I admit it; I was wrong. I didn’t think that Russia’s Vlad the Terrible would act with such speed to return the Ukraine to the prison-house empire he seems intent on reassembling. But act he did, and with such power and contempt for world opinion that one is reminded of another collapse in the face of naked aggression.
At the Munich conference of 1938, the British and French ignored their mutual defense treaty with Czechoslovakia and threw Central Europe’s sole remaining democracy to the wolves, thinking they had bought themselves peace. World War II began a year later.
Then as now, the fictional purpose of aggression was “protection of a national minority.” Then as now, western nations recoiled and calculated how best to be the last one attacked. It didn’t work then. It won’t work now.
A little more history may be in order: in 1994, the U.S., Great Britain, Russia and Ukraine signed the “Budapest Memorandum,” guaranteeing Ukraine’s borders and national sovereignty in return for surrender of all nuclear weapons in their hands following the dissolution of the USSR. The weapons were surrendered, but now Vladimir Putin has torn up the treaty and flooded the Crimea — Ukrainian territory — with Russian troops. With Parliamentary approval for the use of military force in hand, he is poised to do more.
What has our response been to Russia’s invasion of a country whose borders we guaranteed? “Grave warnings” about “costs.” Finger-wagging and sonorous blather from our self-important Secretary of State. Hand-wringing. None of which means a thing to Prince Vlad, who appears once again to have taken correct measure of his opponents. This matters because the world is watching, and asking: can the United States be trusted? Will we stand by our word? Or will we forsake those who place their trust in us, abandoning them in the interests of safety and expedience? Do not doubt, we are being tested.
On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Five days later, President George Bush had assembled a coalition against the Butcher of Baghdad; its forces began arriving in the region at the end of that week. Under Barack Obama, nothing similar seems to be in the offing, not even a minimal response to Russia’s invasion of a country whose borders we vowed to protect.
We should recall our ambassador to Moscow and draw down staff there, together with those of our consulates in Russia. Cease any negotiations now in process involving the Russians, and suspend their most-favored-nation trade status, pending withdrawal of their troops. Urge the World Trade Organization and the EU to take similar steps. Turn the G8 back into the G7.
We have considerable naval assets in the Mediterranean, and we should use them. By next week, there should be a major naval exercise off Tartus, Russia’s major naval base in Syria. Britain and Turkey should come to the party as well; they are NATO members and they have a dog in this fight. If coupled with joint NATO-Polish “exercises” in the southeast of that country, it may give Putin pause. Yes, it may be time to start repairing our relationships with countries we kicked to the curb five years ago in a sweat to “reset” our relationship with Prince Vlad the Terrible. In any case strong acts are required here, not mere words.
In 1994, we told Ukraine “If you like your country, you can keep your country.” Russia has now invaded, wagering that we will not honor our commitment to a major player in Eastern Europe. And who could blame them? After five years of “red lines” that aren’t, selling out of long-term associates, coddling international troublemakers and recently, announcing considerable military cutbacks we look weak, vacillating, uninterested in the world and incompetent. No wonder Vladimir Putin, whose ring Hillary Clinton rushed to kiss in 2009, doesn’t take us seriously. He doesn’t care what we say; he cares what we do.
Absent action, Crimea will be annexed to Russia. Lithuania’s Kaliningrad Oblast will be the next flashpoint, then Georgia. The last will isolate the oil-rich states of Central Asia, drawing them again into Moscow’s grip. The southeastern third of Ukraine will follow these into the insatiable Russian maw, as Prince Vlad works to reverse the disintegration of the USSR, which he has described as “the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century.”
Absent action, eastern and central Europe will accommodate to growing Russian hegemony and stronger and more aggressive states will feel freer to draw plans against smaller, weaker neighbors. The world will become more dangerous and conflictive. And Barack Obama will have had a hand in making it so.
So let’s hope that in this case, the Administration’s penchant for empty words, lethargy and indifference does not prevail.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.