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Archive for March, 2014

Disrespect and disregard for Russia’s pride and interests in Ukraine and Crimea, may have back-fired. As Russia appears to be preparing an invasion of mainland Ukraine, we should ask ourselves, how did this happen?

When the western-leaning government in Kiev came to power, we may look back on it as the moment the west overplayed its hand.  The U.S. failure to promptly re-assure Russia (and Russian speakers within Ukraine), to respect and publicly acknowledge their legitimate interests, alongside the sovereign interests of Ukraine, to call for a respectful discussion among all interested parties, may be viewed as a blunder with tragic consequence.

Instead, Obama lead us down a tried-and-failed track. He bullied and blustered without the intent to back it up, playing empty tough talk against a government with too much on the line to let it go so easily (does that sound like Syria?).  He increased Russia’s anxiety about Crimea security, exacerbated Russia’s wounded pride vis-a-vis western hegemony in the former Soviet republics, gave Putin an irresistible opportunity for domestic and international muscle-flexing, and set off a chain of events that historians may debate for decades.

There may still be time for Obama to climb down and to offer Russia a way to declare victory and stand down.  International negotiations on the status of Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine may be the way to go.  Such negotiations can respect the principles of self-determination, as well as territorial integrity and sovereignty, and address the legitimate interests of neighbors and other states.  There is no ‘right answer’ here.  To avoid further militarily-determined outcomes, discussion and negotiated solutions are needed.

If Russian troops do move, and there is little reason to hope they won’t without a shift in Obama’s rhetoric, one thing we will know for certain: This didn’t work, and it might have been different.

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The Dangerous Delusion

Given the outcome of the vote in Crimea, Russia will effectively annex it, and it is delusional to imagine this could be stopped.  That can only lead to a confrontation with Russia, one that will be fruitless at best, catastrophic at worst.

Russia’s claims may lack legitimacy, but they are practical and rational: Crimea is home to the Black Sea fleet and other Russian military installations, it is largely Russian speaking, a former part of the Soviet Union, no one seriously doubts a strong majority prefers Russia, and, of course, it’s right on Russia’s doorstep.

No power with the capacity to resist could contemplate a province thus described falling into hostile hands.  Cuba was difficult enough – imagine a U.S. mainland territory or neighboring province, home to a major U.S. naval base, English-speaking, historically a part of the U.S., attempting to join the Warsaw Pact.  As a practical matter, the U.S. would not permit that to occur, regardless of any treaties, legalities or technicalities.

So tone down the rhetoric, negotiate a sale or transfer of sovereignty, with protections and recognition for both Crimea and mainland Ukraine, let Crimea tilt eastward, mainland Ukraine tilt westward, save face for all sides.  It’s time for the politics to catch up with reality.

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