Worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin would intervene militarily in the Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry warned the Kremlin against a military solution. With 63-year-old Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich fleeing Kiev possibly for the Russian-friendly Crimea, Kerry hoped to reduce the chances the Ukraine would turn into the next Georgia, where Putin ordered Russian troops to divide the country. Russian troops continue to control Georgia’s former territories of Abkasia and South Ossetia. When U.S.-friendly Georgian President 46-year-old Mikheil Saakashvilli provoked Putin into the South Ossetia War Aug. 7-16, 2008, Georgia lost over 20% of its territory to Russian occupation. U.S. officials sat idly by while Putin carved up Georgia like a Thanksgiving turkey. Kerry’s public warning to Putin about showing restraint is likely to do the opposite.
Telling Putin to be “very careful” about intervening in the Ukraine, Kerry’s warnings carry little clout, as history shows the U.S. won’t intervene when it comes to Russia. U.S.-Russian military confrontation hit its climax during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, where President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev came dangerously close to a nuclear confrontation over installing Russian ICBMs in Cuba. When Russia carved up Georgia in 2008, the U.S. did nothing but squawk. Kerry insists that the U.S. wants only “to support Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic vision,” denying that the White House plays a zero-sum game in the Ukraine. Reports of Ukrainian rebels getting weapons and cash from the U.S. embassy in Kiev sparked strong reactions in the Kremlin, believing the U.S. was seeking a stronger strategic presence in the Black Sea.
Kerry’s explanation that the U.S. is only interested in sponsoring economic success in the region didn’t play well in Moscow. “We don’t make that urging . . as some sort of zero-sum game between East and West or between us and any other party,” insisted Kerry, despite obvious strategic issues by grabbing control of the Ukraine. With strong Russian backing in the industrial North, the Ukraine could cleave North-South, where pro-EU sentiment in the south could split the country along East-West lines. Kerry hopes his warnings convince Moscow to let the Ukraine fall into the Western orbit. “I think Russia needs to be very careful in the judgments that it makes going forward here,” said Kerry. Putin knows that if he chooses to send in the Russian army, all bets are off. President Barack Obama has no stomach for pushing a confrontation more than over the airwaves.
Chasing Yanukovich out of Kiev into hiding, Putin’s in no position to reinstate a 63-yuear-old corrupt dictator. After watching the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and rise of independent former Soviet satellites, there’s a fierce independence among from Soviet states. When Yanukovich signaled he’s be taking a $15 billion Kremlin-backed aid offer, opposition forces when crazy. Ukrainians, at least in the agrarian South, show affinity to the EU where Ukraine’s youth hope to one-day find prosperity. “What we need to do is not get into an old Cold War confrontation,” said Kerry, knowing full-well that it’s exactly what’s happened. If Putin cedes political control to the U.S. and EU, he’ll weaken Russia’s global position in the Black Sea and beyond. Like the U.S. holding the line against Communism, Putin knows Russia must confront U.S. imperialism.
Amassing more troops along the Ukrainian border and staging security exercises, Russia puts the West on notice that it won’t abandon Russian-backed territories in the Ukraine, especially Crimea. Russian has its Black Sea Fleet and Air Force bases in Crimea near the city of Sevastopol. Setting up a Western-backed regime in Kiev would threaten Russian dominance in the region. Holding joint press events with Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Garbashvili to show U.S. support for Georgia throws gasoline on an already volatile situation. Less is more with Kerry’s incendiary public remarks, requiring more restraint. Putin won’t be deterred by U.S. expressions of public support for Georgia or the Ukraine, especially without any intent to confront possible Russian military moves. Saying the U.S. “remains steadfast in our support of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” antagonizes Putin.
Kerry’s public remarks about the Ukraine and Georgia weaken the U.S. position by putting Putin on the defensive. “We continue to object to Russia’s occupation, militarization and borderization of Georgian territory, and we call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of forces and free access for humanitarian assistance,” said Kerry, kicking more dirt on U.S.-Russian relations. Telling Putin to get out Georgia does exactly the opposite. Given the Republican-backed sequester gutting the military and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s new plan to streamline the Army, it’s difficult for Kerry to speak with any clout. U.S. enemies no longer fear a credible military threat. If the U.S. remains in retreat, Kerry’s in no position to promise the Ukraine or Georgia anything, certainly not defending their sovereignty against Russia.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging the Bullet and Operation Charisma.