After Crimea

President Obama planned to finish his second term “leaning in” to the 21st century. The trouble is, too many contemporary geopolitical players seem determined to reach back into the 19th, if not further. While European and U.S. leaders, in machinations over Ukraine, were contemplating short-term strategies intended to get European capitalism over its latest hiccup, President Vladimir V. Putin was eyeballing the Ukraine crisis through an altogether different lens. Contemplating Crimea’s future within a Western-turning Ukraine, Mr. Putin saw Orthodox identity at risk in the land of the “ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized.”

Thus spoke Mr. Putin in a speech welcoming Crimea back into the Russian Federation, ferociously delivered in the ornate St. George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace on March 18. No Oval Office or Rose Garden for Mr. Putin. There will probably be few moments in modern diplomacy more disquieting than his swagger through a trumpet-crossed threshold into this grand hall to announce the annexation of Crimea in blank defiance of the West. Putting aside the imperial drama for a moment, though, his speech demands careful scrutiny, and the many concerns it raises about Western encroachments should be thoughtfully considered. How these had not factored more seriously into Western dabbling in Ukraine is hard to fathom.

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Any hope that the Russian Federation would prove a reliable partner with the West in developing a post-nationalist Europe needs to confront its own “reset” now, though it would be a mistake to freeze out Russia for too long from European dialogue. At this historic pivot point, there are no easy ways to push back against Russian imperial visions without creating a dangerous confrontation between NATO and the remnant Warsaw Pact.

The United States and Europe are in no position to force the Russians out of Crimea. What Mr. Obama can do, however, is beef up the sanctions issued so far and remain steadfast in their application. He should also make clear to Mr. Putin that while NATO and the West have no intention of being dragged into a hot conflict with Russia over Ukrainian sovereignty, if Russia and Ukraine come to blows, NATO powers will have little recourse but to assist Ukraine with military restocking. That should clarify that any further Russian expansion will not be as cost-free as the holiday in Crimea. A prolonged struggle with Ukraine will take some of the shine off of Mr. Putin’s imperial glow, and those calling out his name in adulation today could return shouting his name with altogether different intentions in mind.

Many of the claims President Putin made to justify the land grab in Crimea were beyond dubious, but he is not completely wrong about the extremist tendencies of some of the groups promoting Ukraine’s renascent nationalism. President Obama should tread carefully with the new regime in Ukraine until the nature of the players is absolutely clear. The last thing the Obama administration needs is another embarrassing quest for reliable moderates.

Most important, as dire as current conditions appear, Western leaders must hold off from an unhinged rush back to the Cold War. A cynical few are seizing on Putin-induced anxiety and attempting to steer their own agendas through the crisis. The toughness President Obama needs to show now is not just toward Vladimir Putin, who is as likely to be digging his own political grave in Crimea as he is to be laying the foundation of a Russian imperial restoration, but to these various pressure groups at home.

Some are urging the return of Defcon 4 defense budgets (as if the current Pentagon budget were not scandalous enough). Others are demanding that fossil fuel resources generated by the U.S. fracking industry be diverted to Europe, now acutely reliant on natural gas and oil from Russia. That would certainly create profits for a few but would leave U.S. consumers and taxpayers with all the risks engendered by this still controversial extractive industry and none of the purported benefits in domestic energy savings. Others are demanding an end to further efforts toward a nuclear deal and détente with Iran (as if the events in Crimea and progress in Tehran were entwined). Still others call for a vaguely defined global projection of U.S. “toughness.”

American strength and resolve should be directed toward the repair of its own economy, not dissipated on an offspring of the Cold War. The nation needs to learn that it is weakest when it “projects” strength through military muscle alone. The new leaders of the reconstituted Ukraine might follow that lead as well and dedicate themselves to building up a nation that Crimeans may soon wish to rejoin rather than expending their energies arms-racing with the Putinists. In the current crisis, patience, not action, may be best rewarded.

