It has become clear that Russian President Putin took President Obama’s words at his press conference yesterday for exactly what they were: rhetoric.
This morning, Putin requested – and received – authorization from the Russian Senate to use military force in Ukraine.
The vote was unanimous among the 90 members present at the debate. These representatives are clearly angry at the West, and particularly the US, for what they see as encouraging the recent upheaval in Kiev and beyond.
But we have reason to be angry, too. And it’s certainly not for the same reason as these misguided parliamentarians.
We should be angry at the President, and the West more generally, for not doing enough to help the Ukrainians.
I have been advocating that the US employ coercive diplomacy for years and for exactly this reason. The ultimatums that we issue, like the one Obama made yesterday where he insisted that “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” hold no weight in today’s world.
Consider the two hundred thousand dead Syrians who we didn’t intervene on behalf of for years. Or take the case of the Iranian nuclear program, which continues to grow despite the President’s “red line” and all of John Kerry’s diplomatic efforts.
It follows that we need a president whose conviction we can believe. A president we can trust.
Indeed, we need a President whose word means as much as Putin’s does, no matter how misguided Putin’s ideas and actions may be.
As Ukraine’s protracted crisis entered an unsettling new chapter, raising questions of separatism and reigniting ethnic tensions in the country’s east and south, Obama and his EU partners need to be stronger than they have been.
When you reflect on what has gone on in the last 48 hours – from 150,000 Russian soldiers mobilized in the Crimea, the attempted seizure of two airports, a video of Russian helicopters flying low and in formation near the southern city of Sevastopol which the Kremlin called “war games” and now full-blown preparation for a Russian invasion – it is all the more disheartening to think on the fact that all the US has contributed to the Ukrainians’ brave effort is hollow words.
At stake is the fate of a nation of 46 million, eager for better governance, a robust economy, and a fair shot at a democratic and prosperous future. If Ukrainians are to have a fighting chance at achieving these goals, Obama and his EU partners needed to meet them halfway and, now that Putin is truly playing his hand, go even further.
The the simple, unfortunate truth is that after six years of disastrous foreign policy Obama lacks the leverage and credibility to advance American and Ukrainian interests in Europe.
Why would Putin take this latest red line any more seriously? His actions today show that he has nothing but contempt for our President and his politics.
Instead of assertive, coercive diplomacy Obama has relied on a series of “resets” and “pivots” that are merely code for a global American strategic retreat. The consequences for our allies are already apparent: an emboldened Russia bullying its European neighbors and an aggressive China pursuing tenuous land claims in the South and East China Seas. It seems that the situation in Ukraine is just another story in a long list of failures.