Tag Archives: Ukraine

Headlines keep changing rapidly

It occurs to me that our collective attention keeps getting diverted from crisis to crisis — and few of us talk openly about the crisis that passes from our view.

* Remember the Syrian civil war? We were going to bomb Syria for using chemical weapons on civilians. Then we backed off. The Russians entered the picture and helped broker a deal to get rid of the weapons.

* A Boeing 777 disappeared en route from Malaysia to China. It apparently crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Search teams from several countries are looking for the wreckage that contains 239 passengers and crew. To date, nothing’s been found.

* Then came Ukraine. The Russians entered the picture there, too. Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president, who fled to Russia. The Russians essentially annexed Crimea, moved a lot of troops to the Ukraine border, then backed off after the Ukrainians elected a news president who is acceptable to Moscow.

* A Nigerian terrorist group — Boko Haram — kidnapped about 300 girls and is holding them captive somewhere. World opinion erupted and the demands came out for the international community to do all it can to rescue those young women.

* Americans got caught up in the Benghazi story yet again. The House of Representatives formed a select committee to examine the Benghazi attack one more time. Maybe we’ll see the end of this probe. Then again, maybe not until after the 2016 presidential election that’s likely to feature one Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state when the U.S. consulate was attacked in September 2012.

* The Veterans Administration took the headlines away from Benghazi with reports of veterans dying while awaiting health care in Arizona. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned and a thorough review is under way to find a cure for what ails the massive federal agency.

* Taliban militants released Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and the questions about his release and the terms that brought it about have created the latest headline grabber.

These sequences keep building on themselves. Our attention is riveted on these storied and then it’s diverted from one “crisis of the moment” to the next one.

Is it any wonder why Barack Obama’s hair has gotten so gray?

Hey, what’s happening with Syria these days?

Russia pulls back

It turns out Russia is backing away from its border with Ukraine.

The Russians have pulled back all but 2,000 of the 40,000 or so troops it had massed on its Ukraine border after the Ukrainians elected Petro Poroshenko as their next president.

The Russians said they would respect the Ukrainians’ vote.

Gosh, that’s big of ’em, don’t you think?


I’ve been cautiously optimistic that the Russians might come to their senses and avoid invading Ukraine if the vote didn’t go the way the Russians wanted. Many critics of U.S. and European Union policy toward this crisis have suggested the Russians weren’t cowed at all by economic sanctions imposed because of their interference with Ukraine’s sovereign affairs.

I am believing the sanctions have brought enough pain to the Russians that they are thinking twice about their previous intentions to muscle their way into Ukrainian domestic politics.

It’s hardly time to lift the sanctions, even though the Russians are pulling troops and heavy arms away from Ukraine. I trust the United States will continue to take a dim view of Russians’ bullying.

Have the Russians possibly blinked in the face of pressure? It’s quite possible. Their Soviet forebears did it during the Cuban Missile Crisis, remember?

Vise tightens around Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin may be an atypical world leader, coming as he does from a world of spooks.

He does, however, hang with people with lots of money — which doesn’t make him much different from other heads of state and/or government.

Thus, the increased sanctions announced today by President Obama just might persuade the Russian leader to end his effort to foment unrest in Ukraine.


The White House announced that it is implementing further economic hardship on individuals and companies close to Putin. Obama called it a “calibrated effort” designed to inform Putin of the folly of his continued presence in Ukraine’s sovereign affairs.

The sanctions already announced have had an impact. The Russian ruble’s value has plummeted, along with the Russian stock exchange. Russian investments have tanked.

Have the efforts persuaded Putin to back off? No. They have, however, persuaded the Russians to seek a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, which exploded several months ago with the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russia president and the subsequent annexation of Crimea into Russia.

We’ve seen a lot of blustering among Russians, Americans, NATO and the European Union. No one should really believe all-out war is going to erupt, despite claims by both sides that the other guys want to start a shooting war.

“The goal here is not to go after Mr. Putin, personally,” Obama said. “The goal is to change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he’s engaging in in Ukraine could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul.”

Actually, Mr. President, the goal seems to be to go after Putin “personally,” which is OK with me and I am guessing a lot of other Americans.

Make him squirm.

Deal struck in Ukraine?

Winston Churchill once said it was better to “jaw, jaw than to war, war.”

The great British statesman was right then, and he would be right now. Ukraine and Russian diplomats today announced a potential breakthrough in the standoff between the countries that well could have led to open warfare in eastern Europe.


