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Posted by on Mar 3, 2014 in Featured, International | 8 comments

Putin’s clampdown: power play victory or Waterloo? (News and video roundup)

Aislin, The Montreal Gazette

Aislin, The Montreal Gazette

And so two truths are now self-evident: Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t win a peace prize — and he’s giving “half a peace sign” to the world.

Another truth: partisanship and ideological preferences are now coming into play. By looking at the name of a political figure, writer, blogger or talk show host you almost know how they will frame the issue. But not always: it isn’t only GOPers and conservatives who are critical of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and hinting — or even suggesting — that perhaps he has been too quick to see the world as he’d like to see it and was not fully prepared to deal with the fact that Mr. Putin didn’t exactly see it that way. Indeed, with each passing news cycle Putin is revealing himself to be an old KGB man who never shed his old persona.

The latest: Russia’s UN Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin says ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych asked Russia to send troops to “establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability, and defending the people of Ukraine.”

And, in an inteview with The Daily Beast, Georgia’s former President says Putin is looking for a “hot war.”

There may be no way to stop Vladimir Putin from starting a hot war with Ukraine, so Ukraine and its Western allies must prepare for the worst and do it quickly, according to former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Saakashvili, who fought the Russian army in 2008 for five days after the Russians invaded, is in Kiev to advise the new Ukrainian government. He says he’s providing counsel on how to hopefully avoid an all-out war with Putin’s army. But Saakashvili is also there to deliver a warning to Kiev: Russia appears to be preparing for armed conflict in Ukraine and the world must be ready for that battle, just in case Putin can’t be dissuaded from the fight.

“Right now my advice to the Ukraine government is to maintain maximum restraint, but to prepare for the worst, because I don’t think Vladimir Putin is going to stop where he is. He is not going to stop anywhere until he gets rid of the leadership in Kiev,” Saakashvili said in an interview with The Daily Beast on Monday. “The West should be ready that there might be a war here.”

There several similarities between Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and its 2012 invasion of Ukraine and one main difference. Russia has yet to cross militarily into greater Ukraine, outside Crimea, and wage a full scale invasion of the country, as it did in Georgia. But Saakashvili said he sees plenty of signs that’s exactly what Putin plans to do next.

There are multiple Russian intelligence organizations stirring up trouble all over Ukraine’s south and east with a goal of preparing a pretext for a large-scale military intervention, he said. The huge military exercises currently ongoing on the Russian side of the border are of the same scale to those that immediately preceded the Russian invasion of Georgia, he pointed out. Russia is also putting out massive amounts of propaganda to establish a narrative that could support a large scale intervention, again eerily similar to their actions in 2008.

“Putin certainly has plans for large scale military intervention in the whole of Ukraine,” said Saakashvili. “I think Russia is looking for a hot war.”

Here’s a cross section of reporting, opinion and video on the crisis in Crimea — which appears headed to be a crisis in the Ukraine, in the United Nations, and in U.S. Russian relations. These are excerpts so go to the links to read the entire piece.

The Washington Post editorial board:

For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in which “the tide of war is receding” and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past. Secretary of State John F. Kerry displayed this mindset on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday when he said, of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, “It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”

That’s a nice thought, and we all know what he means. A country’s standing is no longer measured in throw-weight or battalions. The world is too interconnected to break into blocs. A small country that plugs into cyberspace can deliver more prosperity to its people (think Singapore or Estonia) than a giant with natural resources and standing armies.

Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior. Neither has China’s president, Xi Jinping, who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is waging a very 20th-century war against his own people, sending helicopters to drop exploding barrels full of screws, nails and other shrapnel onto apartment buildings where families cower in basements. These men will not be deterred by the disapproval of their peers, the weight of world opinion or even disinvestment by Silicon Valley companies. They are concerned primarily with maintaining their holds on power.

Mr. Obama is not responsible for their misbehavior. But he does, or could, play a leading role in structuring the costs and benefits they must consider before acting. The model for Mr. Putin’s occupation of Crimea was his incursion into Georgia in 2008, when George W. Bush was president. Mr. Putin paid no price for that action; in fact, with parts of Georgia still under Russia’s control, he was permitted to host a Winter Olympics just around the corner.

Some Russian invasion forces filmed heading towards central Simferopol:

The Christian Science Monitor:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s emergency trip to Kiev Tuesday is meant to demonstrate resolute US support for the Ukrainian government in the face of Russia’s aggression and military occupation of the southern province of Crimea.

But for many Obama administration critics, Mr. Kerry’s trip should also be the occasion for President Obama to trash once and for all the “lead from behind” doctrine he debuted in the 2011 Libyan crisis.

The idea was that the United States, unable to take charge of every international crisis, would play a leadership role from the backseat by guiding and assisting other powers more directly implicated (geographically, economically, and in international security terms) in a crisis.

The result has been disaster, critics of the doctrine say, with Syria and Iran – and now Ukraine – demonstrating that there is no substitute for American leadership.

“The Obama administration must abandon its oxymoronic inclination to ‘lead from behind,’ ” says Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Absent strong American leadership in crafting “immediate” Western support for the interim Ukrainian government, Mr. Kuchins says, Russia will be tempted to “effectively separate” other eastern regions of the country from Kiev.

Suggesting that the whole world is watching how the US responds to Russian action in Ukraine, Kuchins says American credibility is on the line globally. Allowing a “takeaway” from the Ukraine crisis that the US is unwilling to stand up to violations of a country’s sovereignty could have disastrous implications in Asia, for example, where he notes China and Japan are locked in a worrisome territorial dispute.

