Skip to comments.Here’s How to Think About Russia and the Ukraine Crisis
Posted on 04/06/2014 9:45:05 PM PDT by neverdem
Answering the key questions about NATO, Putins intentions, and what George Kennan would do.
The Obama administration has imposed economic sanctions on Russian officials, and Russia has been suspended from the G-8. Some in the U.S. are calling for stronger punitive measures. Is this a bad idea?
Some punitive measures, including the targeted sanctions that have already been applied, may serve a limited purpose in expressing U.S. and European disapproval of the seizure and annexation of Crimea. Stronger measures, such as sector-wide sanctions on Russian finance, have the potential to be very damaging to Europe, Russia, and the global economy as a whole without effectively discouraging further Russian interventions in Ukraine.
There is not much evidence from past sanctions regimes that a regime can be coerced into giving up something that it considers to be very valuable, and based on Russian behavior over the last month there is every reason to think that it isn’t going to give up Crimea after having gone to such lengths to acquire it. Insofar as sanctions against Russia increase tensions, they make it more difficult to de-escalate the crisis, and the more expansive and punishing these sanctions are, the worse these tensions are likely to become.
There is the additional danger that Russia will retaliate against Europe and specifically against Ukraine by withholding energy supplies, and that would be very harmful to many European countries that rely most heavily on Russian energy. Sanctions can do significant damage to the Russian economy, but only at an extremely high price that Western governments probably aren’t and shouldn’t be willing to pay. For that reason, I’m not sure what stronger punitive measures will achieve that couldn’t also be achieved through less disruptive and costly measures.
Another factor that Western governments don’t seem to be paying enough attention to is the general lack of support for sanctions elsewhere in the world. China, India, and Japan all appear to be more interested in maintaining good relations with Moscow than they are in punishing it over Crimea, so sanctioning Russia could end up imposing enormous costs on Europe without having as much of a punitive effect as expected.
Sanctioning Russia could also have other consequences for U.S. goals on other issues that are not directly related to Ukraine or the former Soviet Union, such as the negotiations with Iran and the ability to supply and to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Many Westerners imagine that Russia seeks to thwart the U.S. at every turn. That isn’t true right now, but it could become the case if the U.S. and its allies resort to strong punitive measures.
What should the U.S. do in response to Russias actions and violation of Ukraines sovereignty? How should Europe respond?
It is appropriate to suspend military cooperation with Russia, and the U.S. and EU have already done some of the right things by condemning the annexation and expressing support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. However, reversing the annexation seems extremely unlikely, so trying to prevent the crisis from escalating now has to be the priority.
The current Ukrainian government should have no expectation that it will receive anything more than financial and humanitarian aid. Western governments need to come to an understanding with Russia that all outside governments will consider Ukraine to be a neutral country that won’t align with Russia or the West. Diplomatic efforts should be focused on dissuading Russia from sending any of its forces into Ukraine and on getting Russia to agree to respect the results of the May elections, so that it will acknowledge Ukraine’s new post-election leadership as legitimate.
The crisis in Ukraine came about in part because of short-sighted attempts to influence the country’s orientation, and it can’t be resolved as long as these attempts are ongoing.
What would George Kennan do?
That depends to some extent on which period of Kennan’s life we’re relying on for guidance, but those differences shouldn’t be exaggerated. Kennan is famously credited with authoring containment doctrine, but he was also much more perceptive about and sympathetic to Russia and Russians than most of the people that supported that doctrine in practice. Certainly, the later Kennan who warned against NATO expansion and unnecessarily provoking Russia in the late ’90s would advise the U.S. to take a much less confrontational approach than it has taken with respect to Ukraine. He would have been critical of Russian actions, because I suspect he would see them as self-defeating and reckless, but he would have been very wary of punishing Russia, since he would have had a keener understanding of their leaders’ motivations and thinking than most of those now demanding Russia’s “isolation.”
Kennan was a vocal opponent of the first round of NATO expansion that included Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, so it is not hard to imagine how much more forcefully he would have rejected the idea of expanding the alliance—and Western influence more generally—into the former Soviet Union.
In a 1997 diary entry, Kennan recorded his fears about current and future NATO expansion, which he saw as having “unjustifiable and terrible implications” and lamented that it portended a “total, tragic, and wholly unnecessary end to an acceptable relationship of that country to the remainder of Europe.” His New York Times op-ed from the same year described NATO expansion as “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era.”
He would likely have seen U.S. and EU actions in Ukraine over the last few months as being similarly misguided and unfortunate and would not have wanted the U.S. to encourage the overthrow of the previous Ukrainian leadership, not least because he would have been more sensitive to Russian concerns and more likely to anticipate Moscow’s hostile reaction. Kennan would probably have seen the Ukraine crisis from last fall until now as a grim vindication of his warnings about the effects of NATO expansion and Washington’s enthusiasm for promoting democracy overseas.
