DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, March 17, 2014

The US, Russia, and the Ukraine: What's Next?

A protester holds a sign reading "Yesterday Stalin, Today Putin" at a Turkish protest of Russian actions in Crimea
The current explosive situation created in the Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin is the most serious European crisis since the end of the Cold War. That was the consensus displayed by a distinguished 6-person panel at the Heritage Foundation, a group which included the Estonian ambassador to the U.S., the former ambassador to NATO, a Ukrainean political commentator and TV anchor, and 3 Russian scholars.

The panel agreed that Putin's decision to place special troops in Crimea as a prelude to a vote for that territory to secede from the Ukraine and join Russia, (a move that was approved Sunday) was a blatant power grab orchestrated by Putin and Russian officials and must be met with the strongest actions possible short of all-out war.

Russian troops are tightening their Crimean grip
"This is a violation of international law and those that violate international law should pay for that," said Estonian ambassador H.E. Marina Kaljurand. "Putin's pretense of protecting Russian nationalists is ridiculous. We have to keep the pressure on Russia."

"It may sound like a slogan, but after what is happening today in the Ukraine, the world is not the same place anymore," Kaljurand added. "Other countries are wondering - who is next?"

The Americans on the panel agreed that other countries  - friends and foes alike - will be closely watching actions that the United States, along with the European Union and NATO, takes to reign in Putin.

"What we are seeing is big," said Kurt Volker, former U.S. ambassador to NATO. "Putin will see how far he can go. It is easy for people to say 'this is bad,' but Putin has taken Crimea and that is a fact. We must be prepared to take actions if we want our words to mean anything."

"I think we are looking at a new kind of warfare that is unheard of in the modern world," said Ukrainean TV commentator Evgeny Kiselev. "These (Russian) soldiers appeared from nowhere and very possibly will disappear back into nowhere. This (the Crimean takeover) was a covert operation by elite Russian troops. They were very polite, but they were very insistent and determined.

"The question is - who is going to defend us?" Kiselev asked.

Earlier, during the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Ukraine had agreed to give up its nuclear weapons. Russia kept theirs, creating a complete imbalance in power in the region. Several panel members indicated that nuclear bans may be in jeopardy if countries decide that the Ukraine give-up leaves them defenseless against Russian onslaught.

"He (Putin) is being like a small child. He is trying to establish when he's really going to be punished," Kiselev said. "But he is a small child with nuclear weapons," Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies, at the Heritage Foundation responded. All voices on any Russian responses concur that decisions must take into account that nuclear threat.

Stephen Blank, a senior fellow for the American Foreign Policy, believes that if Putin is not stopped in the Crimea, he will authorize other takeovers. "This is a logical culmination of Russian policy," Blank said. "This is the beginning, not the end. And passivity only encourages other actions. Liberal democracy is a great threat to Russia and this action no longer makes European war unthinkable. Any appeasement is wholly misplaced and dangerous."

Luke Coffey, a Margaret Thatcher political fellow at Heritage, believes the Ukraine situation is consistent with Putin's world view. "Some things never change," Coffey said. "They are coming in to take what they believe is already theirs. This is imperial Russia, not Cold War Russia."

Coffey said he is concerned that European nations won't be able to stave off Russian action without strong American help. "New York City spends more on policing than 13 of the 28 NATO nations spend on defense," he noted.

'It is important to remember that any actions we take is a not a provocation; it is a response. We need to defend our alliances and send a strong signal," he added. "If I were to sum up this whole thing in a tweet right now, it would be: Russia is playing chess, the E.U. is playing checkers, and the U.S. is playing golf."

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