by Joe Shea
February 28, 2014
A TIME TO BE BOLD
BRADENTON, Fla., Feb. 28, 2014 -- There can be little doubt the Ukrainian revolt against President Viktor Yanukovych is not over yet. Since he fled the country, pro-Russian protestors have massed in Crimea, taken over the buildings of the regional parliament there, and scores of armed men dressed all in black, with no identifying insignia (but clearly Russians), have stationed themselves at the region's two main airports.
Russian helicopters have darkened Crimean skies, and its airports are closed to all but Russian aircraft. Russian warships are blockading the Ukrainian coast guard fleet in Sebastopol, preventing it from leaving for safer waters.
There is a lot of talk about the thousands of Russian troops who have arrived at the Ukrainian border, ostensibly for long-planned military "exercises." On world markets, the price of oil has risen $5, and today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up and down like a yo-yo as investors tried to guess what will happen next.
They may find it hard to find out from the cable news channels, whose news budgets have mostly been usurped by coverage of the upcoming Academy Awards. It's hard to get good analysis and even late developments except from the handful of truly international publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post. But to their credit, both CNN and Fox News are trying to cover it seriously, even if they can't find a ready way to spin it for or against President Obama.
As I see it, the U.S. must take one step before all others, and that is to renew its determination to place defensive missile batteries in Poland. It must be clear that the West, too, is capable of a bold move. Russia's whining and baroque demands stopped us from installing them a few years ago, and Russian aggression has risen every year since. They read it as weakness and an invitation to start rebuilding.
Admittedly, geopolitical ambition took a back seat to the spectacular and highly successful 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, for which Russia could be forgiven much. But that would not include an invasion of Ukraine nor the fostering of a strong secession or partition movement in the semi-autonomous Crimea. Regrettably, that is very much in the cards.
The only real question people seem to have is, what level of violence will occur, and, how much will it cost the West? So far, CNBC has been the most incisive in that analysis, even if it has filled its Friday post-closing airtime with pro-Russian apologists who want us to believe the Crimea, headquarters of the Russian Black Sea fleet, is really a province of Russia. Those folks want us to sit back and let the Russians have their way.
One of the CNBC anchors late Friday afternoon suggested after the President's statement that Americans don't have a sufficient grasp of modern history to see the Russians as they see themselves. But that should not be our goal. It should be to be seen as standing unequivocally with the expressed will of the Ukrainian people, in support of their being as free and independent as they want and dare to be.
I am not sympathetic to the ambitions of Vladimir Putin, who clearly wants to rebuild the failed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He has already prevailed in that ambition in Georgia, Belarus and Turkmenistan, and the Ukraine is next. But he won't get all of it without a full-scale invasion, and the new leaders of the Ukraine are sure to ask NATO and the United States for help in resisting that.
I hate to seem to be siding with the apologists, but I don't believe the separation of the eastern half of Ukraine - east of the Dnieper, that is, which cuts it in half - can be successfully resisted. A strategy for the Ukraine, in fact, might be to cede it at the beginning, and end all financial support of its people and institutions.
Let Russia pay for their infrastructure, their welfare checks and their law enforcement forces. When the pro-Russian Ukrainians start to understand what that Russian help will look like a few years after the honeymoon, my guess is they'll be clamoring to get back into the fold.
With that simpler strategy, there may be very little loss of life, very little violence, and some hope for a united Ukraine in the future. That is because, at a minimum, the Ukraine's new leadership is quickly going to move to become a part of the European Union and a member of NATO, and they are likely to get substantial help in meeting the $35-billion shortfall they face. The West, however decadent it may appear to some, will always beckon as a more exciting place than the present Russian dictatorship - which may not even survive Putin.
Backing that play with defensive missile batteries in Poland will give the Western democracies a bulk and resonance at Ukraine's border that would ease the sense of loss and isolation that would otherwise grip Ukrainians, and firmly support second-order measures like sanctions while allowing Western leaders to feel they have acquitted themselves honorably even if they have not. The Ukrainians are a brave and resourceful people, especially if one can judge by their neighborhoods in the East Village - always safer, more close-knit and more caring than the slums around them were. It is typical of them that rather than looting and burning the former presidential palace, they toured it respectfully, much as they might a national museum; it certainly consumed a lot of the national treasury.
Partition is inevitably a route to military conflict, whether in Ireland, India, the Balkans or Vietnam. President Obama is insisting on the Ukraine's "territorial integrity," but that is not a demand he or NATO can readily enforce. It is the position of a man who knows right from wrong, and yet he must be aware that our sense of that doesn't travel very far past the Bosphorus - and drops dead at the Dnieper.
Joe Shea is the editor-in-chief and founder of The American Reporter, which is owned by some 400 journalists around the world. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.