DEBATING THE “UKRAINIAN PROBLEM”: WHAT SHOULD THE UNITED STATES DO? (PART II)


Following former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent comments on how to approach the “Ukrainian Problem,” two writers of Prospect Journal debate the merits of hard and soft power in dealing with Russia’s actions in Crimea. This is the second article in a two-part series. Part I can be viewed here.

By Patrick Johnson
Staff Writer

We really need to start trusting in international institutions. That’s what this debate ultimately comes down to. When Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticizes Obama for leaving a “power vacuum,” she cannot do so without simultaneously devaluing the international institutions that can fill that void. Rice’s speech critiquing the “American Withdrawal” is a typically hawkish attitude. She views the world in the Cold-War mindset: a zero-sum game that is won or lost on the basis of hard (read: military) power. Not only is this a flawed understanding of the Crimean situation, it is an archaic policy that will, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, drag us back to the Cold War.

President Vladimir Putin, and every other world leader for that matter, does not view us as weak. Rather, he has a very nuanced understanding of American interests, of what we’ll fight over, and what we won’t. We won’t go to war for Crimea. Putin knows this, and operates according to Russian interests regardless of who is sitting in the Oval Office. Remember, U. S. foreign policy has remained largely unchanged since World War II.

Nor is Obama by any measure a weak president. He has ordered 50 times more drone strikes than his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Yes he has strengthened international alliances and focused on rebuilding American soft power, but these were measures necessitated by the policy catastrophes Rice herself helped to orchestrate. Not intervening in Syria, the go-to example of American “weakness” that war hawks embrace as proof of their claim, is actually a poor example. Intervening in Syria was never a clear case for U.S. military intervention, but a veritable quagmire, complicated by a very jumbled picture on the ground, and a host of conflicting regional parties and interests–not intervening was a demonstration of proper restraint and sheer prudence.

The reality is exactly the opposite of Rice’s view that this invasion is unprovoked. When the U.S.S.R fell, President Bush Senior promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that the U.S. would not take advantage of Russian weakness, and that we would incorporate them into the international system. This proved false, and NATO has steadily expanded its membership right to the borders of Russia, including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Now, like a caged animal, Russia is lashing out against expanding U.S. influence and strength.

Stop and listen to Putin’s speeches and this becomes immediately evident. Putin announced to a cheering crowd that he would no longer stand Western aggression. I’m not arguing that the Crimean seizure was legal or justified, but perhaps it was more reactionary to Western actions than Rice suggests.

Rice correctly points out that Ukrainian independence was guaranteed after 1990, when they voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons. Yet we should not be so callous as to deny Russia a sphere of influence, especially when we have had a sphere of influence that included the entire Western Hemisphere since the Monroe Doctrine. Independence and influence is simply a paradox in the 21st century with which states must learn to deal.

Rice uses the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia to illustrate her argument: the problem is, she gets it wrong. She uses the example as a case when Putin was aggressive, but vigorous American action rebuffed him. What a terrible example to offer. It shows that Putin was willing to invade even with Bush’s hawkish administration in power, and with a much larger military budget. Moreover, Putin was not entirely rebuffed. 1/5th of Georgian territory is still firmly in Russian control. The takeaway from this example should be that Russia is willing and able to control neighboring territory, regardless of who is president, or whether they project hard or soft power appropriately.

So let’s trust international institutions and soft power. Deny Russia a seat at the G8 summit, and form an international coalition (that includes China) to denounce these actions. Russia may not break over such measures, but it will bend. Invest energy in helping Kiev consolidate power in reforming the state in order to stabilize Ukraine’s currently tumultuous situation. And ultimately recognize that this situation does not herald the end of U.S. supremacy on the world stage or prove the existence of a power vacuum. It is the result of a defeated rival being continuously threatened, and now lashing out.

