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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 5th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

 

QUOTATION OF THE DAY

 

“It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve.”

 

JOHN KERRY, secretary of state, on Russia’s actions in Crimea, a region in Ukraine.

 

QUOTATION OF THE DAY

 

“The only thing we had to do, and we did it, was to enhance the defense of our military facilities because they were constantly receiving threats and we were aware of the armed nationalists moving in.”

 

VLADIMIR V. PUTIN, president of Russia.

No Easy Way Out of Ukraine Crisis.

 

 

WASHINGTON — For all his bluster and bravado, President Vladimir V. Putin’s assurance on Tuesday that Russia does not plan, at least for now, to seize eastern Ukraine suggested a possible path forward in the geopolitical crisis that has captivated the world. Global markets reacted with relief, and the White House with cautious optimism.

But the development presented a tricky conundrum for President Obama and his European allies. Even if Russia does leave eastern Ukraine alone and avoids escalating its military intervention, can it effectively freeze in place its occupation of the Crimean Peninsula? Would the United States and Europe be forced to tacitly accept that or could they find a way to roll it back — and, if so, at what price?

Ever since Russian forces took control of Crimea, Mr. Obama’s aides have privately conceded that reversing the occupation would be difficult, if not impossible, in the short run and focused on drawing a line to prevent Mr. Putin from going further.

 

 

If Crimea in coming weeks remains cordoned off, it will then require a concerted effort to force Russia to pull back troops, an effort that could divide the United States from European allies who may be more willing to live with the new status quo.

For the moment, the White House was focused on preventing the confrontation from escalating. While dismayed if not surprised by Mr. Putin’s bellicosity and justification of his actions, American officials took some solace that he said he saw no need at this point for intervention in Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine. They were also encouraged by his seeming acceptance of elections in May as a way to legitimize a new Ukrainian government and by his decision to cancel a military exercise near the border. And they detected no new influx of troops into Crimea.

While Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kiev on Tuesday to show support for its beleaguered pro-Western government, Mr. Obama consulted with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany by telephone about finding a face-saving way for Mr. Putin to withdraw in favor of international monitors.

Speaking with reporters, Mr. Obama said some had interpreted Mr. Putin’s remarks earlier in the day to mean he “is pausing for a moment and reflecting on what’s happened.”

Others cautioned against reading too much into Mr. Putin’s statements. “It would be a mistake on our part to look at what he’s saying and think this crisis is almost over: ‘O.K., we’ve lost Crimea, but the rest of the country is with us,’ ” said Ivo Daalder, Mr. Obama’s first ambassador to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

He said Crimea would become a precedent: “Crimea is a big deal. It means a country can be invaded, and a big piece of it can be taken away with no price. But two, this isn’t just about Crimea. This is about who is ultimately in control of Ukraine.”

The situation remained tense, as Obama administration officials moved forward with plans for sanctions that could be imposed by the United States and, they hoped, in conjunction with European allies. The administration is developing plans for actions that would escalate over time if Russia continued to leave forces in place in Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine.

Mr. Obama has authority to take several steps without new legislation from Congress. For starters, under a law called the Magnitsky Act, the State Department has already drafted a list of Russians tied to human rights abuses. The administration could promptly bar them from traveling to the United States, freeze any assets here and cut off their access to American banks.

The president also has the power under existing Syria sanctions to go after Russian individuals and institutions involved in sending arms to help President Bashar al-Assad crush the rebellion there. The administration had held back on such actions while trying to work with Russia to resolve Syria’s civil war, but if applied they could cut off certain Russian banks from the international financial system.

Mr. Obama could also sign an executive order creating another set of sanctions specifically against Russian officials and organizations blamed for creating instability in Ukraine and violating its sovereignty. In theory, that could include everyone up to Mr. Putin, but officials indicated that they would instead work their way up the chain of command.

Leaders in Europe, a region dependent on Russian natural gas and with far deeper economic ties to Russia, have expressed reluctance to go along with the toughest sanctions.

But an American order declaring a Russian bank in violation would be sent to banks around the world, forcing them to cut ties with that Russian institution or risk being barred from doing business with the American financial sector.

“My view is that Russia can be forced out of Crimea with the combination of financial sanctions plus straightforward hard diplomacy,” said Anders Aslund, a longtime specialist on Russia and Ukraine at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

Still, others are more dubious, noting that Mr. Obama may not be willing to go as far as necessary without the support of allies, particularly given that it would presumably jeopardize Russian cooperation on a range of issues, including Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Middle East peace.

The precedent may be Abkhazia and South Ossetia, pro-Moscow regions that broke away from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. After Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008, the Kremlin defied the United States and the rest of the world by recognizing their independence and left troops in place to guarantee it. The United States and Europe ultimately resumed doing business as usual with Russia.

