The Blaze (March 4) — Vladimir Putin has already won in Ukraine.
The pro-western movement in Kiev is basically on its own. The only question left is how far Putin will go with his intrusions, including a possible invasion of the pro-Russian East and the de facto bifurcation of the Ukrainian state. Either way, recent events on the ground have made this much abundantly clear: Nobody is going to stop Putin.
President Obama isn’t going to do anything of any consequence. America won’t leap into action over this. We will watch, as will Europe and the rest of the world, in dumbstruck impotence. And while it doesn’t feel good to say it, that’s really the only realistic option we have.
Here in America, the non-interventionist chorus as well as regional foreign policy experts are quick to point out the myriad reasons why Ukraine is not our problem, and to go beyond minimum action would be a grave mistake. So far, those voices are winning the argument and the Obama administration appears determined to feign resolve and look busy while the fourth-largest country in Europe inches towards civil war or absorption deep into Putin’s orbit.
With that in mind, here are five questions that get at the heart of the Ukraine crisis from a U.S. and European perspective. They explain the limitations on any U.S. response and are effectively a roadmap for how the Obama administration and the rest of the world will react as the Ukraine standoff with Russia continues to evolve…
2) Is there a way to punish Russia so badly that Putin changes his mind?
Nope. Putin’s Russia is built upon a tripod of nationalism, intimidation, and fossil fuels, and is not easily swayed by so-called “soft power.” Observers have pointed to the obvious similarities between the Russian federation’s modus operandi in Crimea today as compared to its 2008 incursion into Georgia. It looks like Putin is using the same playbook, and as South Ossetia and Abkhazia were annexed in all but name without consequence back then, why wouldn’t Putin stick with his winning formula? He will. The costs for meddling in Georgia were negligible compared to the benefits, and the same will be true from the Kremlin’s perspective on Ukraine.
Even more instructive are the limited U.S. and European options under serious consideration. The responses suggested so far by the “get tough” crowd include freezing some assets, banning overseas travel for certain individuals, and maybe moving the planned G-8 meeting from Sochi. These are the sorts of suggestions that keep think tank analysts employed, and allow our State Department and the EU bureaucrats to feel moderately useful, but in terms of efficacy they amount to shooting a .22 at a T-52.
3) Is Europe really willing to take harsh economic action against Russia anyway?
No way. For all its love of green energy and tiny cars, Europe needs fossil fuel – especially natural gas – and Russia is the single largest supplier to European markets. About a third of all European oil and gas imports comes from Moscow’s pipelines. As much as the Germans may bristle at Putin’s bullying of former Soviet states like Ukraine and general disrespect of international institutions, they want to be able to heat their homes in winter. That’s a powerful incentive to look the other way while Kiev gets cornered.
4) Does anybody think that U.S. troops should be deployed into Ukraine?
Not anyone who wants to be taken seriously. The U.S. public, tired of its own military fighting wars of liberation and reconstruction in the Middle East with mixed results, has absolutely no stomach for sending our men and women into a shooting war with Russians on the other side of the battlefield…
5) Is there any downside to the U.S. just letting the Ukraine situation play out?
This is where the debate really begins. It seems in the short-term, President Obama will hold some meetings, give a speech or two, but for all intents and purposes, refuse any real action on Ukraine, and it won’t matter one bit for now.
…Today, Ukraine has problems and we don’t have to care. Putin will not stop there, though, and the autocrats of Beijing, Tehran, and other tyrants across the world are closely watching the response of an America that seems uncertain of its role and tired of its principles once we reach the water’s edge.
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