March 06, 2014

#Ukraine — more thoughts and updates

Vladimir Putin — genius or bumbler? / Wikimedia Commons
Western arms deals, like the French selling a helicopter carrier ship, are another reason that EU nations may be a bit hesitant to lower the hammer too much on Russia and Vlad the Impaler.

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko wants more leaning on Vlad by the West. Well, per the first link, non-Russia members of the G-8 are "re-evaluating" attending a summer summit at Sochi. Er, booting Russia is the only economic language it's likely to understand.

Vlad's living up to his image if Russian "heavies" in Crimea are even intimidating UN people.

That said, Ruslan Pushkov has a good wrap of the second and third threads.

On Tymoshenko, he notes that she was his Gal Friday in Kiev before. The fact that the Ukrainian ultranationalists didn't cheer too much for her release is a tell.

At the same time, as Pushkov notes, the US misread those ultranationalists as "democrats." The apparently failing nation-building in Libya has taught us little on trying to "read" foreign insurgency movements.

The Crimea? It's long had a sort of autonomous status. Pushkov said the end game may be to tighten that status while letting it technically be part of Ukraine. Bet that French helicopter carrier, which is a good support shift for amphibious-type operations, looks swanky at Sevastopol.

Meanwhile, per Fred Kaplan and others, what if Vlad isn't so brilliant, and not a secret 11-dimensional chess player at all? Maybe he's just a couple of steps on the bumbling scale ahead of Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, and about in the same league as Obama?

Kaplan's right otherwise. Russia isn't a great power. It's certainly not an economic great power, despite being part of the G-8. The West can afford to push back right now, with winter ending and less need for natural gas.

Ahh, natural gas — part of the Russian petrochemical production that supplies half the government's revenue.

That's why the West can push back. Putin can talk about turning off the taps, but he really can't afford to do it for that long.

That's why Kaplan says push back more on the economic side:
Already, plans for a G-8 conference in Sochi are on hold. Scrap the session altogether. Maybe even hold a G-7 conference (perhaps under a different name) someplace else. (The G-7 nations have already issued a condemnation of Russia’s aggression.) Other possibilities: keep Russia out of the OECD; pull out all economic and technical advisers from Russia; encourage private investors to do the same (the uncertainty of Russia’s market, as a result of the aggression, is already having this effect to some extent); suspend all bilateral talks about … well, everything; suspend travel visas to the West for select Russian officials (this is a more delicate matter, but American and EU officials are drawing up lists).
We should, like Jack Kennedy with Cuba, give Putin a relatively easy way off the ledge onto which he's climbed. We should also learn more about disabusing our leaders in government, so that they realize that the old cliche, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," ain't always true. But, we should hold out these sticks while we're at it.

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