Mr. Obama’s aides said that Ukraine was different and that they had a hard time imagining going back to a normal relationship as long as Russian troops occupied Crimea. Their first priority is preventing Russia from annexing the peninsula outright, but even leaving it as an enclave under Moscow’s control would not be acceptable, they said.

White House officials said they saw three possibilities. The first would be a Russian escalation into eastern Ukraine, one they hope Mr. Putin was signaling he would not pursue. The second would be Russia deciding to stay put in Crimea, either through annexation or through de facto rule. The third would be Russia taking what American officials call an offramp, agreeing to let international monitors replace Russian troops in the streets to guard against any attacks on Russian speakers and accepting the Ukrainian government that emerges from the May elections.

Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he recognized that Russia had natural interests in its neighbor. But he said he would not accept what he called a violation of international law.

“I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations,” he said, “but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.”

Mr. Obama added that Ukrainians should have the right to determine their own fate. “Mr. Putin can throw a lot of words out there, but the facts on the ground indicate that right now he’s not abiding by that principle,” he said. “There is still the opportunity for Russia to do so, working with the international community to help stabilize the situation.”

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The Opinion Pages|Editorial

 

A Rational Response to Ukraine’s Crisis.

 

 

The tensions over Ukraine eased somewhat after President Vladimir Putin of Russia halted military maneuvers on the Ukrainian border and declared at a news conference on Tuesday that there was no immediate need to send troops into eastern Ukraine. The conciliatory talk prompted Russian financial markets to rebound from their plunge on Monday. The markets reward peaceful behavior.

But the crisis is not over: Russia remains in control of Crimea, and Mr. Putin prepared the way for possible annexation of the peninsula to Russia when he said it was up to Crimean citizens, a majority of whom are Russian-speaking, to determine their future. The question remains what the United States and the European Union should or can do.

The Ukrainian crisis has provoked a broad range of reactions in the West, including angry demands for immediate sanctions against Russia and charges in the United States that President Obama is somehow “losing” in the confrontation to Mr. Putin and thus endangering Washington’s credibility and global leadership. Yet leadership and credibility in a crisis mean reacting coolly and rationally, not rattling sabers, or rushing into economic warfare that allies may or may not support, or painting “red lines” that the other side can cross with impunity.

A bully welcomes a slugfest, and Mr. Putin revels in claiming American conspiracies; at his news conference on Tuesday, he even described the battering to Russia’s markets on Monday as a result of American policies. But that battering and the decline of the value of the ruble were no doubt major factors behind Mr. Putin’s conciliatory tone on Tuesday.

The Russian economy is not in great shape, and Russian businessmen understand full well that the $60 billion wiped off the value of their firms on Monday was because of a needless crisis.

Mr. Putin and his countrymen must be reminded, again and again, that seizing Crimea under a blatantly concocted pretext, or taking other measures against the new authorities in Ukraine, will carry a price.

Short of war, there is little the United States can do on its own to punish Russia. It is not among Russia’s major trading partners. Europe, which does far more business with Russia, has more leverage, but also a dependence on Russian gas, and, so far, European leaders have shown little enthusiasm for economic sanctions.

The measures that have been suggested — exclusion from the Group of 8, selective sanctions and travel bans — would not alone cause much pain. But the consequences of isolation take a toll over time. With every new demonstration of Mr. Putin’s authoritarian and expansionary tendencies, whether it was the invasion of Georgia in 2008 or the imprisonment of the Pussy Riot members in 2012, the West has become more wary of doing business with Russia. In a conversation with Mr. Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said she was unsure whether Mr. Putin was in touch with reality. That, from the leader of Europe’s most powerful economy and one of Russia’s biggest trading partners, cannot be heartening for Mr. Putin, and certainly not for Russian businessmen.

These are exactly the buttons Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are pushing — threatening further isolation if Mr. Putin does not back down, and cooperation if he does, while rallying allies and pledging substantial assistance to the new authorities in Ukraine.

 

Closing the door to any further dealings with Mr. Putin, as hard-core cold-warriors want Mr. Obama to do, would not serve any purpose. Russia has already announced that it is ending discounts on the sale of Russian gas to Ukraine, and it could make life even more difficult for its bankrupt neighbor. But at his news conference, Mr. Putin said he felt a sympathy for the longing of the Kiev crowds to throw out a corrupt regime, and he insisted that Russian and Ukrainian soldiers “will be on the same side of the barricades.”

If he meant all that, then he must agree that the optimal conclusion to the crisis would be the election of a balanced Parliament and a universally accepted president in Ukraine, which would also reassure Russians that their ties to Ukraine, including Crimea, won’t be severed.

