Things Are Heating Up In Ukraine

Lilia Shevtsova At The American Interest ‘Putin Ends The Interregnum:’

‘What a mess Putin has gotten us all into! But let’s also give him his due: He has paved the way for the emergence of new trends—or at least he’s called the existing ones into serious question. He has also facilitated the formation of Ukrainian national identity, ensuring that the country will never again become a mere extension of Russia. He has thus undermined his own dream—that of creating the Eurasian Union. He has precipitated a crisis in his own country, making its future path completely unpredictable. And finally, he has reminded NATO of its mission and prompted the liberal democracies to reflect on their own principles.’

It seems there’s a Russian ethno-nationalist core Putin’s playing to aside from the clear interest in Crimea and a corridor that means splitting Ukraine in two.  Just how Putin defines that core in order to play-up to Russian pride, nostalgia and national security via his own power via a cagey ex-KGB, authoritarian, petro-Czar ruling-style is up for debate.

Over at the New Republic, they’re going to have to work harder to figure out how to maintain humanist, Left-liberal ideals in the face of such meddling and aggression (they might have to think about rebuilding the Peretz wall separating a kind of liberalism from full-on Lefty activism that new ownership has since removed):

Putin Will Never, Ever Admit That Russia Has Invaded Ukraine

‘The Kremlin will continue to deny its involvement in Ukraine, and the U.S. and E.U. will take their time calling this an outright invasion. Russia has made its objectives in Ukraine clear, and has signalled its resolute unwillingness to participate in military negotiations while its political concerns go unresolved.’

It’s pretty clear the Georgia model is in play, to some extent.  Ukraine’s economy is weak, and its civil institutions very corrupt, but Putin’s aims are pretty clear.

An interesting interview with an American volunteer with Army experience and Ukrainian roots who’s joined the fight.  A surprisingly reasonable-sounding guy via VICE:

—————————

Via a reader: George Kennan’s ‘Long Telegram’ back to Washington in 1946.

From Vlad’s pen to NY Times readers’ eyes.

Also On This Site: Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’From The National Interest: ‘Inside The Mind Of George F. Kennan’

Some Links On Foreign Policy & Ukraine…Kasparov, Kerry, Putin & Obama?-Some Links On Ukraine

James Baker At The NY Times: ‘3 Presidents and a Riddle Named Putin’

Nearly three years ago now: Eric Posner At The Volokh Conspiracy: The Bear Is Back!

Ukraine, Redlines And Deadlines-Two Foreign Policy Links

The situation in Ukraine is ramping-up, and we could be looking at potential engagement between Russian and Ukranian forces. Putin is still leveraging his position with alternately militant and vaguely conciliatory language.

It’s true that as in Georgia, our likelihood of going to war on this far Eastern front of Western interests was small to begin with, and not necessarily in our best interests, any more than playing Putin’s Cold War gamesmanship is in our best interests.

Putin and the Geneva Conventions?

—————————

Something needs to be done and we need some kind of Russia policy, but which kind exactly?

This is not particularly reassuring:

The current diplomatic team still seems to be telegraphing its intentions and aims too easily, with a particularly naive use of social media while setting deadlines it often can’t meet.  This can undermine our credibility.

Many folks like the idea of Western interests banding together, rowing in the same direction to promote liberal democracy by enticing those with divergent and opposing interests to join or face consequences. Human rights, democracy promotion, and tough-as-nails diplomacy through international law and institutions are presumed to be the best foundations for the kind of world we’d like to live in (better than the consequences of Iraq, for example).

Yet, promoting democratic elections in Egypt hasn’t worked out particularly well for our interests (little as we could do there), leading to the return of what will likely be another military-controlled autocracy after the Muslim Brotherhood failure. The surgically-controlled coalitional strikes to take out Gadhafi in the hopes Libyans could put something together in his wake has led to instability across North Africa, and a haven for Islamic radicalism pouring into Syria. Libya was in rough shape, and is still in rough shape.