The Hill reports, “Secretary of State John Kerry said the framework hashed out by foreign ministers meeting in Geneva would disarm separatist militants in eastern Ukraine and have them vacate the government buildings, streets and squares they have occupied. In return, the Ukrainian government has offered amnesty to all pro-Russian militants who lay down their arms, with the exception of those who committed capital crimes.”

The agreement comes after diplomats from the European Union, NATO, the United States, Russia and Ukraine haggled over a way out of the standoff that seemed to bring Russia and Ukraine to the brink of war.

Will it be implemented? Will the deal hold? Will both sides back off? Will there be an end to what’s been called the worst crisis since the end of the Cold War?

This is a potentially huge deal that strikes a blow for the power of diplomacy.

It remains to be determined what impact the economic sanctions may have played in bringing the Russians to the bargaining table.

The United States doesn’t want war. The Russians don’t want it. All that’s left is to talk to each other … and to keep talking until you get a deal done.

Who's Putin calling meddlesome?

Russian President Vladmir Putin is exhibiting some major stones, brass, cajones … whatever.

He sends troops into Crimea, which used to be part of Ukraine, and takes over the region from another sovereign nation. He masses tens of thousands of troops on the Ukraine’s border with Russia, threatening further military action.

He then accuses Ukraine of acting irresponsibly by using its own military to put down pro-Russian demonstrators. Furthermore, he accuses the West — including the United States — of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs.


Kettle, meet pot.

It’s quite astonishing to hear the leader of a large nation with a substantial military force lecture the rest of the world about such matters.

Russia has interfered in another sovereign nation’s internal affairs. Russian troops have entered Ukrainian territory. And Russia’s strongman president has the gall to lecture the United States and its allies about diplomatic decorum?


The European Union, NATO, the United States and other key allies are preparing to ratchet up further economic measures aimed at crippling the Russian economy. The first rounds of sanctions already are taking a big bite out of the Big Bear’s backside.

Putin’s stern language is not going to help quell the tension or ease the pain that is about to be inflicted on his nation.

Vlad calls Barack to talk diplomacy

Why do you suppose Vladimir Putin called Barack Obama today to talk about diplomacy?

As in finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, the one instigated when Russia sent troops to Crimea and massed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine — after Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president?


What do you suppose is going on here?

It might be that those economic sanctions, the ones that President Obama’s critics said were mere pin pricks in the hide of the old Russian bear are beginning to take their toll. It also might be that the European Union’s threat of political isolation and NATO’s insistence that any further military action will not be tolerated by the Western European alliance.

Tough guy Vladimir Putin, the former KGB spook in chief turned Russian president, called the president of the United States today to talk about a diplomatic solution to this crisis. The two leaders agreed to have their countries’ chief foreign emissaries — Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — meet soon to begin hammering out a solution.

The targeted sanctions have begun taking a serious bite out of some key Russian backsides. President Obama has vowed deeper, more sweeping measures if the Russians escalated their encroachment even more. To date, the sanctions have involved freezing access to cash for some of Russia’s key money men and political insiders.

Obama has made the point repeatedly in recent days that Russia has acted against Ukraine out of weakness, not strength. He’s insulted Putin by referring to Russia as a “regional power” not worthy of consideration by this country as a major geopolitical foe. Russia has been kicked out of the G-8 conference of industrialized nations and has seen the next economic summit pulled from Sochi, Russia and relocated to Brussels, Belgium.

He’s now willing to talk about a diplomatic solution.

Methinks those “toothless sanctions” have grown some fangs.

Yes, Russia is a global power

President Obama likely needs to rethink his assessment of Russia’s place in the world of great powers.

He said this week that Russia is a “regional power” that doesn’t pose the greatest threat to the United States. The president said his greater concern is a nuclear bomb going off in Manhattan.


Why does the president need to reconsider this assessment of Russia? Two words come to mind: nuclear arsenal.

Russia inherited the bulk of the Soviet Union’s stockpile of nukes when the U.S.S.R. folded its tent in 1991. That fact alone makes the Russians a world power, no matter the strength of the Soviets’ main foe, the United States of America.

President Obama has been asked in recent days whether 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was right to call Russia our No. 1 geopolitical foe. Obama said “no,” which comes as no surprise. Indeed, he is right to gauge the threat posed by international terror networks as the nation’s top threat. The Russian incursion into Ukraine, its influence on Ukrainian internal affairs and its threat of more military intervention should be of grave concern throughout Europe.

The president, though, seems intent on sticking it in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eye when he downplays the worldwide threat that Russia poses. Yes, the Russians are a significant regional power. They also do possess all those nukes that, as near as anyone can tell, are capable of destroying life as we know it on Planet Earth.

