Ukraine needs a grand strategy—a set of overarching and realistic goals to serve as a road map for its geopolitical, economic, and cultural development in the next 20 years. The ongoing war with Russia has amply demonstrated that Ukraine can no longer assume that things will just work themselves out. Nor can it try to pursue good relations with everyone. Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Donbas means that Ukraine has to start choosing—not so much sides as courses of action that promote its own long-term interests.
History holds several lessons for Ukraine. Since the collapse in the thirteenth century of the Kievan Rus state, the territory of today’s Ukraine has been subjected to waves of imperial expansion by aggressive neighboring states. The list includes the Mongols, Lithuanians, Poles, Muscovites, Ottomans, Austrians, Germans, and Russian Bolsheviks. Each invasion destroyed political and social institutions; most also produced enormous human misery. Each aggression ended for good only after the empire concerned was either dismembered, defeated, or transformed into a bounded nation-state.
With one exception—today’s Russia. Despite the historical discontinuities with tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, in size and expansionist inclinations, today’s Russia is virtually identical to both. The preference for expansion may be the product of unchanging geopolitical realities that have driven Russian policymakers for centuries. Or it may be the product of Russia’s past and present imperial drives. As far as Ukraine is concerned, both possibilities lead to the same conclusion: that Russia is, and will remain, a threat to its security and survival, whether the country remains geopolitically large and insecure or geopolitically large and imperial—even after the era of Russian President Vladimir Putin ends and Russia resumes its transition to democracy. Russia will be an existential threat until it becomes a fully consolidated and stable democracy at ease with itself and the world.
History holds another lesson for Ukraine: that the West or, more specifically, Europe views Ukraine as a target
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