Ranking GOP member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) admitted that U.S. military intervention in the Ukraine is “unthinkable.” Considering all his options, President Barack Obama has no shortage of armchair quarterbacks, all opining about how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s March 1 takeover of the Crimean peninsula. “It’s a blatant act on the part of Vladimir Putin and one that must be unacceptable to the world community. It cannot statnd,” said McCain, criticizing Obama for not doing more to deter the former KGB agent now running Russia for the second time. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates chimed in suggesting that Obama find more ways to pressure Moscow into giving back Crimea. Like Gates, McCain has no real suggestions for how Obama can assert U.S. interests in the Ukraine.
When Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovich decided to let Moscow restructure its debt Dec. 2, 2013, anti-Russian street demonstrations went out of control, eventually topping his government Feb. 22. Former Clinton U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzeznski said Putin must recognize the new “legitimate” Ukrainian government led by President Olexandr Turchinov. Toppled by a U.S. and EU-backed coup Feb. 22, the Kremlin doesn’t recognize Ukraine’s revolutionary government. When Putin seized Crimea March 1, he operated on the belief that Turchinov would not honor any of Ukraine’s commitment to Russian military bases and the some 60% Russian population living in Crimea and other Northeastern cities. Why the U.S. feels obligated to litigate Ukraine’s battles is anyone’s guess.
When you look at the pro-EU revolution, it’s clearly led by factions that want more direct economic ties to Europe. Led by former heavyweight champion boxer 42-year-old Vitali Klitschko, the opposition is hard-pressed to explain the revolt against Ukraine’s elected leader Viktor Yanukovich other than pointing to corruption. Buried in debt and suffering from high unemployment, Ukrainian youth see no future with an economy tied to Russia. When Yanukovich made his decision to let Putin restructure Ukraine’s debts, pro-EU protesters toppled his government. Yanukovich had been in discussions with the Interrnational Monetary Fund and EU getting nowhere. If the Ukraine bothered to talk with Greece or other struggling EU economies, they’d find out that the grass isn’t always greener in the EU. Beyond the economic issues, there’s reason to believe that something else drove the revolt.
Kremlin officials believe the CIA orchestrated the pro-EU coup that toppled Yanukovich’s Russian-backed government. Whatever prompted the unrest and eventual revolution, the U.S. has no ax to grind on where the Ukraine gets its economic backing. “I have to very honest with you, there is not a military option that could be exercised now,” said McCain, urging Obama to find other ways to pressure Russia. Watching Wall Street plummet 200 points, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett told investors to hang onto stocks. Buffett see no direct link between the U.S. stock market and the Ukraine. Markets get jittery and sell-off when facing global instability, especially prospects for war. “But the most powerful and biggest and strongest nation in the world should have plenty of options,” said McCain, urging Obama to find ways to pressure the Kremlin.
Since taking office Jan. 20, 2009, Obama’s had a chilly relationship with Moscow. He’s not sure how to satisfy hawks on Capitol Hill, while, at the same time, ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Putin’s incursion into Crimea has more national security significance to Russia than Iraq did to the U.S. Operating, like his U.S. partner on the former President George W. Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war, Putin invaded Crimea knowing that Ukraine’s revolutionary government could suspend all ties with the Russian Federation. Home to the Russian Federation’s Black Sea Fleet and air bases, Crimea has national security significance to Moscow. However long Russia keeps control of Crimea is anyone’s guess. Ukraine’s government must do more than threaten war against Russia before Putin orders his troops to pullback. Signing contracts to protect Russian interests is more to the point.
No matter what Obama and Kerry’s idle threats about draconic “costs” to Russia, it’s going to take some shrewd diplomacy before Putin retreats from Crimea. Since the Feb. 22 anti-Russian revolt in Kiev, the Kremilin needs more than lip-service about protecting Russia’s military bases and enclaves in Ukraine. Calling Putin’s invasion a “declaration of war” Ukranian Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk won’t reassure the Kremlin that it’s business-as-usual in the Ukraine. Chasing Yanukovich out of Kiev, the Ukraine is one step from driving all Russian interests, including its Black Sea base, out of the country. Threatening sanctions in NATO or the U.N. Security Council will only stiffen Putin’s resolve to protect Russian interests in Crimea. Defusing the crisis in post-revolutionary Ukraine requires careful negotiations, not the kind of saber-rattling out of Kiev and Washington.
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.