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Monday, March 3, 2014

Shrill threats and indignant stamping of diplomatic feet won’t stop Russia

By all reports, the Russians are consolidating and reinforcing their military gains in the Crimea peninsula and parts of eastern Ukraine. At this point, it’s not clear what Russia/Putin’s end-game is.

Will Russia annex the Crimea peninsula outright? Or will Putin set up a semiautonomous Crimea republic on its border, taking control of the Crimea’s military and foreign affairs?

Probably the latter, because then the West will feel it can claim a limited victory for their side. You know, Putin did not annex the Ukraine because of our threats, they could say. The end result will be much the same, but never underestimate a politician’s ability to claim victory immediately after a defeat—it’s all about “spin.”

Ukraine does have a major card to play, the nuclear card.

After all, if Israel can use it’s nuclear capability to help guarantee its continued existence—being surrounded, as it is, by enemies who seem to want it wiped off the face of the earth—so too can the Ukraine which claims it could have nuclear weapons in three to six months.

Empty claim by Ukraine? Perhaps, but it may give the Russians some reason to pause and leave the Ukraine to lick its wounds after it cleaves off some pro-Russian areas of eastern Ukraine and, of course, Crimea.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine had the world’s third largest number of nuclear weapons. Over the period 1994-1996, however, it sent its nuclear warheads to Russia for dismantling.

In return, Ukraine received the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, a treaty signed by the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia, pledging to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances now lies in shreds, of course. Russia’s recent actions clearly breach its obligations to Ukraine under the treaty which provides assurances to:

  1. Respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders.
  2. Refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine.
  3. Refrain from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics.

Lesson one: Put not your faith in Western Democracies for they will surely leave you stranded in your greatest hour of need. Lesson two: Never trust Russia.

Ukraine is now left alone to face the might of one of the worlds most powerful war-making machines. Meanwhile, their Western “allies” stand on the sidelines issuing shrill threats and indignantly stamping their diplomatic feet.

Let’s face it, under the reluctant leadership of President Barak Obama—he of the lead-from-behind philosophy—the West is virtually powerless to stop Russia from doing anything it pleases. Georgia and Syria is proof enough of that.

What message does this send to the likes of China, I wonder, which has territorial aspirations of its own in the South China Sea and seems all too interested in the Artic? Do all the bullies of the world now see this as a golden opportunity to extend their borders?

And what of Russia’s renewed interest in Cuba? Does it not give you shivers to think of Obama and Putin toe-to-toe over a new missile crisis in Cuba? I’d bet on a different result this time.

Moreover, what of the smaller and mid-size democracies with concerns over territorial designs of the major military powers? Who protects them now? Should they seek nuclear weapons to guarantee their own territorial integrity?

What a mess! Appeasement, we know, can lead to all sorts of dire consequences—we’ve seen this real-life movie before, it’s called WWII.

I really don’t expect the West to provide military assistance to Ukraine. But wouldn’t it be nice to see tangible action being taken instead of these, virtually, empty threats such as we hear from Canada, the UK and the US.

Why not take quick action on isolating Russia economically and financially, then offering them a “carrot” to gain cooperation instead of a “stick” that is more like an wet noodle?

Immediately oust Russia from the G8, implement biting trade sanctions against them and freeze their foreign assets. That would be a good start. I mean actually do these things not merely threaten to do them.

The West could then loosen the noose if Russia actually reverses their actions rather than merely making promises to do so.

I know, I know. I’m being naïve. Appeasement is more our style—at least, until it’s too late and we’ve lost something of value—like world peace.

4 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. John Baird and Stephen Harper are extremely weak on foreign policy. They simply see this as an opportunity to get Ukrainian community votes. Expect window dressing and posturing for domestic consumption. 4 more years!

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    1. I suspect you're being deliberately provocative, Anon 12:06 PM; I'll rise to your bait nevertheless. Many international publications—i.e., a view from the outside not clouded by domestic political tribalism—have been complimentary about Canada's moral clarity in international affairs. Your assessment does seem to be a minority view.

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  2. Russ,

    You are either missing or ignoring several key points that must be considered with respect to Russia's actions and the response from Europe and the US.

    1 - Russia is the largest oil exporter in the world. As such, sanctions do nothing to them except push them closer to China (which has stated that it understands Russia's position wrt the Ukraine). Sanctions will have little effect. The benefit to the US or impairing Russian oil exports is to drive up energy costs for the EU and US citizens and drive up profits for the US oil majors.
    2 - Sanctions would likely backfire since the West has significant investments in Russia and these could easily be seized in a similar fashion. EU and US corporations would suffer from this, but not necessarily the EU and US citizens since most do not have stock holdings.
    3 - Russia sees the situations in Georgia, Syria, Venezuela, and now the Ukraine as meddling by the EU in general and the US in particular. How would the US respond if Russia funded NGO groups whose objective was to replace the US government or incite protest and riots? I suspect that Russia sees their responses as completely legitimate in terms of global diplomatic actions. Just look to Nuland's tapped phone call comments to illustrate what the US is doing behind the scenes.
    4 - The EU cannot and will not implement sanctions as long as it does not turn into a hot war. They would see their governments defeated at the next election after a cold winter with no natural gas flowing from Russia through the Ukraine. Electricity shortages would result in many countries and a cold winter with no heat would serve to mobilize a lot of protestors within the EU.

    These points are just scratching the surface. In the end, Canada has no say in the end state for this situation. All of our posturing will only serve to show that we are obedient third tier partners with the US military and also to piss off the Russians.

    All this being stated, I am not a supporter of Russia. I just think it is better to let the Great Powers sort this out rather than take actions that can only result in a negative outcome for Canada since we have lost our reputation as a fair and balanced intermediary who could mediate and negotiations.

    Where's Waldo

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    1. Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter in the world; Russia is second. But I get your point.

      China's "understanding" may be more lukewarm than you seem to realize, to wit: WSJ reports "China's foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, gave a somewhat different take on China's position during the past two days: 'It is China's longstanding position not to interfere in others' internal affairs. We respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,' he said, according to a statement posted on the Chinese ministry's website on Sunday."

      "Canada has no say in the end state for this situation." I agree, I did not intend to imply otherwise.

      "EU and US corporations would suffer from this, but not necessarily the EU and US citizens since most do not have stock holdings." I fail to see how companies can be "EU and US corporations" if EU and US citizens don't own them.

      You do make some interesting points, though, I do sense some anti-Us/West bias that seems to overarch your argument.

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