Is the US a Passive Bystander in the Ukraine Crisis?

Recently, a FB friend (ScottW) and I were discussing one of my blog posts: Contrasting Views on the Ukraine Crisis and NATO Expansion.

In that blog post, there are references to a number of luminaries (e.g. Yanis Varoufakis, John Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald, and Jack Matlock) who have suggested that the Ukraine might be better off if it agreed to some form of Finlandization.

That suggestion inspired an interesting exchange of views, which I’ve now turned into a separate blog post.



“Buffer states” sound like a great idea to people who don’t have to live in them.


Hi ScottW,

I wonder how the Finns would advise Ukraine.

As for non-Finns, there are those who think that the Ukraine would be better off with “Finlandization.” As I understand it, this is the basic solution that Yanis Varoufakis, John Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald, and Jack Matlock are proposing.

For contrast, I’ve recently posted an Oxford Union Society video, which features other luminaries (i.e. Robert Brinkley, Neil MacFarlane, and David Manning) who do not seem to favor the Finlandization solution.

However, I didn’t catch their solution for Ukraine – i.e. one that: (a) Russia would go for and (b) they also favor.

As for my take, it seems to me that the US and its NATO allies have led the Ukrainians down the primrose path. We cheer them on as a “David” taking on the challenge of a Russian “Goliath”.

However, we (i.e. the US and NATO) don’t want to provide the Ukrainians with a no-fly-zone because that might result in WWIII.

So, as I see it, the Ukraine is a patsy for western interests (i.e. US and NATO allies) who don’t want to take on Russia directly because that might lead to WWIII. We’ll just let the Ukrainians do the fighting for us. Yet another twist on the proxy war theme.

BTW: I’m glad Biden is trying to avoid WWIII, even though Zelenskyy does seem to want us to risk WWIII on his behalf.


I think the arguments [for “Finlandization] tend towards a ‘realpolitik’ view that the citizens of some nations should be only permitted very superficial and largely illusory political freedom in order to keep the peace between empires. This may appear defensible from a utilitarian point of view – but there is a moral point here too. We’re asking people to give up their political freedom and agency, to keep a peace for which we are the main positive beneficiaries, by arguing that they would suffer most from the negative consequences. There is therefore a conflict between positive (existential) freedom vs. negative (utilitarian) freedom.

I’m not even sure Finlandisation, as was, is even possible now. I remember a Finnish friend telling me about the things that they weren’t allowed to talk about, the topics from history they weren’t allowed to learn about in school, and so on, and how this was all part of how the settlement was implemented. Again, you’d need to limit freedom and agency, prevent access to a free press, ban certain books and films, limit internet access, and so on, and create uncritical support that this lack of freedom was all for the greater good, a bit like Plato’s Noble Lie.

I think ultimately, any idea has to be presented as a choice, not a solution. Ukrainians (for now at least) have political agency. Its people can choose to give up some of their freedom in exchange for some measure of peace and security (hmm, Ben Franklin had something to say about that!) or pursue positive freedom, knowing what it may cost. What I don’t think is a good idea is for non-Ukrainians to try to impose or lobby for one or the other as a solution, as fundamentally, we are not the ones who will have to experience the consequences.


So, ScottW, wasn’t Zelensky lobbying the US and NATO to risk WWIII so that Ukraine could be protected with a US/NATO financed and supported no-fly zone?

Apparently, he wants to expose the whole world to the risk his proposed solutions entail.

As for Ben Franklin, he did NOT live in a world with nuclear weapons.


For more on Zelenskyy, see Palki Sharma’s take on Zelenskyy in the reference section. She maintains that he made three big miscalculations: 1) he over-estimated western support, 2) he misread Ukraine’s importance to the West, and 3) he misread Putin’s intent to invade.


I don’t see the US, or even NATO, as a major agent in this. They are reacting to events, not guiding them. I would suggest Ukraine is acting based on its own perceived interests, and applying foreign leverage wherever it can. If this is a proxy war, then its in reverse.


ScottW, with regard to your comment on US agency with respect to Ukraine, I’d like to draw your attention to my blog post: US Involvement in the Internal Governance of Ukraine in 2014 in the reference section. This blog post addresses the question of whether the US is a passive bystander, or if it’s really actively involved in the internal governance of Ukraine.


Also, ScottW, check out the Bacevich video in the reference section.

Bacevich is not claiming that the US is the only one to blame for the Ukraine crisis or even the one that is primarily responsible for that crisis. Obviously, Putin is the one who made the decision to invade Ukraine, and Bacevich makes it clear that Putin (and his inner circle) are responsible for deciding to send Russian troops into Ukraine.

Bacevich is also very clear about saying that both Russia and the US are partially responsible for the Ukraine crisis. This position is more accurate, IMO, than John Mearsheimer’s position. Mearsheimer says that the US is primarily responsible for the Ukraine crisis, which is hard to defend now that Putin has decided to put troops into Ukraine.

My takeaway from the Bacevich interview is that both he and Amy Goodman are hoping that Ukraine will agree to a neutral status and will not push to join NATO (i.e. a Finlandization solution). Further, Bacevich is pretty clear that the US has been involved in Ukraine politics, at least since 2014 (i.e. the US is not some passive bystander).

Anyway, the host of Democracy Now, Amy Goodman, does a good job of interviewing Bacevich.


Bacevich, Andrew

Ukraine is Paying the Price for the U.S. “Recklessly” Pushing NATO Expansion
by Andrew Bacevich
11 March 2022

What role did the United States play in creating conditions for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and what will it take to end the war? The U.S. invasion of Iraq, which saw no repercussions for the Bush administration despite breaching international humanitarian law, coupled with Cold War-era policies and NATO’s eastward expansion, incited Putin’s aggressions towards Ukraine, says retired colonel Andrew Bacevich, president and co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “American decision makers acted impetuously, and indeed recklessly, and now we’re facing the consequences,” says Bacevich.

Beshears, Fred

Contrasting Views on the Ukraine Crisis and NATO Expansion
by Fred M. Beshears
10 March 2022

US Involvement in the Internal Governance of Ukraine in 2014

FMB: This blog post has an analysis of the Glen Greenwald video: The War in Ukraine.

Greenwald, Glenn

The War in Ukraine
by Glenn Greenwald
25 February 2022

FMB: for an analysis of this video, see my blog post referenced above:
US Involvement in the Internal Governance of Ukraine in 2014

Marcus, Jonathan

Ukraine crisis: Transcript of leaked Nuland-Pyatt call
Jonathan Marcus
7 February 2014

“An apparently bugged phone conversation in which a senior US diplomat disparages the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online. The alleged conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, appeared on YouTube on Thursday. It is not clearly when the alleged conversation took place.”

Sharma, Palki

Gravitas: Zelensky’s three big miscalculations
by Palki Sharma
9 March 2022

  1. Over-estimated Western Support
  2. Misread Ukraine’s Importance to the West
  3. Misread Putin’s Intent to Invade

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