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Carlos Orozco
3 years 8 months ago
There are no good guys in the struggle between Russia and NATO, only looters -especially energy looters. While the Sochi Olympics were taking place the State Department (through Victoria Nuland and the ambassador in the Ukraine) was plotting to overthrow that nation's democratically-elected government (as corrupt as it was) and already stating the names of the current Washington puppets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv7qy7jot30 When the conversation was leaked, the corporate media gave the Obama administration cover by focusing on the swearing used by Nuland, ignoring the real scandal. Further intercepted communications (this time between the Estonian Foreign Minister and the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affarirs) informed of snipers targeting both governmental forces and protesters in the Maindan Square, intentionally fueling the fire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLS4ZVwuj68 After barely avoiding a disaster in Syria, the Obama administration seems determined to dig a deeper hole.
John Corr
3 years 8 months ago
The Ukraine, historically, has been divided between its west, oriented towards Europe, and its east, oriented towards Russia. The Crimea, which was given to the Ukraine by Khrushchev, has a Russian majority and a type of commonwealth status that has allowed it to secede from the Ukraine. Part of the western Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many Ukrainians fought for the Germans in WWII. Klitschko's ties to Germany are worth noting. Check them online. Following the recent revolution, the Ukrainian parliament voted to decertify Russian as a national language. Once the revolutionaries deposed the repressive and corrupt but democratically elected national government, the Ukraine effectively stopped existing as a nation. I'm especially interested in who are the very organized violent militants who overthrew the Ukrainian government. What is their agenda? Whom do they represent? Moreover, we tell the Russians it is illegal to for the Crimea to secede while not detailing on what legal grounds how our objections override what the Russians say is the legal right of the Crimea to secede as stated in the legislation that transferred Crimea to the Ukraine? How would we react if the Russians told us how to interpret our laws without even detailing their objections? Given the Ukraine’s historical divisions, how did the European Union overlook the consequences of trying to woo the western part of the Ukraine? What was the driving force within the European Union that produced this disastrous policy? How can the IMF give financial help to a mob-installed government that represents only segments of the Ukraine’s western part? Sen. McCain has a long history of being a tool of NeoCon interests under the guidance of his mentor Joe Lieberman. Go online to see how they worked to agitate against Russia in the Georgia-Ossetia episode.
Timothy Saenz
3 years 8 months ago
To Mr. Corr: I don't think the facts back up your contentions, and some of your statements may help to explain the pushes and pulls within the Ukraine but are irrelevant when determining whether an action is legal or morally justifiable. For one, the country that "gave" Crimea back to the Ukraine doesn't exist any more and may not exercise the alleged legal justification you purvey. If it could, then by extension Russia could re-integrate all the "autonomous" republics it allowed to become independent countries when the Soviet Union was dissolved. I would not be surprised if Mr. Putin thought that way, but people who respect law and order won't. Secondly, the colonies rebelled against and unseated the British government to become the United States because it was a repressive, parliamentarian monarchy. So what is your beef with Ukrainians deciding to end their repressive government? At least it is Ukrainians doing it and not Russian troops. It is their government, not yours or Russia's. I'm not sure why you think the EU trying to "woo" the Ukraine (not the western Ukraine - there is only one Ukraine) is wrong. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting closer political and economic ties with a neighbor who seems to also have wanted them, just as there is nothing wrong with Europe desiring closer ties to Russia. Have not all the parties benefited economically? If you are suggesting that they should have known that Russia would react with force and violence, that just underscores Russia's morally and legally unjustifiable position. What value does a referendum have when Russian troops have invaded the neighborhood? Make sure you vote the right way! Finally, it has been reported that the Ukrainian constitution is clear: referendums must be by all the people of the Ukraine, not just a part. Evidently, you don't like that, but it undermines any claim that Crimea's vote conducted under the watchful eyes of Russian troops was legal. You are in a conniption about Ukrainian "militants" unseating what you acknowledge is their own repressive government, but you don't mind troops from another country invading and taking over. Your reasoning is out of whack.
Timothy Saenz
