“Never Go to War over an East European Cause”

 [Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, 200 years ago]

Let me unravel the muddled thinking of Francis Xavier Maier who in a piece today that he wrote for “The Catholic Thing” declared it would be obscene “if Ukrainians ignored the memory of Russian criminality in their country for the sake of a dubious peace.”  Maier infers but does not declare that the U.S. should provide Ukraine military aid; and he chides various conservative voices on the American right who caution restraint in this regard.

Maier leads off most of his paragraphs with misstatements of fact.  He misreads history. He bears an animus towards Russia that Russia does not deserve.

He writes about “eight years of war initiated by Russia.” He seems not to know that the United States initiated the conflict by organizing, funding and encouraging a bloody coup in Kiev in 2014, with the aim of ousting the popularly elected President Viktor Yanukovich, who favored cooperation with Russia in various areas.  With support and planning by our CIA and our State Department; with the support of the Obama administration, and with tax-payer dollars, policy wonks in DC went on to cheer the bloody urban warfare in downtown Kiev near the Maidan Nezolezhnosti public square. I have peacefully traversed that square on foot hundreds of times these last few decades during my extensive travels through the Ukraine and Russia as president of a Catholic mission association and relief fund.

You will not understand the truth about Russia and Ukraine unless you go back to 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed, and they created a new country called Ukraine.  Before 1991 Ukraine was an administrative province, territory or district of the U.S.S.R. since shortly after the 1917 Revolution. [Ukraine became nominally independent in 1918, after the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, but was conquered by the Soviets in 1922] Before that, the eastern half of the Ukraine had been the western most European region of Czarist Russia, with her historic mother city Kiev sitting on the right bank of the River Dneiper, surrounded with golden onion domes perched atop several Russian Orthodox monasteries nestled in the forested hills tumbling down to the river.

Did you know they teach all Russian children that Kiev is the mother city of Russia?   In about 988 AD prince Volodymyr accepted the Catholic Faith, received Baptism and entered the Church. His countrymen followed him into the Greek Catholic Church of the Byzantine Empire, many years before the schism of 1054.  In subsequent centuries the Faith spread to the heart of Russia.

You might have read in your history books that many Russians fought valiantly against the Red Communist army in the several years immediately following the Communist Revolution of 1917.  The White Russian army of the south commanded by the heroic General Pyotr Wrangel fought valiantly to defeat the Red Army in the years 1918-1920.  The armies fought most of those battles just east and north of the Sea of Azov in the Tavrida region. They also fought in the Crimea. They fought those battles in and around the lands of the so-called “break-away” oblasts.  The sons of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbass spilt their blood to save Russia from the Communists in those years.

The citizens of Donetsk and Lugansk are Russian.  Russia had annexed that territory from the Crimean Khanate in 1783 under Catherine the Great. They speak the Russian tongue.  They sing Russian folk songs.  They have Russian grandparents. They print their literature using the Cyrillic alphabet. They have Russian hearts.  They did not ask to join the new country of Ukraine when they arbitrarily drew new borders following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine wrongfully thwarts their efforts to secede or to join Russia.  Ukraine should not send her propagandized young soldiers into harm’s way to shoot and kill Russians who want to rejoin their motherland.  They villainize the residents of Donetsk and Lugansk who have worked no evil; but have instead borne great suffering from the invasion of their homes and villages.  The citizens of Donbass [the basin of the Don River] want to secede from a country ruled by a corrupt government that does the bidding of a nationalist minority who hate Russia.  Ukraine sends her army east, not to repel an invader, but to prevent peace loving Russians from returning to their fatherland. Russia, for her part, understanding the volatility of annexing the Donbass, probably would prefer the Donbass become a semi-autonomous enclave like Pridnestrovia [Transdniestria], that slender strip of land along the Dniester River between Ukraine and Moldova.

In the fifty-five months I have lived on Ukrainian soil, including six or seven weeklong ventures into Russia, I have spent at least half my time living at a Shkola Internat, a Ukrainian state run boarding school for one hundred orphans and children from broken families.  For twenty-five years we have helped raise and educate about five hundred children from kindergarten through ninth grade.  Every year they have a formal Last Bell ceremony at the end of May when many families and former students come to bid farewell to the graduates at a most dignified ceremony, with many speeches, much song and formal dancing.

About six years ago Dima Maximenko came to Last Bell to watch his sister Nadja graduate the 9th grade.  Nadja had plans to attend a cooking school.  I had remembered Dima as the cutest little boy, with black hair, deep dark mischievous eyes, and innocent joyful dimples in his cheeks that would brighten up any room.  He arrived at Last Bell dressed in his army uniform.  The “war” had transformed him.  He was gloomy and sullen.  His dimples shone no more.  They had sent him to kill innocent citizens of the Donbass three hundred miles east of his home in Trypillja.  Life as a combatant had broken his heart. 

Over the last four centuries several European empires have subjected the Ukrainian soil to their rule.  Not only the Russian Empire ruled this territory. The Austro-Hungarian empire once enclosed most of western Ukraine within its borders.  The Polish-Lithuanian kingdom once ruled over most of the Ukraine and most of central Europe.  Inside the borders of the Ukraine, you find not only Ukrainians, but also Romanians, Moldovans, Ruthenians, Tatars, Poles, Hungarians, Slovaks, Belarussians, Cossacks, and of course Russians, many of whom naturally live near the lengthy eastern border with Russia.  These groups don’t always see eye to eye.

Ukrainians trace their roots to Prince Danilo’s small kingdom of Galicia on the eastern banks of the Carpathian Mountains, founded in the 13th Century following the invasion of Genghis Khan’s Mongols who had plundered and burned Kiev in 1242. Today’s Ukraine dwarfs the kingdom of Galicia.  But for the vicissitudes of history; they might have named our subject country Southern Poland, or Greater Galicia, or Western Russia.  As we have it, they named it The Ukraine, which literally means “the borderland” (in the Russian tongue).

