The Buzz

Ukraine: "Rhetoric Is Not Policy"

Over at The New Republic, TNI publisher Dimitri K. Simes blasts the Obama administration's handling of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine:

We are speaking very loudly. We are carrying a small stick....We are acting like King Lear. We are issuing pathetic declarations which nobody is taking seriously. When I saw Secretary Kerry on television yesterday, I think it was a very sad performance. He was visibly angry. He was visibly defensive. He was accusing Russians using very harsh language of violations of international law. His description of the political process in Ukraine which led to this situation was incomplete and disingenuous at best. And then, after he said all of these things, he did not say, “Well, because of the Russians violating international law, threatening international security, that because of that the President of the United States is moving our naval assets in the Black Sea!” With the language he was using, that’s what you would expect him to do.

Simes also analyzes Russia's decision to invade:

Even at the end of the week before last when Putin was still preoccupied with the Olympics, they were having meetings in Moscow, senior government officials would come and they would not be able to find any kind of solution that would look acceptable to them. The decision clearly was made after the Olympics, it was made by Putin, and I think it was a combination of two things: one was that Putin found himself under pressure to do something. Clearly the way this whole process played in Ukraine was directed against Russian influence. He is a charismatic leader, he is a proud nationalist, his constituency in Russia expects him to respond. What was happening in Ukraine, along with the way that Putin’s government and Putin personally were treated by the Obama administration and European leaders, put considerable pressure on him to do something.

Simes lays out what U.S. interests he sees at stake in the conflict—it's far less about who controls the Crimean peninsula than about feeding an increasingly common narrative of American indifference:

This is a very serious situation for the United States. Whatever is the importance of Crimea for the United States, which I think is negligible, I think it is very clear that if you allow Crimea to join Russia, it would send a very sobering message to all other countries in the region. It clearly would be a blow to American geopolitical credibility in the region and beyond. We were unwilling to do much in Syria or to do much in the case of Iran, and now we would look willing to swallow this political humiliation in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. So there is no question in my mind that the United States has a responsibility to act.

Simes suggests that the approach currently being talked over in Washington – economic sanctions – might have unforeseen consequences. Some are extremely serious – geostrategic in scale:

But then we should not be surprised if Russia, to compensate for economic losses, and for the loss of prestige, would sign a security agreement with Iran, and would supply Iran with S-300 or perhaps S-400 missiles. You should not be surprised if Russia would do considerably more to support President Assad. And most obviously, you should not be surprised if Russia would introduce a new element of global instability by signing a security agreement with Beijing, and there is a considerable interest in Beijing in strengthening security ties to Russia. So far, Putin has not wanted to pull in that direction, because he wants to have a western option, because he wants to have an American connection. He also does not want to be Beijing’s junior partner. But if you deprive him of the European-American connection, we may alter the geopolitical balance by putting Russia closer to China.

You can check out the rest of the interview over at TNR.