Situated in the heart of New York City between the island of Manhattan and Long Island and with the United Nations in its peripheral view, Roosevelt Island stands as a monument to the 32nd president of the United States of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. At its edge is a memorial to FDR, with a bust of the former president and a park appropriately named “Four Freedoms Park.”
On Saturday, March 15, U.S. Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney held a press conference at this site on the subject of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, a vote was taking place a mile away at the prominently visible UN among the members of its Security Council. The press conference sent a strong message of support to the people of Ukraine with statements by the Congresswoman and others, while at the UN Security Council, 13 of its 15 members voted to denounce a Russia-organized referendum in Crimea, with China abstaining and only Russia voting against denunciation of its own international crime.
A casual onlooker would conclude that this was a good day for Ukraine and its territorial integrity and an equally bad day for Russian imperialistic ambitions. However, the frustration and tragedy lie in a keener historical understanding of the venue and its international backdrop.
In January 1941, FDR delivered his State of the Union address. It included language about four freedoms: speech and worship which were enshrined in the Bill of Rights and introduced freedom from want which was a hallmark of FDR's social service programs and freedom from fear, a relatively novel concept by which FDR hoped to get America to support its European allies in World War II. FDR's basic message was that individuals and nations should be free from fear of oppression and occupation and it was incumbent upon those who did not experience such fear to assist those less fortunate.
Four years later, an ailing FDR accompanied by Soviet agents in his own Department of State traveled, ironically, to Yalta in the Crimea and gave away half of Europe to his then-ally Josef Stalin and acquiesced in introducing additional fear of repatriation back to the USSR for those who had by circumstance managed to escape. FDR was a principled man, but a tragically flawed figure in American and world history.
One of FDR's main purposes at Yalta was to procure Stalin's acquiescence to the formation of the United Nations. At this he was successful, albeit tragically as well. The frustration has been manifested many times since October 1945, when the UN was first formed, most recently last Saturday during the Security Council vote denouncing Russian aggression. Only one country, the perpetrator itself, voted against the will of the overwhelming majority, yet the perpetrator prevailed because of a permanent member status veto power.
In April 2008, Ukraine was to have been afforded a Membership Action Plan at the NATO summit in Bucharest. Russia, not only not a NATO member but the very reason why NATO was formed, blocked Ukraine's membership path. U.S. President George W. Bush advocated Ukraine's membership. But the Europeans and, in particular, Germany, ostensibly because of energy considerations, could not do what was right. Ukraine's membership was deferred, never thereafter seriously discussed. Had Ukraine been afforded a membership path at Bucharest there would be no Ukrainian Crimean crisis today.
Diplomacy and economic sanctions are normally strong tools in negotiations. However, they pale when confronted with a state run by criminals. The entire democratic world and many Russians today understand that the Russian Federation, with President Putin, operate outside the norms of civilized international rules. Democracy and human rights' considerations are absent almost entirely in Russia.
Nevertheless, the world community has tried many times to include Russia among the civilized. Significantly, Putin has invariably responded by snubbing and ridiculing civilized behavior.
In the past his arrogance had tamer, narrower consequences, such as when he refused access to OSCE election observers and admonished the international community not to teach Russia about democracy, but to teach “their own wives to make cabbage soup.”
Most recently Putin flatly refused access to Crimea even to OSCE observers, as well as representatives of the UN. The Budapest Memorandum of 1994 or the Friendship treaty with Ukraine from 1997 mean nothing to Putin, as does truth or Helsinki's respect for territorial integrity.
There is only one option that helps Ukraine tangibly. The twenty eight countries in NATO should step up and offer Ukraine accelerated NATO membership. The current Ukrainian prime minister in private conversation with NATO officials has requested such consideration. Germany and France having sold out to Russia in the past need to recognize and correct the wrong. Ukraine is a worthy and willing candidate for NATO. The NATO community needs to stand and rectify the wrongs of Yalta and Bucharest.
The people of Ukraine and others in Eastern Europe are hungry to experience freedom from fear. Ask the Poles, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Baltic nations and other East European recently admitted NATO members. They' re willing to defend Ukraine if only to experience freedom from fear themselves. After all, with NATO at its border, freedom from fear or the lack thereof may become a negotiating component that even Putin's Russia would understand.