What is Putin up to? Whats the best way to counter regimes that break important international norms?
Putin appears to believe that he is countering undue and unwelcome Western influence in Russia’s vicinity, he thinks he is pushing back against decades of Western overreaching in this part of the world, and he is reacting to the overthrow of a more or less friendly government by political forces that he considers to be hostile to Russia.
He has come up with an ad hoc justification—the protection of ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers—that has been invoked for the purpose of justifying Russian action in Crimea, but it isn’t yet clear how much of this is just nationalist demagoguery for this occasion and how much it tells us something meaningful about future Russian foreign-policy goals. The principle that Putin articulated to defend the annexation of Crimea could be a very dangerous and disruptive one if it became an important part of Russia’s relations with its neighbors, but it is also possible that it was never intended to be applied in other places.
It isn’t very satisfying, but there is not a great deal that can be done to stop regimes from violating international norms if they are intent on doing it. When a regime runs roughshod over international law as blatantly as Russia has, that will inevitably have its own consequences for that regime’s ability to have normal relations with other states, and if it makes a habit of this behavior it will tend to make itself into a pariah.
The implications for NATO?
The annexation of Crimea will produce a short-term boost for the alliance in that it will force its members to remember that it is supposed to be a defensive alliance, and it may prompt some alliance members to take their own military capabilities more seriously.
If the alliance mistakenly concludes from this that it should continue expanding to the east, it will set itself up for additional unnecessary clashes with Russia that could end up fracturing the alliance. If it limits itself to focusing on the defense of the alliance’s Eastern European members, and gives up on military interventions outside of Europe, it could come out of this crisis in better shape than it has been in over the last few years.
What are the consequences of this crisis for the U.S.-Russian relationship? How will it affect negotiations with Syria and Iran?
The Ukraine crisis has been a disaster for the relationship between the two countries, and it may take a decade to repair the damage, if there is any interest on either side to make the effort to repair it. Even when relations were gradually improving and U.S.-Russian cooperation was producing modest results a few years ago, there was enormous resistance in both countries to a closer relationship, and now hardliners in both countries are going to be driving policy decisions in their direction for years to come.
This is great news for China, which stands to benefit in several ways from hostility between Russia and the U.S. It is also likely to benefit hardliners in Iran in that Russia will have fewer incentives to cooperate in pressuring Tehran on the nuclear issue and it will have a new excuse to undermine negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. Syria negotiations have been stalled from the start, but now Russia and Western governments will be less inclined to work with each other on making them a success. The effect on Syria’s conflict may not be that great, but any effect that there is will be a negative one.
Is this Cold War II?
It can’t be for the simple reason that Russia isn’t the Soviet Union and doesn’t really seek to revive anything like it in the future. Americans have no good way of thinking about a Russia that is neither tsarist nor communist, and so we are constantly resorting to comparisons with these earlier periods, but they are very misleading and cause us to misinterpret Russian actions on a regular basis. We may be seeing the beginning of an intensified great power rivalry between the U.S. and Russia in the former Soviet Union. This is as unnecessary as it is undesirable for the U.S., but it doesn’t begin to compare to a global, ideologically-driven rivalry such as the Cold War.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative.
Its not ideological. Russians feel deeply attached to Crimea and even Putin’s opponents consider it a part of the Motherland. Beyond that, the Russian consensus breaks down. Few in Russia want war with Ukraine or seek a confrontation with the West.
The restraint the Russians have shown reflects of how far Putin’s Russia can realistically go. Crimea was always a special case because of its predominantly Russian population and its ties to Russian history and culture. But I don’t see anything like a revival of imperial ambitions in today’s Russia.
The Ukrainian crisis is going to be resolved peacefully. But no one expects Russia to concede Crimea.
Putin likes globalism when it makes him rich, like bin Laden did. Putin is personally much richer than bin Laden ever dreamed of being. But Putin uses anti-globalist arguments that he doesn’t believe to fool the rubes and dupes.
We supply our forces in Afghanistan via Russia. There are several different routes included in the Northern Distribution Network. The most commonly used route, though also one of the longest, starts at the port of Riga, Latvia on the Baltic Sea, and continues for 3,212 miles (5,169 km) by train southwards through Russia, using railroads built by Russia in the 1980s for the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
They are the only rocket going to the space station.
Germany and the EU is shutting down nuclear and coal...and Europe gets cold.
For extra fun, Russia prices its oil and gas contracts in US DOLLARS.
This game of starting a sanctions game for an area where the Russians have been since 1789 is ridiculous. People are acting like they are about to invade Denmark or something.
Excellent article — the first I’ve read that reflects my disdain for NATO’s misguided eastern expansions in 1999 and 2004. How did we expect Moscow to react to a hostile alliance pledging treaty membership to Russia’s immediate neighbors? What we’re witnessing now is the logical reply.
