Much ado about the Ukraine
By Alan Caruba
Events in the Ukraine are now big headlines and the topic of a torrent of commentaries by experts on Russia, the European Union, NATO and related subjects. The whole thing began after protests forced its president to flee to Russia, followed by the Russian Federation's annexation of Crimea as disputes between Eastern and Western Ukraine broke out.
At the time and still now I thought it was a predictable action and one that did not involve "invading" the Crimea since Russia has for many years had several thousand troops already stationed there to service and protect its military and naval facilities. Rather than wait around for the Ukrainians to resolve their conflict, the Russians took the reasonable, rational action of annexation. Crimea had been a part of Russia for hundreds of years and the Ukraine was as well. The national language there is Russian.
The problems the Ukraine has encountered began with public rejection of its president, Victor Yanukovycha, a fellow who preferred alignment with Russia than the West. Many Ukrainians thought this was a bad idea, but it seems now that many others had no objections. The main objections appear to have been the dismal governance of the nation, replete with major corruption.
The problem Vladimir Putin poses today is the problem that Russia has always posed for any nation on its borders. From the czars to the commissars, it has a long history of imposing control on its neighbors. They were regarded as a buffer zone. Russia had been unsuccessfully invaded by Napoleon and, after being betrayed by the Nazis with whom they signed a deal to split Poland, they wanted territory between them and Europe. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, those satellite nations declared their sovereignty once again, happy to be free and to embrace Western Europe.
NATO, a European mutual defense organization, was created to respond to what was seen as the potential for Russian aggression. As a member, the U.S. is committed to join in their defense. World War Two was followed by over forty years of "containment" by the West. When in 1992 the U.S. Senate ratified NATO expansion to include nations that bordered the former Soviet Union, it set up the present tense situation. Ukraine, however, is not a member of NATO.
Interviewed in 1998, George Kennan, the U.S. diplomat who was ambassador to Moscow in 1952 and who authored the "containment" policy adopted by the U.S., said the expansion of NATO was a very bad decision.
Presciently, he said, "I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies," adding "It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia and then (the NATO expanders) will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are—but this is just wrong."
On April 28, the Associated Press reported that President Obama said of increased sanctions on Russia, "We don't yet know whether it's going to work."
Nothing else in the Obama foreign policy regarding Russia has worked since the famed "reset" in his first term so he's probably right. On a personal level, not just Putin, but most leaders of foreign nations have concluded Obama is too weak and too incompetent to be treated with anything other than the courtesy his office requires.
Thomas Graham, a former senior director for Russia on the U.S. National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007, recently expressed his view of the current situation in the April 28 edition of the Financial Times. He dismissed a new version of "containment" saying "It will not work. Nor will it advance U.S. interests. Economically, Russian is impossible to isolate."
That's true, but its economy is primarily dependent on oil and natural gas sales. If the prices of either were to fall, its economy would go with it. As it is, money is fleeing Russia, investment has halted, and its present threatening posture toward Ukraine may make Putin a hometown hero, but in the rest of the world, he is trouble with a capital T. As for Ukraine, its economy it's even worse. But Russian pipelines runs through it to Europe. That is reason enough for Russia to show some concern for events there.
Whatever Russia does, the West can be counted upon to wimp out, doing little or nothing. In this case, staying out of the internal dispute in Ukraine may be the wisest course of action.
At home we have watched the influence of the United States decline from the day Obama took office. He has made matters worse by engaging in the reduction of our military capabilities. Until Obama leaves office, there is little that can be done to reverse this lamentable trend.
As the White House and the rest of us watch from the sidelines, we will hear a lot of empty rhetoric. Putin will be called a war monger, but he just wanted to protect Crimea. If he can covertly subvert Ukraine enough to gain more influence over its eastern half, he will try.
What happens to the Ukraine is a matter for the Ukrainians to address, not us.
Alan Caruba writes a daily post at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com. An author, business and science writer, he is the founder of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba, 2014