3 years 8 months ago
In truth, our leaders should be laboring industriously to repair our own economy. However, that does not mean we should neglect the needs of our common defense. We don't want to view the world through a cold war lens, perhaps, be we cannot ignore those who do, and who use force and violence to occupy another country. The U.S. and its coalition of free states face a plenitude of enemies, and they are working tirelessly to bring us down in any and every way.
Carlos Orozco
3 years 8 months ago
Timothy, when you write "we cannot ignore those who ...use force and violence to occupy another country" I cannot but recall more than a decade of illegal warfare for the sake of (we've been cynically told) democracy and liberty. The level of corruption, omission and deception in the Ukraine crisis is astonishing. What attention has been given to the IRREFUTABLE EVIDENCE -through intercepted communications- that the U.S. and NATO allies orchestrated the Ukraine coup? What does the silence on such obvious smoking guns tell us of our "free" press? What would all those anti-Putin presstitutes have said if it was the russian who was heard planning the overthrow of the democratically-elected Ukraine government? The Ukraine crisis is another episode of a struggle for the energy resources of the planet. The invasions of Iraq and Libya by "free nations" marked the beginning of a very dangerous XXI century version of the "Big Game", fought between Great Britain and Russia some 150 years ago.
Timothy Saenz
3 years 8 months ago
Carlos, I simply said we cannot ignore the situation, and in replying to me and in displaying your opinion of the situation, I would say you agree with me. While I don't trust our politicians and the intelligence and military machinery they employ for perhaps dubious ends, it remains wrong for one country to invade and take over another. I wouldn't be dismissive about the quest for control of the free flow of energy throughout the world. We often couple that objective with our fear of the greed of the huge oil companies, and that may obscure the good reasons for taking an interest in the region's energy production and commerce. Energy does need to flow freely. We need to be able to obtain energy at a fair price, as do most of the other countries in the world, if you and I want to cook tonight or turn the heat on to fight subzero temperatures. In short, we have a national stake in energy. While I want to see the U.S. become energy independent, we aren't there yet, and it does matter if someone is trying to bleed us with a threat to energy production or sales. Our incursion into Iraq evokes strong feelings in all shades of the political spectrum. It's worth remembering that the United Nations repeatedly - repeatedly - censured Iraq, and that Iraq repeatedly violated those resolutions and brought on the invasion with its irresponsible behavior. While the intelligence on Iraq's possession of WMD was both erroneous and manipulated, plenty of substantive reasons existed to warrant the action by Coalition forces. How stable and responsible a future Iraq will be remains an open question, but without doubt we rid the world of a dangerous dictator whose hands were painted with blood hundreds of thousands of times over. If you think our democracy and liberty are deficient, what do you think it is like in those parts of the world - Russia, Red China, the Middle East, Africa, etc., where people don't even know what democracy is, and where slaughter is a way of life? By now you should realize that, in this imperfect day, the battle between Good and Evil, at home and abroad, is never, NEVER over until Christ takes us home.
Thomas Lane-Borgers
3 years 8 months ago
A policy of neutrality ought to be pursued by the United States. The Russian state is wanning. It's population is dying off, due to negative population growth. A majority of Russia's wanning population is west of the Urals. Asian Russia will be threatened by Chinese expansion in the next 50 years, as the Russian government will no longer afford to keep those lands. It will be a free range. This whole crisis is due to EU and NATO expansion into Russia's comfort zone. Western provocation has been the reason for the Ukraine Crisis. It is a no-win situation. The region has been going back and forth like this for over a millenia.
J Cosgrove
3 years 8 months ago
For a different take on what Putin is doing in the Crimea, read http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/russia-is-remaking-itself-as-the-leader-of-the-anti-western-world/2014/03/30/8461f548-b681-11e3-8cc3-d4bf596577eb_story.html This whole episode is interesting as it is first, hard to get at the truth and then also to watch various parts of the political spectrum that normally oppose each other line up with each other on the Ukraine. One other comment: This OP sounds like it was written by the White House spin machine.
Tammy Gottschling
3 years 8 months ago
I appreciate your brief commentary and I'm in agreement. I do think there are economic special interest groups I'm not well versed in comprehension for a concluding synthesis. Thank you again for your thinking on the economic and political situation.

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