Today was supposed to mark the first face-to-face sit down between the United States and Russia to discuss the burgeoning conflict in Ukraine. Unfortunately, that meeting between Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and Secretary of State, John Kerry, was postponed "for a while."
The current prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is set to visit the White House this Wednesday to discuss the developing situation. This appears to be the most likely reason for the meeting's postponement.
This upsetting turn of events follows one short day after Russia seized more border crossings in Crimea (they're up to 11 now). While these seizures have been largely free of violence, they are still cause for concern among the citizens of the Ukraine, who are understandably outraged that a foreign power might take it upon themselves to snatch up land during a time of domestic tumult.
For its part, Russia continues to claim that it's acting on behalf of a group of citizens that identify themselves as ethnically Russian, not Ukrainian. That's most likely why a referendum has been suggested in the Crimean parliament that would allow Russia to annex the region back into the fold of the motherland. This would allow Russia to keep one of its most valuable military locales intact and it'd please the citizens of Crimea who just want to be Russian anyway. Simple enough, right?
Wrong. Both the current ruling party of Ukraine and most of the rest of the world have stated flat out that such a referendum would not be legal. Geoffrey Pyatt, America's top diplomat in the Ukraine said in no uncertain terms, “Crimea is and should remain a part of Ukraine. Discussion over.”
The diplomat added, however, that the Obama administration is still looking into solutions that would allow Crimea to increase its autonomy within the Ukrainian state, similar to the way in which Scotland functions within the United Kingdom (it's still its own country and allowed to make its own decisions, but it's also beholden to England in some respects), the idea being that Crimea might still retain solid relations with Russia, while not actually being Russia's property.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk added, "Crimea remains Ukrainian, and the government there has been grabbed by criminals with support of 18,000 Russian soldiers." Yatsenyuk has said publicly that he is in support of granting Crimea the kind of self-rule it seeks, "but not in the face of Russian machine guns."
In years' past, the United States president may have been called upon or felt an obligation to use America's military might to help "preserve freedom" in this type of volatile situation. This time, however, things are different. For one, military force has been completely ruled out (at least for now). For two, President Obama - while active in the talks - has also yielded most of his face time to Secretary of State, John Kerry.
Several people (read: Republicans) see this as continued weakness on the part of the President. The GOP continues to call for overtly aggressive maneuvers designed to limit Putin's influence in the region. From targeting individual members of the perceived Russian oligarchy to re-arming the Baltic States, these guys are just full of cataclysmically awful ideas.
Why are these ideas awful? Because they're predicated on the notion that the United States is the only country in the world that a) likes freedom, b) is willing to fight for said freedom, and c) that the rest of the world is ready to sit back and let us operate with impunity. None of these things are true (especially that last one).
In trying to stay out of the limelight on this topic while still working to ease tensions in the region, President Obama seems to have considered the situation from a global perspective. He's asked his subordinates to take a hard stance on what will and will not be allowed, but he's also begun to rally other world leaders for support.
Just today, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping met to discuss Ukraine, and both agreed that Russia's actions are criminal. German chancellor Angela Merkel has also denounced Russia's actions as "criminal" and has stated that any attempt to annex Crimea would be met with force. Further, the State Department has been working feverishly not to gather military might, but to undercut the wave of misinformation flooding out of Moscow. A one-sheet from the DoS, entitled, "President Putin's Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine" is particularly edifying.
The movements don't necessarily rule out the possibility of force. In fact, the White House has been very clear on that front. They'd prefer not to use force, but they will if it comes down to it. What the White House is hoping to avoid however, is another Iraq.
Like it or not, in that conflict the world ultimately viewed the United States as the unnecessary aggressor. Whatever goodwill we may have had when we entered the conflict, it was gone by the end because we were perceived to have chased our agenda rather than pursue freedom and democracy in the world (as we initially claimed).
It appears as though President Obama and his staff have attempted to avoid repeating this mistake by involving (and actually listening to) other world leaders. The GOP seems to be advocating a show of U.S. force, a move that would ultimately serve to isolate America in the eyes of the world once again, while the President seems to be fighting for a show of participation in the global community, a move that will ultimately serve to isolate Russia and undercut its success. Obama and America aren't taking the lead on this one, because the crisis in Ukraine is an issue for the whole world to deal with, not just us.