Meanwhile, in Syria, we emboldened a weakened Putin to leverage us heavily, while allowing Assad to buy himself time. As a result, the country’s Civil War rages on, Islamist radicals have poured in, and as Adam Garfinkle pointed out on April 10th, this has had consequences for us in Crimea.

The world is watching:

‘The Syria point? The Obama Administration should watch its mouth. It should say as little as possible about reports of the Syrian regime’s use of poison gas unless it’s prepared to actually do something appropriate to the challenge. Its feckless posturing only drives its credibility further down the crapper. It’s not time to wring hands and blurt out Hamlet-like soliloquies; it’s time to wring necks. Again, if the facts prove that a poison gas attack has occurred and the Obama Administration does essentially nothing about it, it will be open season on every American and allied interest worldwide. It’s nice that Chuck Hagel went recently to Tokyo to calm our Japanese allies down, as though their jitters are not fully justified by the facts; a lot of good it will do, however, if the President does another duck-and-cover over the enormities of the Assad regime.’

James Baker At The NY Times: ‘3 Presidents and a Riddle Named Putin’

Full piece here.

“He’s not delusional, but he’s inhabiting a Russia of the past — a version of the past that he has created,” said Fiona Hill, the top intelligence officer on Russia during Mr. Bush’s presidency and co-author of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.” “His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future. Where exactly does he go from here beyond reasserting and regaining influence over territories and people? Then what?”

Maybe he’s got his own future, and doesn’t need ours. Maybe he hasn’t thought that far ahead. Maybe some people in China’s military see outside interests reflexively as threats and calculate accordingly.  Maybe Al Qaeda’s Islamist radicalism is messianic and delusional, as are a lot of people in the Muslim Brotherhood, as are some people out there who would hijack nuclear material and kill millions of innocent people if they could.

Do we take Somali pirates aside and give them a good talking-to?

But as to Russia and Putin, I suppose the country’s too big and its leader too important to ignore for many strategic reasons.

I suppose we’ll keep looking inside those nesting dolls for a man we can do business with.

A Cold Dose Of Realism-‘Americans Play Monopoly, Russians Chess’

Full piece here.

Neo-cons, humanists, human-rights advocates…religious and secular idealists, missionaries of all stripes who want to see more freedom and democracy cast in our image…it’s good to get other points of view:

David Goldman wrote the following back in 2008, a few years after Ukraine’s Orange Revolutionjust as Georgia was flaring up, and when Putin stepped-in (to Georgia) to maximize his advantage:

‘The place to avert tragedy is in Ukraine. Russia will not permit Ukraine to drift to the West. Whether a country that never had an independent national existence prior to the collapse of communism should become the poster-child for national self-determination is a different question. The West has two choices: draw a line in the sand around Ukraine, or trade it to the Russians for something more important.

My proposal is simple: Russia’s help in containing nuclear proliferation and terrorism in the Middle East is of infinitely greater import to the West than the dubious self-determination of Ukraine. The West should do its best to pretend that the “Orange” revolution of 2004 and 2005 never happened, and secure Russia’s assistance in the Iranian nuclear issue as well as energy security in return for an understanding of Russia’s existential requirements in the near abroad. Anyone who thinks this sounds cynical should spend a week in Kiev.’

The argument is pretty clear:  Putin is looking at demographic decline, and he’s an ex-KGB ethno-nationalist looking to keep the empire together:

‘Russia is not an ethnicity but an empire, the outcome of hundreds of years of Russification. That Russification has been brutal is an understatement, but it is what created Russia out of the ethnic morass around the Volga river basin. One of the best accounts of Russia’s character comes from Eugene Rosenstock-Huessey (Franz Rosenzweig’s cousin and sometime collaborator) in his 1938 book Out of Revolution. Russia’s territory tripled between the 16th and 18th centuries, he observes, and the agency of its expansion was a unique Russian type.’

Worth a read.