The United States and its European allies must prepare contingency plans for any escalation of Russian aggression or for the unilateral annexation of Crimea. The Europeans will have to overcome their reluctance on sanctions and form a common front with the United States. But, at the same time, they should reassure Mr. Putin that the West appreciates Russia’s historic ties to Ukraine and has no interest in turning Kiev against Moscow. So far, Mr. Obama is on the right track.

 

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The Opinion Pages|Op-Ed Columnist – The New York Times

 

Why Putin Doesn’t Respect Us

 

 

Just as we’ve turned the coverage of politics into sports, we’re doing the same with geopolitics. There is much nonsense being written about how Vladimir Putin showed how he is “tougher” than Barack Obama and how Obama now needs to demonstrate his manhood. This is how great powers get drawn into the politics of small tribes and end up in great wars that end badly for everyone. We vastly exaggerate Putin’s strength — so does he — and we vastly underestimate our own strength, and ability to weaken him through nonmilitary means.

Let’s start with Putin. Any man who actually believes, as Putin has said, that the breakup of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century is caught up in a dangerous fantasy that can’t end well for him or his people. The Soviet Union died because Communism could not provide rising standards of living, and its collapse actually unleashed boundless human energy all across Eastern Europe and Russia. A wise Putin would have redesigned Russia so its vast human talent could take advantage of all that energy. He would be fighting today to get Russia into the European Union, not to keep Ukraine out. But that is not who Putin is and never will be. He is guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations toward his people and prefers to turn Russia into a mafia-run petro-state — all the better to steal from.

So Putin is now fighting human nature among his own young people and his neighbors — who both want more E.U. and less Putinism. To put it in market terms, Putin is long oil and short history. He has made himself steadily richer and Russia steadily more reliant on natural resources rather than its human ones. History will not be kind to him — especially if energy prices ever collapse.

So spare me the Putin-body-slammed-Obama prattle. This isn’t All-Star Wrestling. The fact that Putin has seized Crimea, a Russian-speaking zone of Ukraine, once part of Russia, where many of the citizens prefer to be part of Russia and where Russia has a major naval base, is not like taking Poland. I support economic and diplomatic sanctions to punish Russia for its violation of international norms and making clear that harsher sanctions, even military aid for Kiev, would ensue should Putin try to bite off more of Ukraine. But we need to remember that that little corner of the world is always going to mean more, much more, to Putin than to us, and we should refrain from making threats on which we’re not going to deliver.

What disturbs me about Crimea is the larger trend it fits into, that Putinism used to just be a threat to Russia but is now becoming a threat to global stability. I opposed expanding NATO toward Russia after the Cold War, when Russia was at its most democratic and least threatening. It remains one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done and, of course, laid the groundwork for Putin’s rise.

 

For a long time, Putin has exploited the humiliation and anti-Western attitudes NATO expansion triggered to gain popularity, but this seems to have become so fundamental to his domestic politics that it has locked him into a zero-sum relationship with the West that makes it hard to see how we collaborate with him in more serious trouble spots, like Syria or Iran. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is engaged in monstrous, genocidal behavior that also threatens the stability of the Middle East. But Putin stands by him. At least half the people of Ukraine long to be part of Europe, but he treated that understandable desire as a NATO plot and quickly resorted to force.

I don’t want to go to war with Putin, but it is time we expose his real weakness and our real strength. That, though, requires a long-term strategy — not just fulminating on “Meet the Press.” It requires going after the twin pillars of his regime: oil and gas. Just as the oil glut of the 1980s, partly engineered by the Saudis, brought down global oil prices to a level that helped collapse Soviet Communism, we could do the same today to Putinism by putting the right long-term policies in place. That is by investing in the facilities to liquefy and export our natural gas bounty (provided it is extracted at the highest environmental standards) and making Europe, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, more dependent on us instead. I’d also raise our gasoline tax, put in place a carbon tax and a national renewable energy portfolio standard — all of which would also help lower the global oil price (and make us stronger, with cleaner air, less oil dependence and more innovation).

You want to frighten Putin? Just announce those steps.

But you know the story, the tough guys in Washington who want to take on Putin would rather ask 1 percent of Americans — the military and their families — to make the ultimate sacrifice than have all of us make a small sacrifice in the form of tiny energy price increases. Those tough guys who thump their chests in Congress but run for the hills if you ask them to vote for a 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax that would actually boost our leverage, they’ll never rise to this challenge. We’ll do anything to expose Putin’s weakness; anything that isn’t hard. And you wonder why Putin holds us in contempt?

 

 

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