Patricia Lee Sharpe
The appeasement goes on and on.
Ukrainian ships legally in the Sea of Azov have been fired upon by pro-Russian forces, but the French are still determined to sell warships to Russia. French president François Hollande is so unpopular he can’t be sure that anything he proposes will be supported by his countrymen, but an exhibit of backbone on Ukraine (or anything else) might galvanize public opinion in his favor.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the Soviet Union’s East German satellite, has spent an extraordinary amount of time playing footsie with Vladimir Putin, whose purveying of lie after lie after lie makes Pinocchio seem like a paragon of truth-telling. The good news is that Merkel is finally waking up. It’s increasingly obvious, she says, that Russia has been behind the rebellion all along. Welcome to the real world, Frau Merkel. Stronger sanctions might be a good idea, she adds. Late conversions are better than none, I suppose.
The new Chairman of the European Council, a Pole who has argued all along for a stronger response to the Russian-instigated rebellion in Eastern Ukraine, is going to have a hard time. The definition of his new job is herding cats. Not even all the ex-Soviet satellites in the European Union agree on how to approach the catastrophe in Europe.
The United Kingdom, in the process of disuniting, can’t be relied on for much of anything.
Some time ago I was delighted that a united Europe promised to be a significant economic and political bloc with which the U.S. could work in relative harmony. What a fantasy! Europe’s economy is in shambles, and it’s political health is so frail it’s been appeasing Russia as enthusiastically as the European powers appeased Hitler. As for the United States, Obama’s sanctions have always been so feeble as to be laughable.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin has proceeded with amazing prudence, pausing after every big step to see if there would be any serious repercussions. Finding none, he takes another audacious step. Remember Hitler. Is anyone surprised? Now he’s saying we should consider some sort of statehood for Eastern Ukraine.
Even as I am writing, Russian captives are being repatriated in exchange for Ukranian captives, but U.S. President Barack Obama, the Great Ditherer, still prefers to call the Russian invasion an incursion—this in spite of ariel photography that also leaves no doubt of the Russian role in strengthening pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine! Although the script for the takeover of Eastern Ukraine is playing out pretty much like the script for Crimea, the Obama administration tells us that more time is needed to figure things out. This is standard operating procedure for Obama. By the time he makes up his mind the world has moved on—and whoops! Maybe we’ve entered yet another phase of Russian machination. Maybe all that Putin wants is a puppet state—or a puppet half-state. Given the trillions that the U.S. spends on gathering intelligence, it’s amazing how little we know of Russian intentions. Have you even tried to catch a cricket with bare hands? Just when you think you’ve got it, it leaps in a totally unexpected direction. On the other hand, maybe Americans are covertly advising the government in Kiev, which would seem like a very bad way to go about building a credible, stable independent Ukraine. But who knows? I’m only a voter who depends on the random appearance of whistle blowers to keep me informed.
From day one Moscow has been stirring the pot in Eastern Ukraine. Russians have taken the lead on the ground and Russian propaganda has been making the Americans seem like simpletons in the realm of public diplomacy at which they once excelled. Even I could defend the notion that Crimea had to be relinquished on grounds of indefensiblility. Real politik. But this was also obvious: swallowing Crimea would inflate Putin’s imperial ambitions, making Eastern Ukraine all the more vulnerable to similar tactics. If ever there was a time to draw a line, that was it. What did Obama do? He froze a few Russian bank accounts, shook his finger and said, “Bad boy!”
In recent days, the Ukrainian army has been in retreat and on the agenda is a meeting between Kiev and the rebels mediated by Moscow. Laughter invited.
Clearly neither the E.U. nor the U.S. has ever cared enough about Ukraine to slap strongly hurtful sanctions on Russia or encourage Ukraine’s leadership to design a federalism that would preserve Kiev’s full sovereignty vis-à-vis the Russian state while calming the fears of Russian speakers who cherish their cultural identity. The Quebec solution comes to mind. Die hard independence promoters persist in calling for new votes, but the French-speaking people of Quebec have yet to choose separation. Maybe such a federalism isn’t possible in today’s Ukraine, but the Obama administration’s commitment to opacity creates an impression of doubt and confusion about its goals and means. No wonder allies are so hard to come by. No wonder his poll numbers at home are so low.
The consequence of appeasement in Munich was a bigger war, which ultimately had to be fought. Ukraine isn’t unique. Lots of Russians were marooned in the Baltic states and elsewhere. Think about it. And think about this, too. If Ukraine gets neutered à la Finland (see the just previous WhirledView post) , who’ll be foolish enough to trust U.S. promises of protection (as after Ukraine gave up its stock of nuclear weapons) in the future?