America's Catch-22 in Taiwan and Ukraine

We can put a thumb on the scales of the balance of power, but we can't provide most of the weight

(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

Midway through my undergraduate career, in the fall of 1990, I took a course titled "Russian Imperialism from Ivan the Terrible to the Formation of the U.S.S.R." At the end of the course, the professor turned, uncharacteristically, to current events. The accelerating collapse of Soviet power had already led Lithuania to declare independence, and other Soviet Republics were agitating to join them — including Ukraine. Sensing the hopeful, even heady emotions touching his students half a world away from these events, the professor, though anything but an apologist for the imperialism he studied, addressed the class with a word of caution.

The republic now known as Ukraine, he reminded us, was once the cradle of Russian civilization, and Ukrainian history was tied to Russian history for centuries afterward. Even the 17th-century national hero of Ukrainian independence himself pledged fealty to the Russian Tsar to win Russian support for his uprising against Poland. Founded by Catherine the Great, Odessa was one of the most important cities for imperial Russia's culture and economy; the Crimean port of Sevastopol was home to Russia's Black Sea fleet; and a sizable minority of the population of Ukraine considered themselves simply Russian. Considering all of this, it was inconceivable, he said, that Russia would ever accept the idea of a truly independent Ukraine.

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Noah Millman

Noah Millman is a screenwriter and filmmaker, a political columnist and a critic. From 2012 through 2017 he was a senior editor and featured blogger at The American Conservative. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Politico, USA Today, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, Modern Age, First Things, and the Jewish Review of Books, among other publications. Noah lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.