I remember seeing images like this in the newspapers (yes, we had two) and on television news (all three channels). In 1968, a wave of reform and liberalization swept through Czechoslovakia. The Soviets felt threatened by the changes, and put a stop to any more movement away from the Communist sphere.
In a few days, we could be seeing images like this from Kiev. The current Administration in Washington will decide that the Budapest Memorandum is a scrap of paper, and Moscow will say that the Ukrainians requested the Russians in to “restore order.”
President Obama can say, “There will be costs if Russia interferes in the Ukraine”, but Vladimir Putin and the rest of the world know that this is mere bluster.
Jacob and I have broad-ranging geopolitical conversations occasionally, and I have always blithely assured him that we would never have a war with Russia or China. I think I said, “The US does not need all of those tanks we have in Germany; Russia is no longer a threat to invade our allies.” If our current leadership does not grow a spine (or even if it does), I may have to eat my words with a side order of crow.
The Ukraine is a former Soviet republic, positioned between Russia and the rest of Europe. The name literally means “Borderland”. After the Soviet empire breakup, Ukraine retained close ties with Moscow. The eastern and southern parts of the country is largely (but not entirely) Russian by ethnicity and language. Russia maintains a large naval base on the Black Sea in Crimea, the southern section of Ukraine.
Problems arose when Ukraine negotiated ties with the European Union. Vladimir Putin objected, and the Ukrainian president unilaterally cancelled the agreement with the EU. Western Ukrainians rose up in protest, leading to the bloody fighting in the streets of Kiev (or Kyiv, however you want to spell it), and the ouster of the Ukrainian president.
Now there are “armed, uniformed men” forcefully occupying airports in Crimea. Is Russia invading the Ukraine? Why should it matter to us here in the United States? Sounds like a local problem to be solved by the principals in the area, right? Not so fast…
Enter the “Budapest Memorandum”. In 1994, the US and Great Britain felt it would be unwise to leave those old Soviet nuclear weapons lying around in the Ukraine, so Bill Clinton and John Major agreed to defend Ukraine if it were ever invaded. So the Ukraine gave up its nukes.
Putin has now installed 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders after the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych by pro-European protesters.
What’s next? Do we go to war with Russia? Nope, says the Obama administration, this is not an invasion, “this is an uncontested arrival of troops”. How Orwellian, rather like “kinetic military action” in Libya.
Here is the irony. Remember that vice presidential candidate who was “clueless about foreign policy”? A Sarah Palin quote from Oct. 22, 2008:
“After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama’s reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia’s Putin to invade Ukraine next.”
In 2012, Mitt Romney called Russia “our number one geopolitical threat”. He was widely ridiculed, and President Obama responded, “The 1980’s called…they want their foreign policy back.”
We find ourselves in this situation due to the disastrous foreign policy adventures of the current administration over the past five years. Obama’s feckless handling of various world events emboldened Vladimir Putin, culminating in the Syrian chemical weapons debacle. Does Putin think the US will follow through with its warnings against interference in the Ukraine? We shall see.
What is needed now is some very strong diplomatic activity. But we are not exactly negotiating from a position of strength, as did President Reagan with Mikhail Gorbachev. My prediction is that the US will do nothing, Putin will gain strength, and America will lose valuable influence in world affairs.