Related On This SiteRobert Merry At The National Interest: ‘Spengler’s Ominous Prophecy’“Spengler” At PJ Media: ‘Lessons From Europe’s Winners And Losers’

Is Barack Obama A Realist?From The National Interest: ‘Inside The Mind Of George F. Kennan’

Kasparov, Kerry, Putin & Obama?-Some Links On Ukraine

Some Friday Ukraine Links

Fareed Zakaria at The Washington Post: ‘Why (this time) Obama Must Lead:

Obama is still likely leaning on Russia for an exit out of AfPak, and as some kind of East Of Center geopolitical ‘ally’ for leverage in dealing with Damascus and Tehran as part of his global vision (empirical results may vary). He’s probably still aiming for that one-world thing.

I’d call Zakaria’s piece a likely liberal centrist/populist call to action with detailed consideration of the strategic realities:

‘Unlike many of the tragic ethnic and civil wars that have bubbled up over the past three decades, this one involves a great global power, Russia, and thus can and will have far-reaching consequences. And it involves a great global principle: whether national boundaries can be changed by brute force. If it becomes acceptable to do so, what will happen in Asia, where there are dozens of contested boundaries — and several great powers that want to remake them?

Obama must rally the world, push the Europeans and negotiate with the Russians. In this crisis, the United States truly is the indispensable nation.’

Andrew Wood at The American Interest: ‘Crying ‘Fascist’ On Ukraine

“Fascist” has indeed become a crude political insult, and the term can be used to cover states ranging from Peron’s Argentina to Nazi Germany. But the charge of fascism carries a particular force in the formerly Soviet space. World War II is the one sacral achievement that must not be questioned in Russia. To suggest that there are those in power in Ukraine who attack its accomplishments or indeed seek to reverse them is to plug into anger. Hence its value as a weapon to the Kremlin’

This reminds me of Christopher Hitchens passionately denying the ‘fascism’ charge, while often uncannily sniffing it out and confronting it (Hitchens interviews The Metzger White Nationalists).

Of course, I was hoping we in America could resist having only a bunch of military-right, ethnic-nationalists with fascistic tendencies on one side, and Socialist fascists on the other.  We’re not anywhere near that, I hope.

John Kerry threatens ‘serious steps‘ if Russia makes further movements into Crimea, violating both the sovereignty of Ukraine and international law.  No unified ‘international’ response seems forthcoming.

Two Friday Links On Ukraine

We don’t necessarily want a continuation of the Cold War, but understanding the strategic realities The Cold War created is as vital as ever. The younger generation in Ukraine, as well as a lot of people in the West, are getting a hard lesson in Putin’s power politics.

Young Ukranians have yet to taste the economic possibilities of getting a job in a growing economy without living amidst the corruption and cronyism of a rotten, post-Soviet oligarchical no-man’s land.  They have yet to learn how to build and defend institutions that can secure their liberties against Putin’s aggression, and also protect them from the ethnic, linguistic, and historical strife within.

And now the Russian bootheel is back.

I think we ought to be pretty clear about where we stand on Ukrainian aspirations for such an economy, such liberties and the possible development of such institutions.  We have many strategic interests at stake here, despite our clear limitations.

The drift of the current U.S. administration is sending many messages, and not just to Ukranians.

——————————-

The Cold War strategists are still around:

Henry Kissinger At The Washington Post: ‘How The Ukraine Crisis Ends:’

‘Putin should come to realize that, whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War. For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington. Putin is a serious strategist — on the premises of Russian history. Understanding U.S. values and psychology are not his strong suits. Nor has understanding Russian history and psychology been a strong point of U.S. policymakers’

Adam Garfinkle at The American Interest talks with Zbigniew Brzezinski: ‘Coping With Crimea: In Ukraine And Beyond

‘It’s hard to understand how Putin could calculate that doing what he did in Crimea would make the Ukrainians more supine toward him in Kiev. So unless it’s a sudden burst of poorly calculated activism, the Crimea operation could be the first stage of a series of steps he’s planning, perhaps to create exploitable unrest in eastern Ukraine. The aim would be to demonstrate that Ukraine is falling into anarchy, thereby making a case for a wider Russian intervention, and then we’re back to having to ask ourselves: “How do we react to make that not happen, and if it does happen, how do we make it ‘

