of the Crimean peninsula is a new strategic problem for Russia. The Crimean Tartars dominated and then struggled with the Russians for hundreds of years before Russia defeated them and annexed their territory in the 1780’s. A few decades later, that same territory became the place for a successful war against Russian aggression led by a coalition of European nations that led eventually to the emancipation of Russia’s serfs in 1861 and the sale of Alaska to the United States six years later. More recently, the Crimean Peninsula was incorporated into Russia in 1954 and then joined with an independent Ukraine in 1991 .
It would appear that despite the fact that Russia is a powerful nation economically (especially through its oil wealth) and its military has overcome its Afghan embarrassment with successful wars against Chechen separatists as well as Georgia’s military, Russia still feels isolated globally. It is likely that this same sense of isolation is what led Russia to so strenuously desire Olympic glory for its nation, and it is the sort of blunder that immensely insecure and paranoid people and institutions and nations make to immediately throw away the goodwill that they receive through aggressive and hostile behavior against others. Although Ukraine is a large nation by most standards, it is a nation in the midst of deep political turmoil and its military is certainly no match one-on-one against Russia. Undoubtedly, Russia’s motive in striking at this time would be to take advantage of internal turmoil and division to gain control of the desired territory and then present their de facto as a fait accompli and attempt to force a successful solution on a longstanding problem but not a particularly urgent one through swift and opportunistic action against a vulnerable adversary.
The will of the Ukrainian people, despite their divisions  to decide their own path free of Russian domination, is a threat to a Russia that is paranoid about the spread of European domination westward into its core territory. Yet, as is often the case with those who are paranoid about outsiders, it is their aggression and violence that tends to lead to the results that they most fear. Russia’s fears of European influence, Ukrainian independence in spirit as well as law, as well as their own isolation has led it to do what is most likely to increase all of those realities. Even though Russia’s initial assault has been successful, and even though Ukraine lacks the strength on its own to retake its sovereign territory or protect itself from furthered incursions, this is precisely the sort of situation that would easily influence Ukraine’s new leadership to ask for and receive European (and American) help to defend itself and regain its territory, which would dramatically increase the influence of the West in its culture and affairs, and make Russia even more vulnerable in its own mind, and even more likely to act in drastic ways. To say that this is an alarming turn of affairs is a great understatement.
I will not speculate on such matters (as this is a situation which would lead many people to make the most unpleasant sort of speculations), but I would like to comment at least on some of the ways that Russia’s immense folly can serve as an example for the rest of us. Right now, Russia appears trapped in a cul-de-sac of its own making, by seeking to take over the Crimean Penninsula (which can be easily stopped at its narrow top as Ukraine seeks to build up its strength to retake the territory, with help if necessary), not only geographically but also geopolitically. That a nation as mighty as Russia would be so insecure and paranoid about invasion would be foolish enough to provoke by aggression the very sort of outcome it most fears is a reminder to all of us that our might and power and our wisdom and sense of security and safety are not necessarily connected. It is very easy for those who are immensely powerful to be immensely prickly and over-sensitive because they see themselves as so much more vulnerable and targeted than they are. And if we choose to provoke and attack others, we can expect them to counter however they can. Those who feel themselves to be weaker than we are can be expected to seek allies to bolster their own safety, which only isolates us further and leads to our further insecurities. Yet, like Russia, when this is the case, we often have only ourselves to blame for causing the very disaster that we sought so desperately to avoid, but are too proud to back away from and cut our losses because it is our pride that is so much at stake to begin with.
 See, for example, the condemnation of this invasion from just about every segment of American political opinion: