Putin-Affirmative Action

What Putin and Affirmative Action have in common

History is something that binds us all together, and that includes an unlikely pairing of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the affirmative action movement in the United States. To understand the motives of why Putin feels so possessively towards Ukraine and why affirmative action is central to the advancement of minorities, we must draw upon the history of both.

To comprehend why Putin is so interested in protecting his interests in Ukraine, it’s necessary to consider how since the time of Napoleon, more than two hundred years ago, Russia has repeatedly been attacked from its west. There have been three major incursions into Russia from other European countries. First was Napoleon from France in 1812. Second was Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm in 1914 and third was Germany again, this time under Adolf Hitler in 1941.

When the Soviet Union was formed in 1922, there was Russia and sixteen other states nearby republics. One of those sixteen was Ukraine, which was one of the founding republics in the U.S.S.R. Other republics that came to form a barrier of protection around Russia were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kirghizstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (there were four others that came later).

What early leaders of the Soviet Union, including Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, did was to form a protective shell around Russia. In some ways, it is similar to the United States asserting that it has control of the Americas (North, Central and South) through the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. The U.S. has engaged European countries twice to “protect the independence of Cuba.” First was in 1898 with the Spanish-American War and then in 1962 in staring down Russia in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The key point is that both Russia and the United States have acted in ways to protect themselves from invasion. Each has formed geographic barriers around its borders. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, it left Russia in many ways unprotected.

For many years post-1989, the Ukraine had a government friendly to Russia. However, in recent years, Ukraine has become more independent and interested in developing closer relations with western Europe. Economic trade between western Europe and Ukraine has increased and Ukraine has also asked to become part of the western defense alliance, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

For Vladimir Putin and many others in Russia, this is scary. This is also not the way it should be according to the Russian playbook. Russia’s field of reference is the Soviet Union of old, in which Ukraine and other republics on its western flank protected it from western incursion, or western even influence.

In this light, it makes sense that Putin would want to take control of the Ukrainian government. In his mind, doing so would include the possibility of using military force to do so.

I am not asserting that NATO countries, including the United States, should just stand by and let Russia invade Ukraine without consequences. But it is important to understand that Russia has valid reasons to want to control Ukraine. That is something that is very different from when they placed offensive missiles in Cuba in 1962, a country thousands of miles outside of their “sphere of interest.”

So, drawing upon history, it is important to understand from where Russia comes and why it is important for NATO countries to negotiate with Putin. One component of an agreement might be to include a declaration agreeing not to include Ukraine in NATO now, but to have a sunset provision whereby the issue could be reconsidered in twenty years.

In many ways, looking at Russia’s current desires is not that different from the ways in which many white people in the United States look at minorities. In 2019, the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to the history of African-Americans, beginning with the estimated first day that slaves from Africa arrived on the American shore of the colony of Virginia.

Lead author of the 1619 Project, Nicole Hannah-Jones, does a remarkable job of connecting the elements of slavery to current problems that African-Americans face. She is joined by a number of other outstanding writers who provide more detail on subjects such as how urban interstate highways have been intentionally designed to divide black neighborhoods, how the work of slaves on southern plantations provided need for investment and eventually the establishment of the New York Stock Exchange. The work of the Times is greatly supplemented by lessons from the Pulitzer Center.

Many white people are now getting upset about Critical Race Theory, which is simply a recognition of how contemporary conditions (good and bad) for African-Americans is a result of the history of blacks in America.

It is because of the discrimination that black people have endured in America, now for more than 400 years, that programs such as Affirmative Action have been needed, and still are. Affirmative Action is a policy or a program that seeks to redress past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity, as in education and employment.

Affirmative Action is not something that is limited to race. It is used for those who are economically disadvantaged, or for people with disabilities, or for women. It is necessary to balance the playing field.

White people need to understand the history of minorities, just as NATO countries need to understand the history of Russia. To be fair, the reverse is true in each case. On a global level, if we are going to live peacefully and with justice, it is important to understand one another’s history.