———

Vice link from a reader:

Kasparov, Kerry, Putin & Obama?-Some Links On Ukraine

Well, not to look like too much of a dupe (me), but chess great Garry Kasparov, who has spoken-out at great personal risk for his birthplace of Azerbaijan as well as for the freedoms of all against autocracy and tyranny, has been very vocal on Twitter as to just what we’re likely dealing with in Putin:

Addition: Kasparov is a human-rights advocate having a tough time finding support against the actual force used by Putin against those supporting an independent Ukraine.  Some human-rights advocates are as close to foreign policy decisions as they’ve been in a while in the current U.S. administration.

Is there any merit in applying rational motives to Putin’s behavior?

Perhaps, if you’re in Kasparov’s shoes, no, there isn’t.  Putin’s actions should be clear enough.

Hopefully, I’m aware that many Western media outlets occupy a kind of secular-bubble within which everyone’s a potential convert to a shared set of assumptions about liberal democracy.  The spread of human-rights through international institutions is often presumed to be the natural course of events.  Apparently even Putin, China, the mullahs in Iran, and Islamic terrorists might be welcome to join as long as they agree to some basic conditions.

It’s ain’t what you know…

Moving along, here’s liberal strategist and thinker Zbigniew Brzezinski at WaPo, born in Poland, who served under Jimmy Carter (yes, Obama’s further out there than Carter, in many respects).

Putin’s actions can’t go unpunished:

‘This does not mean that the West, or the United States, should threaten war. But in the first instance, Russia’s unilateral and menacing acts mean the West should promptly recognize the current government of Ukraine as legitimate. Uncertainty regarding its legal status could tempt Putin to repeat his Crimean charade. Second, the West should convey — privately at this stage, so as not to humiliate Russia — that the Ukrainian army can count on immediate and direct Western aid so as to enhance its defensive capabilities. There should be no doubt left in Putin’s mind that an attack on Ukraine would precipitate a prolonged and costly engagement, and Ukrainians should not fear that they would be left in the lurch’

WaPo’s editorial board wakes up to Obama’s foreign policy assumptions, at least before potentially nodding-off again.

I think it’s reasonable to expect more redlines and deadlines from the President. Economic sanctions and scrambling behind the 8-ball are par-for-the-course these days. Check out Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic’s interview with Obama.  It’s quite insightful.

My take:  This administration is deeply invested in a kind of everyone-come-to-the-table peace activism and idealism, as well as Obama’s ability to read the intentions of others using this roadmap.  I suspect he’ll likely redouble efforts for an Israel/Palestine peace process and a tentative peace-deal with the leadership in Iran, evidence to the contrary, history, strategy, peace through strength notwithstanding.  The liberal internationalists are grounding him in realpolitik to some extent, bolstering this worldview which I suspect Obama sees as quite pragmatic and middle-of-the-road.

Yes, he’ll use drones, take out Bin-Laden, and keep our security in mind, but his default position is towards an ideal of peace, not necessarily peace through strength.  His political and ideological interests are similarly aligned.

Addition: Is Putin acting to undermine his own interests quickly, more slowly?

Important to note:  American withdrawal supply lines out of Afghanistan run through Russian territory, and any possible negotiations with the Iranian leadership depends upon some Russian cooperation.

Also, what many Americans may have missed during the last election:

We need a grander strategy, from the Middle-East through Asia, though how this strategy would look, exactly, is up for debate.

————————-

Charles Hill suggests that if America doesn’t lead with a new set of challenges that face the West, then Europe surely isn’t capable of leading either.  If we don’t strike out on our own as Truman did with bold leadership after World War II, we will end a generations long experiment in American exceptionalism.  If we don’t lead, someone who doesn’t share our values, probably will.

The world can easily destabilize and get quite violent, quite quickly.

This seems to be where we are.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome

(*As for liberal democracy, my understanding is that there are many strains within it that are highly illiberal, and threaten it from within, obviously, while claiming high ideals and insisting upon utopian and big solutions to persistent problems).