I’m sure readers are familiar with the current crisis in the Ukraine. Russian troops appear to have de facto taken over the Crimea, a former Russian province ceded to Ukraine by the former Soviet Union in the 1950’s. Other Ukrainian provinces that are dominated by ethnic Russians – most of eastern Ukraine, in fact – are in turmoil as the latter agitate for Russian intervention there as well. They see the pro-Western provinces of Ukraine as having acted against their ethnic interests when their partisans overthrew the pro-Russian government of President Yanukovych last week.
Meanwhile, President Obama continues to make a laughing-stock of himself and of the USA in his meddling in this crisis. According to the New York Times, he’s “pointedly warned Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity”.
Mr. Obama, who had warned Russia on Friday that “there will be costs” if it violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, spoke with Mr. Putin for 90 minutes on Saturday, according to the White House, and urged Mr. Putin to withdraw his forces back to its bases in Crimea and to stop “any interference” in other parts of Ukraine.
In a statement afterward, the White House said the United States would suspend participation in preparatory meetings for the G8 economic conference to be held in Sochi, Russia, in June and warned of “greater political and economic isolation” for Russia.
The Kremlin offered its own description of the call, in which it said Mr. Putin spoke of “a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens” in Ukraine and warned that “in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”
There’s more at the link.
Frankly, Mr. Obama is an embarrassment right now. He can’t do anything, and he won’t do anything, and President Putin knows it. The Russians don’t give a damn what he has to say. Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are in their back yard, and they’re determined to ensure that they don’t slip out of their control. They’ll do whatever it takes to retain them as ‘buffer space’, and be damned to anyone and everyone who sees matters differently. They know Mr. Obama is a paper tiger, and they won’t let his protests slow them for even a moment.
I’m not surprised by that attitude on the part of the Russians. If I were in their shoes, with their history, I’d feel precisely the same way. Think of it like this. If Canada were to slip into full-on left-wing socialist quasi-Communist mode, and align itself with China and Russia against American interests, you can bet the USA would be mightily displeased with its northern neighbor, and work to undermine its political about-face. That’s precisely how the Kremlin sees the current crisis in Ukraine. It’s not that I don’t blame them for their reaction – I do blame them, and regard Putin and his supporters as swaggering nationalist bullies – but that’s the reality with which we have to deal. Words won’t change it.
To me, the genuinely frightening thing about this crisis is that it’s exposing once again – and more cruelly than ever – the complete and utter ineptitude of President Obama and his administration. They cannot do anything to support Ukraine. There are no practical steps whatsoever that they can implement to stop Russia from doing as it pleases. They have no economic influence there, the US military is run-down and incapable of intervening against so strong an opponent, and there’s no money to pay for intervention even if the latter were politically feasible.
This holds grave dangers for peace elsewhere in the world. China’s involved in a heated confrontation with Japan over the Senkaku Islands (and with other South-East Asian nations over other territorial disputes); its economy is a mess, and by all accounts is overheated to danger point; and its leaders are notorious for manufacturing external crises to divert the attention of their people away from internal problems. If China sees Russia getting away with the annexation of at least the Crimea, if not even more of Eastern Ukraine, I’m willing to bet my pension (such as it is) that the Chinese leadership will take that to heart in planning their next steps in the South China Sea. If Russia can get away with it, they’ll reason, then so can we. The United States won’t support Japan, or the Philippines, or Vietnam, just as it failed to support Ukraine. Let’s strike while the iron is hot!
Japan, for one, is unlikely to sit back and take that – and that will almost certainly drag the USA into any South-East Asian conflict, whether we like it or not. I highly recommend that you read these two articles in full:
I’d say that thanks to President Obama’s mishandling of the Ukraine crisis, in the face of such a determined response by Russia, the odds of armed conflict in the South China Sea have just at least doubled. What’s more, if Russia is angry enough at US meddling in what it sees as its exclusive sphere of influence in Ukraine, it’ll almost certainly supply even more arms and military technology to China, on the grounds that ‘the enemy of the enemy is my friend‘.
We live in interesting times, all right . . . in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse.