Russia eyes Crimea, Ukraine’s fate uncertain

Putin eyes Ukraine / Bohan Shen, used under Flickr Creative Commons license
Putin eyes Ukraine / Bohan Shen, used under Flickr Creative Commons license

WASHINGTON, February 26, 2014 — Ukraine stands on the precipice of change. The government is new and insecure; Russian troops sit on the northern border; former opposition protesters are calling for reforms to the constitution; and ousted President Viktor Yanukovych is still at large, presumably in Eastern Ukraine or Crimea.

Things have the potential to get out of hand.

President Obama is standing on the soapbox of democracy, waving the American flag as he champions the cause of Ukrainian liberty. He defies his enemies to intrude in the internal affairs of this newly reformed nation.

No? Did he at least draw a line in the sand?

Yes, he did. Did they cross it? Yes, they did.

Did Obama take his case to the American people and demand justice for the people of Ukraine, and demand that Congress act upon his warning?

No. He did not.

President Obama can no longer issue credible threats, he can no longer defend red lines, he can no longer hang the danger of American military intervention over the heads of an enemy or foreign dictator, not after Syria. The ability of the administration to speak softly and carry a big stick has been severely diminished.

Someone broke our stick.

Who? Vladamir Putin, president and master of the Russian Federation. With a name like Vladamir, one has to be master of something.

The former KGB spymaster has made it clear that he does not take the threats of our president seriously on any level. In fact, at this point he may even welcome them.

President Obama was outplayed by Putin on the Syrian civil war and the negotiations to dismantle what Democrats are now calling weapons of mass destruction. Obama set a line in the sand, the Syrian president crossed it, Obama looked behind him to see who would charge up San Juan hill with him, and he found France.

Not Congress, not England or Germany, just France. When it was clear the President of the United States was impotent, Vladimir Putin swooped in on horseback in a bearskin cape and saved the day. He negotiated the deal, and Obama claimed victory.

But the lesson the world learned from that political fiasco was, President Barack Obama cannot follow up his threats. From a foreign policy standpoint, the leader of the Free World has lost the ability to speak softly, or carry a big stick. Instead, he has shown the world that his bark is far greater than his bite.

When Obama ordered Susan Rice to tell Putin to keep his Ruskie paws off of Ukraine, the Russian head of state responded by placing troops on the border and placing them on high alert. It seems that today Russian forces have made moves to assert control over Crimea. Apparently, Russian armored personnel carriers can be seen supporting the volunteers who are dressed in balaclavas and fatigues. Reports of Russian “volunteers” establishing checkpoints around the port city of Sevastopol lead one to believe that Putin does not take Obama seriously.

Russia’s support is not unsolicited. Eastern Ukraine is ethnically Russian and shares closer ties with Moscow than with the opposition government in Kyiv. Reports of Russian flags flying over Ukrainian government buildings, and stories of signs and chants cheering for Russian help are only all too inviting for Putin.

America’s credibility is in shreds after the Syrian debacle, and the Ukrainian situation won’t mend it. Our forces are stretched as far as we dare stretch them; over a decade of war fatigue has diminished America’s stomach for armed adventures. Putin has no reason to fear action from Obama. Aside from backing E.U. and U.N. intervention should Russia invade or foment civil war, the United States has few credible moves left. Look to Russia to decide the fate of Ukraine, and to tell the former Soviet republic, “if you like your Crimea, you can keep it.”

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  • ridiculusmaximus

    Putin didn’t outplay the U.S. in Syria or Ukraine. The author is right: Obama over-reached; the decline of American credibility is a self-inflected wound. Drawing red-lines and making threats when the American public and treasury aren’t willing to back them up is reckless foreign policy. The part that boggles the mind is how American foreign policy seems to be made based on the idea that no one will challenge our threats. If the U.S. isn’t ready to back up its threat, don’t make it. Instead of putting all our diplomatic efforts into empty threats, we should explore different options and possibilities and create contingency plans.

  • Clyde Picht

    Diminish your military strength and you diminish the effectiveness of your foreign policy. A cap and gown from Harvard and Columbia can disguise a fool.