German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande went to Moscow like supplicants to plead with Vladimir Putin regarding Ukraine. They appear to have gone wobbly about his actions there, leaving the US in a growing confrontation with Russia in a conflict the European Union largely instigated in the first place. It was the EU, which notably lacks any military force, that initiated this problem by seeking to expand to Ukraine, giving Putin the excuse he needed to respond militarily. This is not the first time European allies have done something like this. When Slovenia broke away from Yugoslavia, Germany, in what was lauded as its first independent foreign policy move, unilaterally recognized them. The rest of Yugoslavia then blew apart in bitter ethnic conflict and it fell to the US to intervene militarily and sort it out. This must not happen again.
The US congress has passed an ill-advised bill to provide Ukraine with military aid, while stiffening sanctions against Russia. Following through with this could have catastrophic, and yet avoidable results. This has not been thought through carefully in terms of consequences that may arise. If we start providing military aid, just how far are we prepared to go? This puts the US in the position of actively supporting military action against the Russians, on their border no less. What are we going to do if this situation escalates? It only plays into Russian paranoia and puts the US in the position of actively seeking to pry Ukraine from the Russian orbit, which was never our intent, notwithstanding suspicions in the Kremlin. Meanwhile our erstwhile allies are abandoning the field and revealing, much to the delight of Vladimir Putin, a split in the alliance. Thus he has managed to outmaneuver the west, at least for the moment.
This situation has to be diffused. While Putin may be pining for the lost provinces of the Soviet Union, it is not clear how far he is prepared to go. Hitler sought to bring all the Germans in other countries to the east under his reich. Does Putin feel that way about all the countries on his borders that have a Russian minority population? That is unlikely but he will do whatever he feels he can get away with as opportunities, such as Ukraine, arise, especially when there is a less than resolute west.
But this whole scenario is wrong. The notion of Russia vs. the West went out with communism, despite what Putin would like to think. For in the long run there is no place for Russia to go but to the west, given a country with a declining population under 150 million, a weak economy, and internal revolts brewing, i.e. in the Caucasus. Russia needs to be brought into Europe, not be cut off from it. This will take patience and foresight, and we need to see all this from a long term perspective. This means that no other former Soviet republic should become part of the EU, and certainly not NATO, unless and until an accommodation is reached first with Russia. At the present time, for Ukraine to be free, we must assuage Russian concerns by making it clear that we have no intention of ever expanding NATO to Russia’s borders. That’s the kind of “reset” we really need.
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