That fact alone makes them a global threat.

Whatever the president says in public probably doesn’t mirror what he and his brain trust are saying about Russia in the Situation Room.

What would Mitt have done?

Mitt Romney’s hindsight is as good as it gets.

It’s picture perfect. The former Republican presidential nominee can see the past. Can he see the future? Well, no better than the man who beat him in the 2012 presidential election.

Still, the former Massachusetts governor blames President Obama’s “naivete” for the escalating tensions in Ukraine precipitated by the surprising virtual annexation of Crimea by Russia.


Romney did tell the world during the most recent presidential campaign that he considered Russia to be this nation’s No. 1 geopolitical foe. I recall thinking at the time that Romney seemed to be selling short the international terror network with which this country has been at all-out war since 9/11.

Did he know in advance that Russia was going to interfere with Ukraine’s internal political squabble? Did he foresee Russian troops moving into Crimea, or did he envision Crimean residents of Russian descent voting to ally the region with Russia and pull out of Ukraine?

I think not.

But more than a year after making that seemingly absurd claim, Romney’s assertion now seems oddly prescient.

Still, it’s fair to ask: How would President Romney have handled the Russian incursion?

He says leaders are able to foresee the future better than Barack Obama foresaw it. I guess he would have been more proactive in working our European allies to head off any Russian threat. That would have worked … how? What would have the Euros been able to do?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a bully’s bully. My own sense is that he wouldn’t be dissuaded from acting no matter what NATO or the European Union threatened to do. The Russians faced another U.S. president in 2008, George W. Bush, when they invaded Georgia. W’s reputation was that of a no-nonsense guy who was unafraid to use force, right? Well, President Bush’s rep didn’t forestall military action by the Russians, either.

The sanctions that the United States and others have imposed on Russia’s key leaders are beginning to bite. They’re going to hurt. Will they force the Russians to back out? Probably not. Short of going to war with the Russians, I’m thinking the president of the United States is handling it about it right.

Don't discount pain of economic punishment

Before we let the chicken hawks and armchair generals get too far ahead of themselves in this U.S.-Russia confrontation debate, it’s good to perhaps understand what kind of pain can be delivered via economic sanctions leveled against Russia.

A number of President Obama’s critics want him to do more than just level some specific economic sanctions against Russia. They want some form of military option, such as arming Ukrainian military units and sending troops to NATO nations as a standby warning to Russia.


However, the sanctions that Obama has imposed on a number of key Russian leaders with lots of money spread around in banks throughout the world well could put a serious damper on an already-weak Russian economy.

Russia’s economic growth is near zero. The Crimean region that Russia has effectively annexed is an economic basket case. Corruption still runs rampant throughout Russia, with gangsters and thugs controlling an underground economy that dwarfs many aspects of the above-ground economy.

The measures enacted by the White House through executive orders signed by the president are meant to deny access to financial assets by key Russian leaders. It’s going to cause them considerable personal pain. There well might be more severe measures taken against rank-and-file Russians if Russia ratchets up its military involvement in Ukraine.

Let’s be crystal clear about one non-starter of an idea: War with Russia is out of the question, which Obama has declared. There will be no battlefield confrontation between the nations.

Having said that, there’s no way to guarantee what Russia might do to re-annex three Baltic states — Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, all of which are members of NATO. Let us not forget that NATO constitution says that an attack against one member nation is an attack against the entire alliance — which includes the United States of America.

The White House is banking that given the sad state of the Russian economy, the economic punishment just might be enough to give Russia pause if it aims to continue its aggression in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the chicken hawks ought to pipe down.

Let's define 'sanctions'

The media have this habit of latching on to words without clarifying their context, meaning or importance.

The word of the day is “sanctions.”

President Obama today announced he is expanding the sanctions being leveled on high-level Russian officials who have played any important role in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Being a reasonably well-read individual, I think I know what he means by “sanctions.” The president is using executive authority to freeze assets of individuals high up in the Russian government. They’ll be unable to move money around. They’ll be hit where it hurts, in the bank account.

I think that’s what the word means.

The media, though, ought to explain these sanctions and how the U.S. government intends to inflict enough pain on Russia’s government to make it stop interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs. If the media cannot do it, then they should ask White House officials, Treasury Department gurus, Federal Reserve Board brass, high-level Ivy League economists or anyone else with intimate knowledge on how these things work to explain to us unwashed masses.


It’s a nice word. It seems so clinical, so clean and so, oh, bordering on meaningless unless you can define how the sanctions actually work.

I’m all ears.