Monday, March 03, 2014
The Ukraine Folk Dance And What It Really Means
The Ukraine exploded this weekend, as Vladimir Putin got backing from the Russian Duma (parliament) to send the troops into Crimea. Russian forces seized the strategic peninsula over the weekend, surrounded a few small Ukrainian military outposts and demanded the Ukrainian troops inside surrender and disarm.
Meanwhile, the Crimea now has its own, pro-Russian government and the new Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, mobilized the Ukrainian military and said that that Kiev would request international intervention if the Russian military didn't withdraw.
"This is actually a declaration of war to my country. We urge Putin to pull back his troops from this country and honor bilateral agreements," he said. "If he wants to be the president who started the war between two neighboring and friendly countries, he has reached his target within a few inches."
Except Ukraine will have to do without its 10 ship navy in any hostilities. Just a day after he had been appointed head of the Ukraine's navy by interim president Oleksandr Turchynov, Admiral Denis Berezovsky let it be known he was switching sides to the pro-Russian authorities.
"I swear to execute the orders of the [pro-Russia] commander-in-chief of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea," he said, speaking from the Crimean headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at the Crimean port of Sebastopol.
In any event, it's obvious that what passes for the Ukraine's army is no match for the Russians in any stand up fight if it comes to that. So Turchynov is pretty much limited to hoping for international intervention, especially since Putin is also likely to go after the Eastern Ukraine as well, which is also predominantly native Russian.
President Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the EU were apparently caught completely off guard by the events in Ukraine. Even the obvious Russian military buildup and the implications of the Russians saying openly that there was ' no basis for dialog' with the Ukraine rebels seems to have escaped them. President Obama skipped out on a scheduled National Security meeting with his team to attend a film festival, but attempted to play catchup with a phone call to Russian leader Vladimir Putin after the military incursion, while Secretary Kerry was reduced to threats of 'maybe throwing Russia out of the G-8'. As for the EU, Lady Ashton, its foreign policy chief commented, “This is an unwarranted escalation of tensions. I therefore call upon the Russian Federation not to dispatch such troops, but to promote its views through peaceful means.”
I swear, I could almost hear the Russians laughing at these people from here.No wonder the Kremlin spokesperson replied 'no comment at this time' to bold statements like that!
Oddly enough, there was a certain former vice-presidential candidate who saw things clearly as far back as 2008:
Yes she was certainly mocked for that one,wasn't she? 'Ooh,I can see Russia from my howwwse' said SNL's Tina Fey, creating campaign fodder out of something Governor Palin never said but that was linked to her endlessly. Except the joke was on the country, because not only was Governor Palin the only person on either ticket with any executive experience, she was also the only one of the four with any experience actually negotiating anything with a foreign country. As usual, she was right about Russia as well as pretty much everything else, including President Obama and his behavior.
So where do we go from here?
Those of you whom read my earlier piece on Russia and Ukraine will recall that there is a centuries old historical dynamic going on here, most of it bad. And the Ukrainian government is not exactly composed solely of democracy loving freedom fighters.There's a distinct fascist element among them that's a long tradition in the Ukraine, especially when it comes to Jews. Russia's point of view is that they see themselves as protecting native Russian nationals as well as that important Black Sea naval base at Sebastopol. The Crimea, after all, is over 60% native Russian and was actually part of Russia for centuries until less than 60 years ago,when Nikita Khrushchev attached it administratively to Ukraine.
Putin's calculations here are absurdly simple. He sees the U.S. dismantling its military to historically low levels, and he knows that President Obama is weak and indecisive. He knows that the EU is not only militarily weak but dependent on Russia's gas lines during the European winter, and that the EU is also happy to launder money and do other business with the Russian elites.So he knows there's no real danger of either military intervention or real economic consequences by the West
In need of a political distraction on the home front anyway, he once again can be seen by many Russians as a leader standing up for Russia's national interests and defending the Russian people. By taking over Crimea, he salvages full control of Russia's vitally important warm water naval base at Sebastopol and essentially controls the sea traffic in the Black Sea area.And finally, he unloads a financial basket case in need of billions in aid on the EU and the U.S. and saves himself the remaining $12 billion in aid Russia had promised Ukraine...which will remain as a weak, rump nation on his borders in fear of being overrun at any time, just like Georgia.
As they say in those cute ads, it's a no-brainer.
Another advantage for Putin and Russia is one that was handed to him on a platter by President Obama. The entire relationship between Russia and our president has been one of weakness and flexibility, including the ridiculous START treaty, giving Russia access to our most secret technology and President Obama's conduct towards Poland and the Czech Republic. Our allies noticed this and as a consequence, none of them really trust the president and that especially applies to countries that were former members of the old Soviet Evil Empire. Putin ignoring the EU and the president just underlines that message, and what Putin is telling them by his actions in no uncertain terms is that the Americans are retreating, the Western Europeans never cared that much about you anyway and you had better mend fences with Russia and make a deal while you still can.
That, really is the sole national security importance of the Ukraine to America.
Of course, the Ukraine is not a country vital to our national security like Libya..it's not even Muslim, and there are few Islamists for President Obama to protect there, so using our military is pretty much a non-starter (sarcasm off). But sending a clear message to our Eastern European allies that we're abandoning them is a very huge deal.
Rather than diplomatic threats that mean nothing, a different president than the one we have might make significant progress in thwarting this by taking steps to reassure our remaining allies in Eastern Europe that we actually mean to keep the commitments we made to their freedom after the Soviet Union fell. Placing missile defense bases in some of these countries and even token boots on the ground would go a long way towards that, although none of them are likely to agree to take the risk as long as Barack Hussein Obama is president and commander-in-chief.One can hardly blame them. At any rate, unlike Ukraine, the rest of the old Soviet Empire with the exception of Belarus, Romania and Moldova are all members of NATO and could invoke that treaty if Putin decided to move further west, which I doubt.
There are also certain economic steps the president could take. The key one, since the world's banking system still flows through New York would be to ban banks doing business with Russian banks from doing business with American banks. President Bush used that quite effectively to dry up funding for al-Qaeda after 9/11, one of the few things he did that was actually effective. Taking this step would be a major hit for Russia since oil trades are still delineated in US dollars, but since President Obama lacked the stones to do this to Iran, he will almost certainly not pull the trigger on this one when it comes to Russia.
Putin will almost certainly succeed in partitioning Ukraine to his liking, and the current 'crisis' will remain as just one more example of President Obama and his team's serial ineptness when it comes to foreign policy. Oh, wait, he got bin-Laden! Yes, he sure did.