If it were not so momentous, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on March 1 would be comical. He sent troops into Crimea in uniforms that bore no insignias or other form of identification. Then he denied the troops are Russian, even after parliament approved Putin’s request to send them in.
It is disingenuous, at best, that Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in a March 3 speech said Putin’s Crimea move was “the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy ...” Eleven days later in a New York Times opinion piece, answering his own question about whether President Barack Obama can be blamed for the annexation, McCain said “of course not ... The blame lies squarely with Vladimir V. Putin ...” This issue is too serious to be politicized.
The reality is Putin embodies his KGB training and service: play hardball, lie when it serves your perceived interest, ruthlessly crush your weaker adversaries. That is what he did in Chechnya in 1999, in Georgia in 2008 (notwithstanding the aggressive foreign policy of President George Bush) and now has done in Ukraine.
After Russia’s occupation of Crimea, the people of that region overwhelmingly approved a referendum to leave Ukraine and become part of Russia. In quick order, Putin signed a decree recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state, and Russia and Crimea signed a treaty under which Crimea will become part of the Russian federation.
The United States must accept the Russian takeover of Crimea as a done deal. Russia will not, at this point, rescind that action. What now is critical is the possibility of further Russian encroachment on Ukraine’s sovereignty, which it seems poised to do. What can and should the United States do to prevent that?
The United States and the European Union already have placed limited sanctions on certain Russian and Ukrainian officials. On March 20, those sanctions were broadened significantly to include more senior government officials and a bank. An executive order provides authority, apparently not yet implemented, to sanction key sectors of the Russian economy. Assistance will be provided to Ukraine to stabilize its economy, and NATO will receive aid to strengthen its collective defense. Noticeably missing from this stepped up activity is military aid to Ukraine.
Obama rightfully has ruled out direct United States military involvement. The United Nations is essentially powerless, because Russia will veto any Security Council action (in fact, it already has).
What still can be done is providing military aid to Ukraine, imposition of a EU embargo on Russian natural gas and Iraq-like sanctions on the Russian economy.
A larger and more long-term issue is Putin’s obvious intent to restore Russia’s hegemony of the former Soviet Union’s territories. This should be the focus of a long-term strategy beginning at the Group of 7 meeting next week in Europe.
In his March 20 announcement, Obama said diplomacy continues between Russia and the United States. It is vitally important that the current Ukrainian turmoil not shape long-term diplomatic relations with Russia, lest another Cold War erupts.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.