Putin’s actions should be vigorously resisted and, more critically, reversed. But so should Rice and her hardline critique. Her criticisms confuse the causes of the Crimean invasion and dilute American involvement. What’s worse, they threaten a return to Cold War policies. If Rice had her way, the defense budget would continue to expand, and America would police the world with a metallic fist. I challenge America to be smarter than every other superpower in world history. The U.S. must value international institutions that can solve global conflicts, just as it must figure out a way to operate and exert global influence independent of pure military strength. Otherwise, as new powers emerge, we may find ourselves with policies suited to 1914, not 2014.

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DEBATING THE “UKRAINIAN PROBLEM”: WHAT SHOULD THE UNITED STATES DO? (PART I)


Following former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent comments on how to approach the “Ukrainian Problem,” two writers of Prospect Journal debate the merits of hard and soft power in dealing with Russia’s actions in Crimea. This is the first article in a two-part series.

By Bijan Mehryar
Staff Writer

Whether the United States should or should not be the world’s superpower does not change the facts on the ground. When protesters from around the world clamor for American support, it is because of what America represents to these people. When Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula in blatant violation of international law, America’s tepid response indicated that we were not going to put up a strong enough fight for the Ukrainian people who had risen to overthrow the Yanukovych government. The fact of the matter is that the Obama administration has pursued a soft power strategy where hard power is needed. Rice is right in advocating for a nuanced post-cold war mindset, because Putin is very much a leader who is attempting to reclaim the prestige and eminence lost by Russia since the early 1990s.

In the span of a couple weeks, Russian troops amassed on the Russian-Ukrainian border, entered Crimea, took control of the peninsula and annexed it within the context of a referendum and treaty that have been widely criticized by the international community. However, the international community has issued no ultimatum to Russia. By March 26 the Russian flag had been raised in all of the 193 military bases in Crimea following the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops. Despite a recent meeting in Paris between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the debate over what will become of the annexation is still unresolved with Russia demanding Ukrainian constitutional reform and greater autonomy from Kiev for ethnic Russian regions.

While Obama has excelled in other areas of his foreign policy, such as the use of the drone strike program to eliminate terrorists, he has far too often painted a picture of himself as having to catch up with international events, not leading the change the world needs in affairs such as this. The Iranian protests of 2009, the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, the Syrian civil war and now the annexation of Crimea, all exemplify how America has been unable to effectively promote and protect its interests. Obama, if he wishes to solve this process, cannot go about in a tit-for-tat sanctions game against Russia. Rather he needs a combination of demonstrative military force in the name of protecting Ukrainian sovereignty, and stalwart international condemnation to make Putin scale down the conflict. This is not to say that a rigorous sanctions regime should not be used at all, but rather that these sanctions should not be the only tool for solving these situations. Time and time again we have learned that sanctions, unless pursued for decades, like in the case of Iran, do not lead to immediate turnarounds in policy.

Putin has a long history of aggressive action. This is a man who lived through the defeat of his nation at the hands of the West, and piece-by-piece he is attempting to rebuild and strengthen the Russian sphere of influence. On principle, a strong Russia is not necessarily a bad thing, but when that strength becomes the means by which other nations are threatened and conquered then we must, in the strongest ways possible, move against such unchecked expansionism. Putin did this once with Georgia, then with Crimea and now he is using the situation in Crimea to negotiate for the support of a breakaway Russian state in Moldova. Men like Putin only understand one thing – power. He is a strongman who needs to be strong-armed back into place and be taught that in the 21st century, you cannot use pieces of other countries as means to rebuild a collection that you lost 24 years ago.

Photo by poniblog

PUTIN ON THE MOVE: THE CRIMEAN CRISIS

By Robin Kunst
Staff Writer

Ever since the pro-Western opposition gained the upper hand in Kiev, pro-Russian forces, which mainly did not participate in the Maidan rebellion, took over the airports and regional parliament in the eastern part of Ukraine. The developments of the last weeks have led to thinly veiled Russian military intervention. But why is Russia so eager to take control over the peninsula?