The Liberal Gulag "The Brendan Eich case brings out the nature of liberal fascism."
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Unfortunately, this is not only about Crimea. Check out info here https://twitter.com/search?q=ukraine
As some of you know, I've been a consistent dove on Crimea, and I have openly doubted that Putin has serious expansionist dreams.
But today, violent “pro-Russian” mobs seized government buildings in eastern Ukraine.
No way to know if these are local groups acting independently, or if this is a well planned provocation to send Russian troops into Ukraine.
Short of a USA-Russia war, I really don't see how we stop a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
No mention of the key thing America should do: deregulate access to extracting domestic petrochemical energy. Facilitate sale of technical means for Europe to do the same. This would do a lot to set both the Muzzies and the Russians back on their financial heels.
=> no more money in Soviet for military adventures.
Speed up the case against Gazprom http://www.rferl.org/content/eu-gazprom-antitrust-showdown/25260390.html and against Gunvor (the company owned by Putin) http://www.institutionalinvestor.com/Article/3327010/Banking-and-Capital-Markets-Banking/Obamas-Warning-Shot-Sanctions-Against-Putin-Connected-Bank.html
=> less money to Putin
Our oil and gas reserves are privately owned, thus, they must make a profit.
Any “surplus” in our liquid petroleum comes from fracking.
Fracking is very expensive, mostly because the well must be continuously worked after drilling, and because the well is exhausted after about one year.
Most fracked wells in the USA cannot make a profit under $70 a barrel.
Same problem with natural gas and NG liquids.
We have a USA surplus when gas is $4.50 (unless we have a severe winter like 2014).
But owners will not drill new wells for under $5.50.
That means if we spent many years and many billions of dollars to build a natural gas export infrastructure, the price of natural gas in the USA would go up at least 25% when we started exporting to Europe.
Good luck selling that idea to American voters.
We can make hydrocarbon fuel with low cost heat from nuclear power plants.
Leave that damn place and let Russians pay and bleed to sort it out. It's in their neighborhood and they opened that pandora box. US/NATO should have never sent there any significant land forces, just lob tomahawks until they ship bin-laden and other al-qaeda punks.
This game of starting a sanctions game for an area where the Russians have been since 1789 is ridiculous. People are acting like they are about to invade Denmark or something.
Liked your posting, and agree. The stupid little slaps on the wrists sanctions put forth by this inept Obama administration are as bothersome to Russia as gnats. Obama, Kerry (and before him Clinton) have shown they have no concept of how to conduct foreign policies.
Just read a long essay about energy R&D in Israel.
Apparently they have huge deposits of kerogen, which is a precursor to crude oil and natural gas.
They are currently heating small sections of the deposit - in situ - in an attempt to convert it to a useful hydrocarbon.
I believe they use waste heat generated by solar voltaic panels.
If we had put a fraction of the R&D money from solar, wind, and fusion into safe nuclear fission research, the world would have a surplus of electricity and essentially no air pollution.
It is not too late.
The Russian Stock market is falling:So far -3.53 % today http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=RTS.RS
After being given Crimea, Putin got another large gift.
The world now knows, without any doubt, that the president of the United States is a bumbling fool with an idiot as foreign minister.
By attacking and occupying them, the way it always does. Which is why those neighbors wanted to join NATO in the first place.
I think about it as follows:
Russia:Ukraine = USA:Mexico.
We’ve invaded Mexico before, we’ve taken the parts of it that seemed useful to us, I favor doing it again as often as necessary, and if Russia wanted to interfere, then or now, I’d say, “F*** ‘em”.
And what an idiotic thing it was to grant NATO mutual defense treaty membership to 12 new countries in Central and Eastern Europe! It was already a stretch to pledge America to total warfare for the sake of Germany and other Western European nations, but did we really intend to stake our own survival on Romania, Bulgaria or Estonia? Back in 1999 and 2004 many thought the world would remain static and the USA would always be invincible, but did anyone understand the stakes of such blank-check promises? Thank goodness NATO was thwarted in Georgia and Ukraine, or else we would be committed to a war for the Black Sea that we could not possibly win today.
And speaking of blank checks, the USA has now written far too many of them over the past seven decades -- far more than we can now cash. Like an overextended bank that fears a run by its depositors, our greatest threat is that our numerous far-flung enemies might strike at once. Emboldened by our increasing weakness and angered by our continued meddling, a hostile world is waking up to the realization that the United States cannot keep all of its promises at the same time.
Thanks for the ping!
“And what an idiotic thing it was to grant NATO mutual defense treaty membership to 12 new countries in Central and Eastern Europe!”
Yep. Wouldn’t be fun to watch now the shirtless and his hordes of Mongoloids raping them all now ? Damn idiotic thing !
OK, then here's my question for you: Are you prepared at this very moment to commit America to total war against Russia - and anyone else who might like to pile on against us -- over any one these small nations along Russia's border?