Russian helicopters fly over Kerch Strait:


Andrew Sullivan:

It seems vital to me that we see what Putin is doing from his point of view. What seems to us like an unprovoked, Sudetenland-style invasion is both mercifully less than that (so far) and also, critically, a function of Putin’s string of recent setbacks. He has already lost a huge amount. And he is now recklessly and thoughtlessly acting out as a result.

…..How to deal with an authoritarian leader, increasingly paranoid about the West, his greater regional aspirations turned to dust, who is now wielding military power in a manner more reminiscent of the Cold War than of anything since? One obvious response is counter-provocation, of the kind that John McCain and the Washington Post editorial board would instinctively prefer. It seems to me that, given how Putin has reacted to Western pressure so far, this would merely invite more recklessness.

The saner approach is to try and mollify some of Russia’s legitimate concerns about Ukraine – the rights of the pro-Russian Ukrainians in the East, for example, some of which were suspended (and now restored) by the new Kiev government, while persuading him of unstated but profoundly adverse consequences if he ratchets up the use of force even further. David Ignatius – unlike the breathless neocons on the WaPo editorial page – makes the case very effectively this morning. What our goal must be now, above everything, is avoiding any pretext for a Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine.

And the truth is: this is very much in Russia’s actual interests. Its stock market and currency are in free-fall this morning, but a full-scale invasion of Ukraine would mean a mutual bloodbath, effectively destroying Russia’s standing in the world, tearing up its relations with the major powers, including, possibly China, and rendering it a rogue, primitive, paranoid power, whose elites would be cut off from the global trade and financial markets they rely on. There must be some faction in the Kremlin able to see this, even if it only occupies a small part of Putin’s mind.

Russian troop drills on the Ukraine border:

The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman, who sent time in the Ukraine as a student and whose family roots are there, has a must read on how this crisis has been hiding in plain sight. Here are just a few of his many substantive points:

Vladimir Putin has been hiding his intentions in plain sight. In an infamous 2005 speech, he declared that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the “major geopolitical disaster of the century.” But more to the point, he lamented the fact that “tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory.” This was dog-whistle politics in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and elsewhere. People were listening. Were we or the Europeans?

….The crowd on the Maidan, according to an eye witness, was a brave, spontaneous and democratic one. It wasn’t manufactured by higher powers. “They just kept marching forward knowing they would get shot,” said the observer, an American who was in the city on business.

But the new ruling group, empowered by the street protesters, won’t necessarily be a total contrast to the rapacious Yanukovych bunch. “Ukraine is basically tribes of billionaires fighting with each other over resources,” said a former U.S. government official who has worked for more than one tribe there as a political and security adviser.

Russia demands two Ukraine ships surrender or be seized:

Crooks and Liars’ John Amato:

Conservatives have been getting their freak on over the Russian/Ukraine conflict and attacking President Obama vociferously since he told Putin that there would be consequences if he invaded.

Marco Rubio offered a ghostwritten eight-point plan that the president should implement immediately.

John McCain described Obama as “naïve” about Putin’s ambitions “to restore the Russian empire”.

Charles Krauthammer claimed that Obama fails to understand that American inaction creates a vacuum.

Rep. Mike Rogers says Putin is playing chess, Obama playing marbles. That’s just to name a few of the many attacks that are flying at Obama just minutes after Putin moved into Crimea.

But when George Bush was in office and waxed poetically about Putin, they said nothing. What a shock, right?

Russian troop surround Ukrainian base in Crimea:

Hot Air’s Allahpundit:

I can’t tell if he has something specific in mind in saying this, i.e. that post-1989 eastern European history points in one direction and Russian revanchism points in another, or if it’s just a phrase that pops mindlessly to his lips when he’s at pains to condemn something, as it seems to do for lots of progressives. (Spread some cheer by reminding a liberal friend today that he’s on the wrong side of history when it comes to gun control.) Russia rolling over its neighbors to demonstrate its strength is history, isn’t it? Until the day comes that either (a) Russia no longer needs a warm-water port or (b) Ukraine and the EU are willing and able to go toe to toe with the Russian army, nukes or no nukes, then Russian domination of its western borders seems like an unfortunate historical fact. For what it’s worth, China seems to disagree with O’s assessment. Go figure that the Chinese see the historical virtue in a nation reclaiming land inhabited by its ethnic descendants.

Obama says he’s working on sanctions and diplomatic measures to “isolate” Russia. Will that stop Putin?

Marc Ambinder on how this crisis will end:

How does the world extricate itself from a vehicle that looks like it’s leading to war? Look at the domestic politics of Ukraine. The endgame here, and the functional goal of the United States and NATO, is NOT to pull Ukraine across the line into an insoluble economic and political relationship with Europe. Indeed, NATO membership for Ukraine has never been on the table. It would alienate Russia far too much and would be, frankly, unnecessary. Ukrainian independence, an ability to choose freely between Russia and the West, is a more sustainable status quo.

The overthrow of the government might have been Putin’s casus belli, but it does mean that NATO will need to offer, along with carrots to Ukraine, the threat of a stick to Russia. As Christopher Dickey suggests, it might come in the form of a security guarantee, one that promises to defend the Ukrainian right to self-determination over the long-term. The long-term is key: This crisis will simmer for awhile. A process that allows Putin to claim that he successfully defended the Russian minorities in Ukraine without going to war, along with one that recognizes a future government legitimized by future elections (subject to UN or OSCE monitoring), is the proximate endgame. (I hope).

Both the West and Russia are going to have satisfy the demands of domestic politics. And NATO has a vested interest in actually mobilizing against Russia, for once, even if it does not intend to fight. Even if Putin knows that the West would never invade, a larger, well-coordinated NATO force, with weapons hot and red lines established, is simply not something he can easily ignore. Indeed, a NATO mobilization would give him the pretext to endorse or propose a process of sorts.

Tom Janssen, The Netherland

Tom Janssen, The Netherland

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