Obama and Putin have spoken four, or is it five, times. The first group of conversations were about forestalling Putin from seizing Crimea by force. Nothing came of them. Putin went ahead, seized it and has annexed it to Russia. He used military forces the came from Russian but had hidden their identifying insignia pretending that somehow they had no connection with Russia. A sham election was held under the barrel of Russian guns.
Obama and the Western European nations uttered their dismay, imposed modest sanctions and went on with their lives. After all we are told that Russia is an important European trading partner and must not be dealt with too severely. The first thing theses allies made clear was that we would not respond with any military assistance to the Russian aggression. Oh yes, there was a promise made to Ukraine by the United States and Britain that it would insure its territorial integrity but Ukraine was told that was not a real promise. It was just a, ah, well never mind, it was just one of those things.
The bottom line was we looked at the military force available to us and figured it had no chance in doing anything effective. There had been no aggressive attacks where a major European power, I’m writing as though Russia is European, in 70 years wherein one country had seized and claimed the territory of another. Even during the height of the Soviet Empire when it ruled with its iron hand behind the Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe it left the countries boundaries alone. It did not make the territory it had invaded part of Russia. Yes, it did invade other countries during that time: in Europe: Hungary and Czechoslovakia; and of course, Afghanistan when Jimmy Carter was president.
70 years living under the American umbrella; 70 years of peace makes one start to think that war is, what was it Secretary of State John Kerry called it, “so 19th Century.” The European nations had formed a self-defense league called NATO which in its origin served as a bulwark against Soviet Russia. When the Soviets lost their empire so did NATO lose its jive. It turned itself into something little more than a Swiss Guard.
Realistically then the United States is war-weary. The European nations are war wary. It’s hard to assess blame since everyone likes peace and freedom but as the bumper sticker proclaims: “freedom is not free.” When you lack the ability to protect yourself and your friends, or in Ukraine’s case a nation that wants to be your friend, you let the covetous and hungry wolf into the stock yard.
Putin is pretty much pure wolf. A member of the Soviet KGB from 1975 to 1991 he worked with a pack of people whose main goal was to suppress dissent and political opposition in the Soviet Union. It did this quite well back then; Putin has slowly reinstalled the KGB tactics where again dissent and political opposition no longer exists in the new Soviet Union, which we now call Russia.
The Ukrainians saw what was happening in Russia. Many believed to avoid such happenings there they should align themselves with the European nations who had the freedoms that had been stolen from their northern neighbors. Ukraine’s leader, Yanukovych, liking the Russian model: Putin had been in power 16 years and had no opposition; decided he also would like to be in office for life so he would not seek the freedom for Ukraine but toss the people into a state of servitude to Russia. That brought about the Ukrainian Maidan Square opposition that drove those who would surrender their freedom from power.
Putin’s velvet glove approach at seizing Ukraine had failed. The gloves came off. Like in Soviet times we saw he too had his iron fists. He seized Crimea. Since then he has built up tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border posed to invade it; he has had the state-owned gas company double the cost of gas provided to Ukraine; he has seized Ukrainian owned businesses in Russia; and he is fomenting uprisings in areas of Ukraine where large numbers of Russian live.
In his speech after seizing Ukraine he told how he yearned to make Russia whole again and those areas that once belonged to Russian that had been taken from it or given away should return to the homeland. These ominous words were a direct threat to Ukraine because some argue, mostly Russians and their American sympathizers, that Ukraine is Russia. But remember, Ukraine is to Russia as Ireland is to the United Kingdom: that one country conquers and holds another country for centuries does not magically make it part of the slave holder’s household.
Ukraine’s problem now is that it must expect Russia will grab more of its territory. Russians living in Ukraine have seized government office buildings. The Ukrainian government is in a bind; if it tries to evict them it will give Russia a reason to come to their aid; if it doesn’t it has effectively lost control of those areas.
Putin is watching the West. He saw after seizing Crimea he could call Obama and again set up one of those Kerry/Lavrov meetings which last for hours from which Kerry emerges checking to see if he hasn’t had his wallet stolen. Every time Kerry meets Lavrov the Russian come out a winner; I can’t figure out why he still does it. What he and Obama fail to realize is it sends a signal to Putin that no matter what he does the United States will come crawling back.
Yesterday the Russian ambassador to the United nations said “a certain chill in our relations with the West . . . will [not] be long historically speaking.” He pointed out it arose as a fault of the West noting , ““the anti-Russian rhetoric that Moscow’s Western partners are practicing hides their confusion, their disappointment, to put it mildly, at what has happened as a result of their rash actions in Ukraine.” He then accused the United States of extorting votes for the UN resolution on Crimea.
I’d suggest by the end of this month Ukraine will be furthered dismembered. Putin has weighed the response to his grabbing Crimea. He has seen it is feeble. It produces a temporary chill that the West will get over quickly. He’ll grab more of Ukraine or continue to place enormous pressure on its government while the West looks on. Sooner than later much of it will be made part of Russia.
He expects the chill may turn into a slight case of the flu but he expects that too will only last for a short period of time. During this time of Lent, one can only offer prayers for the Ukrainians. Like Stalin thought of the Pope, Putin thinks of the West that it has no divisions to send to stop it.