After besting the U.S. in Sochi with 33 to 28 medals, Russian President Vladimir Putin waited patiently watching a pro-European insurgency upend the pro-Russian government of 64-year-old Viktor Yanukovich. Putin listened to all the pro-Western excuses about Ukrainian sovereignty, then acted decisively annexing the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea for Mother Russia. After hearing bluster form President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, Putin acted decisively to protect Russian interests in Crimea where some 58.2% of its 1.9 million inhabitants consider themselves ethnic Russians. Despite objections from the Ukraine and Western states, Putin acted without hesitation to take back Crimea for the Russian Federation. Handed to the Ukraine in symbol only in 1954 by Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Ukraine was part of the now defunct Soviet Union.
Watching a U.S. and EU-backed revolution topple Yanukovich Feb. 22, Putin acted decisively to protect Russian interests in Crimea. Whatever happens in other parts of the Ukraine is of little consequence to Russia. Crimea holds strategic military import to Russia, something Putin wasn’t willing to put into the beneficent hands of the U.S. and EU. Obama and Kerry’s idle threats prompted Putin to act decisively to protect over 1 million Russians in Crimea. Ukraine’s newly minted President Oleksandr Turchynov put what’s left of the Ukrainian military on “high alert” but it’s doubtful Putin would go any further into the Ukraine other than Crimea. “Russian and the West find themselves on the brink of a confrontation far worse than in 2009 over Georgia,” said Dmitri Trenin, Director of Carnegie Moscow Centers, not realizing that there’s really the U.S. and EU aren’t prepared to intervene.
Mobilizing Russian tanks into Crimea, Putin meant business about annexing the once Russian territory, with a long history dating back before the Roman Empire. Telling Putin “there will be costs,” Obama tried to wave off the Russian bear, only to find the Ukraine cut off from the strategic Crimean peninsula. Once word was out that Yanukovich was under FSB [formerly KGB] protection outside Moscow, it was just a matter of time before Putin acted on Crimea. Annexing Crimea in no way indicates that Yanukovich will have any new role in an independent Crimean state. Accusing Russia of “military invasion and occupation,” Turchynov has no recourse other that crying to the U.S., where Russia sits on the U.N. Security Council. Putin justified his action to the Duma [Russian parliament] saying the upheaval in Ukraine threatened Russian citizens and military installations.
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister [2007-2010] 53-year-old Yulia Tymoshenko, recently released from prison in Kharkiv, planned to meet with Putin Monday to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Tymoshenko hopes to convince Putin to retreat from Crimea, though she’s not likely to have much luck. Ukrainians don’t know whether or not Putin wants to go further into the Ukraine with the Russian Army than Crimea. “There is no talk about it yet,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, referring to Putin’s ultimate ambitions. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that while the presidents “got the entire arsenal of means necessary for settling the situation,” he hasn’t decided how far-and-deep to go into the Ukraine. While it’s premature to say if Putin’s move his permanent in Crimea, Russian forces haven’t left Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkasia since the 2008 war.
Carving up Georgia in 2008 was a rude reminder of how Russia seeks to keep the U.S. in check in its own backyard. With even more strategic import than Georgia, the Crimean peninsula holds far greater to Putin than any on the former Soviet satellites.“What’s happening in Crimea is a Russian takeover. There is no doubt about that,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. “Russian military forces are involved and there ahs been a local takeover of power,” sending a chilling message to Washington. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called on Obama to specify what he meant by “costs” to the Russian government from a Crimean takeover. Other U.S. Senators, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Fl.), have called for Russian expulsion from U.N. Security Council and the G8. White House officials have little clout when it comes to influencing Russia to show respect for the Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.
U.S. foreign policy must make an urgent pivot away from bashing Putin for annexing Crimea. With its long history with Russia and turmoil on Kiev’s streets, Putin acted to protect Russian interests. Owing Russia over $1.5 billion for natural gas transactions, EU has got a big piece of work fixing the Ukrainian economy. While Kiev’s youth movement led by 42-year-old former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko fantasizes about life under the EU, they should consult with Greece to find out what it’s really like. Unlike Russia that forgives billions in foreign debt, the Ukraine has a rude awakening what it’s like doing business with Brussels. It didn’t take long after joining the Eurozone Jan. 1, 2001 for Greece to go broke. Anyway the Ukraine turns, whether to West or East, it will have to make the sacrifices needed to develop its economy and earn prosperity.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlinColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.