Next, Maier throws a red herring into the stew.  Stalin and the Communist party plotted the death by hunger for millions (Holodomor) in 1933 in Ukraine.  It was not a crime committed by Russia against the Ukraine.  The Russia of 2022 bears no guilt for the crimes committed by the Soviet Union ninety years ago.  Today’s Russia bears no animosity towards the Ukraine.  Instead, they fear the U.S. and NATO who have been encircling Russia with U.S. financed military bases in most of the former countries of the Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Union.  NATO has doubled in size since 1991.  And all those missiles and armaments in the new countries in NATO point towards Russia.  Of all the large countries bordering Russia along its western and southern flanks, only Belarus and the Ukraine remain outside NATO.

Contrary to Maier’s assertions, Russia has not waged war in these two most eastern oblasts of Ukraine.  Instead, the Ukraine sent its army east to Donetsk and Lugansk to stop those oblasts from seceding from the country, much like Abraham Lincoln’s armies invaded our southern states to prevent their secession.  The Russian army has not crossed the border to engage in armed conflict.  Our government and our media want you to think Russia has acted aggressively.  On the contrary she has shown the greatest restraint.  Instead, the Ukrainian Army has prosecuted war against its own citizens, not an army from Russia.

Does Mr. Maier know how much hatred for Russia burns in the hearts of so many misguided souls in Ukraine?  Recall how in May 2014 a gang of thugs (reportedly neo-Nazis) forced forty Russians visiting Odessa for a football tournament to seek refuge in the Trade Unions Building.  They barricaded them inside, set fire to the building, and killed all forty.

Residents of Donetsk and Lugansk don’t want to live in a country that treats Russians so.  I can’t explain why hatred of Russia runs so high.  Do they hold Russians culpable for the crimes of ancestors?  I have witnessed the ugly faces of hatred in the Ukraine many times and places.  I witnessed the 2004 Orange Revolution, also on Maidan Nezolezhnosti, when tens of thousands of western Ukrainians shut down the city with ugly tent camps in the city center.  The magnanimous presidential election victor, Viktor Yanukovich, agreed to accede to the demands of the mob, and he allowed Viktor Yushchenko to assume the presidency.

After Yushchenko’s ineffective term expired, Yanukovich finally became president again, by popular vote.  The troublemakers came again.  This time they came with U.S. support, encouragement, logistics and money.  Yanukovich barely escaped with his life.  Corpses and burnt-out buildings lined the main street Khreshchatik.

The U.S. and the EU had been planning and hoping to bring the Ukraine into the EU and into NATO.  The Russians living in Eastern Ukraine had seen enough, and they wanted out of the country.  They wanted no part of the corrupt European Union and the western decadence it promised to bring. Nevertheless, some “smart” policy wonks in Washington think we should act to prevent the secession of those two easternmost oblasts—Donetsk and Lugansk. [Ukraine has twenty-five regions or oblasts]

Maier laments the “mutations of post-Soviet Russian imperialism” seemingly oblivious to the misguided American imperialist adventures around the world these past several decades that have left many more dead, wounded and refugee than anything you can lay at the doorstep of Russia since the Soviet Union disbanded. I’ll spare the reader the lengthy list of countries we have invaded or with whom we have meddled, as my ink cartridge now runs low.

Maier conflates the Soviet Union of the 1930’s with the Russia of today.  He wants his readers to reflect “on the savage Stalinist persecution of Ukrainian Catholics that took place in the name of Marxist Leninist progress.”  Maier wants his readers to look upon Russia as a land of monsters.  He doesn’t know that Russia has become the most Christian of nations since Pope Pius XII consecrated her to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1952.  [Read Robert Sungenis new book Fatima Fulfilled 2021]   Maier seemingly doesn’t know much about the people I have visited on 38 mission trips these past twenty-five years.  They have built thousands of new Orthodox churches throughout Russia in recent years. They exhibit great piety and sober purpose in their lives.  You won’t find more humble, generous, long-suffering people in any other country you might visit.  “The Russian soul is unfathomable.”  Pyotr Wrangel.

Putin and the Russians do not covet the oblasts of Lugansk and Donetsk as so many in our government and media imagine.  Instead, Russia cannot countenance our adding Ukraine to the block of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—and the near certainty that we would thereafter install offensive nuclear weapons on the doorstep of Russia, weapons capable of reaching Moscow in just a few minutes.

Russia stages her army along her lengthy border with Ukraine to send us the message that we may not try to add Ukraine to NATO without deadly serious consequences.  Russia will act in her own best interest. Maier laments the traumatized veterans of the Ukrainian army.  Why can’t he sympathize with the anxiety suffered by the Russians—brought about by the US and NATO who continue to encircle them with new military bases in the several new countries NATO adds every decade?  I invite you to look at the map showing NATO encroachment upon Russia.  The world should give thanks that Putin and Russia have shown such forbearance and restraint, up until now.

Never go to war over an Eastern European cause.  You will not likely understand the people and their history.  From your great geographic distance, you probably won’t have had the motive nor the opportunity to study and understand the issues that divide them.  Where and how they draw their country’s borders does not vitally threaten your nation’s security.  You will find your greatest security by turning to the mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the solicitous mother of her beloved Russian children, by praying her Rosary and trusting in her intercession to untie all knots.  

A. Matt Werner

Georgetown School of Foreign Service B.S.F.S 1978

Catholic University School of Law–Juris Doctorate 1981

Judge Advocate USAF in NATO 1982-1987

President of Queen of Apostles Mission [QAMA.org] 1996-2022