How we’re letting the Russians win Ukraine

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Hunter Johnson, Commentary Editor

 

As I type this out, Ukraine is still trying to quell the brewing insurrection in its eastern region while tens of thousands of Russian troops are amassed along its border. At any moment the Russians may find the excuse they’ve been waiting for — Ukrainian troops retaking a city, or twenty insurgents being killed, something along those lines — and Vladimir Putin could give the order to invade. In fact, I’m feeling pretty confident that the Russians will find that excuse very soon.

A few months ago most people would’ve thought you were crazy if you were to say that Putin was priming himself to invade and annex half of Ukraine. Even now, I still feel ridiculous putting this down on the record. But this is the situation in which the world now finds itself. The Kremlin is feeling power-drunk, confident enough to flex its muscle and regain some of the glory it had at the height of its Soviet days. It started on a smaller scale with portions of the country of Georgia in 2008; now it’s moving on to bigger game.

And this confidence is not wholly unwarranted, because, after all, what will the West do about it?

Ukraine, although an ally of the group, is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), so a Russian invasion would not trigger an immediate military response from the alliance. There are also no treaties between Ukraine and the Western powers promising a military response to such a crisis (like the U.S. has with Taiwan, for example).

Photo courtesy of GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images Ukrainian troops have been wary of using too much force out of fear of Russian retaliation.
Photo courtesy of GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images
Ukrainian troops have been wary of using too much force out of fear of Russian retaliation.

There are, however, many things Europe and the United States could be doing to help save Ukraine from, at best, an extended fight with the insurgents and, at worst, civil war and Russian invasion resulting in the loss of half of the country. NATO could send in peacekeepers to prevent a larger fight (since Russia’s veto power at the United Nations basically prevents that body from doing so). It could also beef up the Ukrainian military with large-arms sales to make it more comparable to the Russian military than it currently is.

Heck, I’m no NATO expert, but could the group consider extending Ukraine an offer of membership? That would surely get some Kremlin heads a-turning. Just a thought.

Direct aid to Ukraine aside, the West could also be putting some economic and political strain directly on Russia. The G8 economic powers have been meeting recently without Russia (hence their current title as the G7) and discussing the issue — why not permanently put Russia out of the group? If Putin wants to have Russia isolated like it was decades ago, why not help him along? The West could also hit Russia where it hurts economically, with broad, sweeping sanctions usually reserved for countries like Iran and North Korea. Putin’s popularity at home is (ironically) somewhat fragile, and a push like this could give him larger problems on the domestic front.

Remember that missile defense shield plan that was floating around a few years ago? It would’ve placed a series of defensive missile sites — officially to deter Iranian aggression — in nations like Poland and the Czech Republic which conveniently border Russia. It was scrapped, though, under the Obama administration’s plan to “restart” U.S.-Russian relations. Boy, did that pan out. I think that it’s high time to get that plan back into motion.

Those are just some of the actions that could be taken. As of now, however, what has the West done? Apart from numerous statements decrying Russian involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, there have been a series of economic and travel sanctions placed on some individual Russians within the government. Last I checked, I think there were also a few Western military exercises being planned, as well as some more economic sanctions being discussed.

I know; I, too, am amazed that Putin hasn’t apologized for the whole mess and sent some of his finest vodka to the Ukrainian leaders in Kiev.

The response so far has been pathetic. The European Union (EU) has some legitimate (although, in hindsight, ridiculous) reasoning. Much of the EU relies heavily on Russian natural gas imports through pipelines that run through Ukraine. It would be easy for the Russians to close down those lines temporarily and let the EU hurt for a little while. The EU put itself into this bind; now it should start figuring out how to get out of it via other sources of energy in the future. Maybe if we were drilling more oil and natural gas, we could be exporting some to Europe. But I digress ….

So what is the U.S.’s reasoning? Who the heck knows. The Obama foreign policy has been an object of fascination to me. On one hand, he inherited George W. Bush’s tenacity against terrorists, exhibited by his lack of hesitation to blow jihadists to smithereens via drone warfare. On the other, complete and utter cowardice in the face of some of the world’s most dangerous leaders. Look at Syria, for example. There was a window for the U.S. to act and bring a favorable end to that country’s civil war. Because of Obama’s backpedalling (not to mention his eagerness to jump on board with a Russian plan for that crisis), that window is long gone and the death toll there continues to rise.

With Ukraine, the personal risks for the U.S. and her European allies are far higher. Yet, this administration continues to exhibit the same waffling, delicate, “I’m-really-not-that-eager-to-get-involved,” “please-just-knock-it-off” behavior as before. That is not going to do a darn thing to make Putin stop his advances on the global stage. After he’s done with a successful effort in Ukraine, what’s to keep him from plotting against Poland next? Or fueling more anti-American fervor in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions? Or being more brazen in threatening our allies and direct interests abroad? Not much.

The repercussions of Ukraine’s grave situation will have direct effects on the United States and our allies. Despite what Obama may think, an emboldened Russia is a large threat to our strategic interests and our position on the global stage. It’s time that Obama took off the kid gloves when dealing with Putin; the Bear of Moscow took his off a long time ago.

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