To answer that, it is important to understand the ties between Ukraine and Russia. Before the current conflict, Crimea was an autonomous region in Ukraine. Of the approximately two million people living there, 25 percent are Ukrainians and about 60 percent are Russian. The Crimean peninsula was part of Russia under the Soviet Union federation until Nikita Khrushchev made it part of his home – the former Socialistic Soviet Republic of Ukraine. Russia seems to have been regretting that mistake ever since.

Simply stated, the peninsula is strategically important for Russia. Russia’s main navel base in Sevastopol not only provides Russia’s navy access to the Black Sea but more importantly to the Mediterranean Sea, which the Kremlin is unwilling to leave in the sphere of influence of the EU and the U.S. Navy. Additionally, Crimea provides access to the unstable gulf region and the Middle East. Sevastopol harbors more than 2,500 warships and contains as many as 26,000 troops already. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia negotiated a deal that allowed Russian troops to stay stationed in Sevastopol until 2017 in exchange for lower prices on gas imported from Russia. Former President Yanukovych extended the lease agreement until 2042.

President Yanukovych’s flight presents Russia with the challenge of an unforeseeable future for this deal and its Black Sea Fleet. As a result, the Kremlin responded by sending 6,000 troops to Crimea. It is clear that the current developments in the region is perceived as a threat to Russia’s interests in the region. The Western integration of Ukraine is a slap in the face of Russian diplomacy. The opposition parties shift their attention now towards each other now that the common enemy is out of the picture. Ukraine is at the brink of civil war.

In a recent interview, President Vladimir Putin made clear that Yanukovych’s removal from office was unconstitutional and assured full support for the former Ukrainian president. This stance is only fueling the already fiery tensions that have ruled the country for months. The BBC assumes that the Crimea is becoming the lynchpin of a struggle between Ukraine’s new leaders and those loyal to Russia. As if the political struggle were not enough, the country faces financial hurdles and relies heavily on foreign aid, which Russia provided until recently. Ukraine needs $ 35 billion in the next two years to prevent default on its loans. Meanwhile, Russia has suspended the next installment of a $ 15 billion loan due to the ongoing political uncertainty. Ukraine’s financial predicament is an opportunity for Russia. The dependence on foreign aid makes it possible to build pressure and ensure that Russia will not lose its influence on Ukraine. However, the United States and the European Union are both working out financial aid packages that will limit this influence.

Also, the International Monetary Fund is expected to negotiate and provide financial aid to the Ukrainian interim government. The EU had already held out the prospect of € 840 million in exchange for a free trade agreement earlier—part of what actually started the crisis. Due to the fragile situation, aid is expected to increase. Such an agreement would pave the way for the western integration of Ukraine, thereby weakening Russia’s hold over the country. It is doubtful that the Kremlin will stand by idly and watch its influence slip away.

According to Russian officials, soldiers have been sent to Crimea only to protect Russian citizens. What they need protection from, however, remains to be seen? Until recently, Russian was accepted as an official language in areas where the Russian speaking majority is at least 10 percent. While the interim government has overridden these laws, this action was taken mostly in response to Russian aggression. Regardless, the Kremlin argues that there is the possibility of more laws being passed that will discriminate against the Russian minority. Thus, Putin continues moving tanks and troops to Crimea.

Against this backdrop, the news of Putin receiving a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize can seem almost laughably ironic. However, he and all of Russia will continue to play an important role in the future of Ukraine and can help prevent the country’s decent into violence. But for this to happen, Russia has to accept the demand of the majority of Ukrainians to integrate more into the EU. It will be a huge concession for Russia to loosen its grip on Ukraine, and so far Putin seems reluctant to do so.

Some hope lies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who many believe can influence Putin. So far, telephone calls between the two leaders have led to no new agreements. Merkel considers herself as part of the Western alliance and not as “neutral” negotiator. She will not travel to Moscow to negotiate or sway Putin unless she can be certain to return to the EU with a deal. In the meantime, Putin seems to encourage a political course that is stuck in the past, led by egomania and a craving for status. The political situation in Ukraine is a ticking time bomb and Putin holds the tools to defuse it.

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