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Monday, March 3, 2014

Russia and Ukraine--What Now?

     Friday, the Russian Parliament broadly authorized force in the Ukraine, rather than a more limited use of force to protect Russian military installations--i.e., Putin has free reign to use force to keep Ukraine within the Russian sphere of influence. In response, the Ukraine has mobilized troops and called up reserves. However, this may not be as easy to do since Russian troops have surrounded many Ukrainian military bases and posts.

   Michael Barone writes at the Washington Examiner:
This violates the 1994 Budapest Memorandum between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and Britain, in which each party agreed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia's claim that it is acting to protect the rights of Russian citizens in Ukraine is redolent of Hitler's claims that he was taking over Czechoslovakia and the free city of Danzig and attacking Poland to protect ethnic Germans. Russia has treaty rights in its naval base in Crimea, but it has gone much farther by taking over the whole peninsula; it is as if the United States, possessed of treaty rights in its base in Guantanamo, should send in military forces or auxiliaries into Cuba.
     Now that it is clear that Russia wants to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence, the question is what the response from the West will be. Part of the problem is that we have such a weak puppet as president, exemplified by Obama's failure to attend a national security meeting on the situation on Sunday. Obama reportedly spoke to Putin via telephone, and the White House released a statement, reading in part:
“…President Obama made clear that Russia’s continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community. In the coming hours and days, the United States will urgently consult with allies and partners in the UN Security Council, the North Atlantic Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and with the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum. The United States will suspend upcoming participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8. Going forward, Russia’s continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation.”
Even the threat of economic sanctions has had consequences, as Russian stocks have crashed, and the Russian central bank has hiked interest rates in an attempt to stymie an outflow of foreign capital. So, maybe economic sanctions will be enough. However, Russia still (for now) holds a couple aces in its hand--gas supplies to Europe and control of an important network to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. Cutting off gas supplies to Europe could be a double-edged sword, though--BBC notes: "There are also doubts that Russia could afford to disrupt or cut part of its gas supply to Europe, which is worth almost $100m (£60m) a day. Analysts estimate it accounts for about 3% of Russian economic output."

     In Michael Barone's piece, cited earlier, Barone sets out certain diplomatic and economic sanctions that could be immediately imposed, including restrictions on Russian access to foreign banks and moving ahead on the missile defense shield for Poland that had previously been cancelled. Barone apparently does not see armed conflict as a possible result.

     David P. Goldman also downplays the risk of war because, as he writes, the Ukraine is just not all that important:
There isn’t going to be a war over Ukraine. There isn’t even going to be a crisis over Ukraine. We will perform our ritual war-dance and excoriate the Evil Emperor, and the result would be the same if we had sung “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” on a road trip to Kalamazoo. Worry about something really scary, like Iran.

Ukraine isn’t a country: it’s a Frankenstein monster composed of pieces of dead empires, stitched together by Stalin. It has never had a government in the Western sense of the term after the collapse of the Soviet Union gave it independence, just the equivalent of the family offices for one predatory oligarch after another–including the “Gas Princess,” Yulia Tymoshenko. It has a per capital income of $3,300 per year, about the same as Egypt and Syria, and less than a tenth of the European average. The whole market capitalization of its stock exchange is worth less than the Disney Company. ...
He notes that the Russians have an interest in protecting their Black Sea naval bases. Russian occupation of Ukraine does not change the strategic position of Russia vis-a-vis the United States (other than it shows that the U.S., at least under Obama, will not stand behind its treaties). Goldman predicts that the Ukraine will be partitioned, and Crimea absorbed into Russia, and that will be the end of the crises, at least from our point of view. Russia, on the other hand, will have absorbed yet another pool of potential revolutionaries and terrorists.

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