(AJC Executive Director, Edward and Sandra Meyer Office of the Executive Director; Senior Associate, St. Antony's College, Oxford (2009-11)
First, history will record this as a high-stakes, even defining, crisis. What happens in Ukraine matters -- first and foremost, of course, to the Ukrainian people -- but it doesn't stop there. The reverberations can already be felt across the region and beyond. No, 2014 is not 1938, and Russia today is not Germany then. But that doesn't mean there aren't echoes of the past in the present -- Crimea as Sudetenland? Ukraine as Czechoslovakia? Other Russian-speaking areas, such as Transnistria, to follow, based on assertions they are being persecuted by "neo-Nazi" regimes wielding power in capitals from Kiev to Chisinau to who knows where, and whose residents allegedly clamor for salvation from Moscow?
Second, this is a test of America's global leadership. From what I learned on my visit to Kiev earlier this week, which overlapped with the arrival of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and a Congressional delegation, it is abundantly clear that Ukraine is looking to Washington for significant help. This includes direct assistance to bolster the country's perilous economic condition, reduce its vulnerability to Russian energy dependence, and strengthen its security capabilities. And it means standing up unflinchingly to Russia, something that only the U.S. has the capacity to do.
Jewish life in Ukraine has been revitalized, Jewish groups abound, relations with Israel are excellent, and, currently, a Deputy Prime Minister is Jewish, one of the 450 members of Parliament wears a kippah, and a few governors and mayors are also Jewish. Many Jews outside Ukraine may find it difficult to acknowledge these changes. Their views of Ukraine are essentially frozen in time, based on their own, or their families', tragic experiences. While entirely understandable, it would nonetheless be a mistake to fail to recognize the changes that have occurred, the opportunities that have been created, and the potential that exists for still more progress.