President Obama found himself facing his toughest foreign policy test to date when Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula by force. He should carefully consider action against Russia, a country whose president is intent on dragging his people back to the era of the former Soviet Union.
Instead, the focus should be on European allies.
Such a tack goes completely against those hard-liners who want Russian President Vladimir Putin punished, and specifically by this country. But it is the practical answer for the United States, already war-weary over years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The consequences of engaging a fight with Russia would be catastrophic and incomparable to anything this country has faced since the Cold War.
The urgency must be Europe’s, whose countries appear to be responding. European Union foreign ministers met in emergency session in Brussels to discuss possible punitive steps against Russia unless it returned its troops to its own bases in Crimea, including suspension of talks with Moscow on visa liberalization. All are not in lockstep, though. France and Germany said sanctions were not on the table.
The White House has already issued a statement that the United States “condemns” the Crimean takeover and called it a “breach of international law.” So far, the United States has suspended participation in preparations for June’s G-8 summit in Sochi. Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, and others are calling for Putin’s ouster from the G-8. Further, the United States prepared to impose sanctions on high-level Russian officials involved in the military occupation of Crimea. The Obama administration suspended military ties to Russia and trade talks.
Putin couldn’t care less. His actions affirm that assessment. The Russian president has declared that he was only protecting his country’s interest and those of Russian citizens in Ukraine. Such a disingenuous statement should not be taken at face value. Putin wants to inflict a Russian hegemony that will dissolve the independence Ukraine has built over 22 years.
There are reports of acceptance, if not welcoming, from Russian-speaking citizens. And deposed Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych recently appeared in Russia giving an address to his nation declaring himself still in charge – even if under the shadow of Putin.
Russia received well-deserved scathing criticism at Monday’s Security Council meeting at the U.N. headquarters in New York. Russia requested the meeting. The suggestion by U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power that Russia “stand down” was necessary but not followed, and her further recommendation of a fact-finding mission by either the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is hopeless. Russia holds veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council.
Things continue to go from bad to worse, creating a dire economic situation that has rippled global markets. The International Monetary Fund, scheduled to arrive today for a 10-day investigation of the true state of Ukraine’s finances, should act. Moscow suspended its offer of bond purchases when Yanukovych was ousted more than a week ago.
Meantime, Secretary of State John Kerry has offered Ukraine’s fledgling government $1 billion in American loan guarantees and pledged technical assistance.
Obama is in a difficult position from a foreign policy stance, and while the United States needs to respond, this should be Europe’s problem to solve.