Ukraine gets scarier by the day and I don’t know what to do.

It is not bad enough that the Middle East remains an ongoing SNAFU (an old Marine acronym for:  Situation normal all fowled up – in its polite version), the situation in Ukraine is now reaching crisis proportions.   “Crisis” is such an overused term these days, it has lost its punch, but I believe it fits here, as it is easy to imagine how much can go wrong and little right.

 

As I type there are urgent meetings taking place in Europe discussing what is to be done about the fact that the eastern separatists  are winning the war against government forces.

For months it has been clear that Vladimir Putin has provided all sorts of military assistance to the separatists in eastern Ukraine, while denying it.  Now the separatists are stronger than the government forces and pushing them back.  And the European allies can’t agree on what to do about that.   There is talk of sending defensive arms (e. g. anti-tank guns)  to aid government troops, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel is dead set against the idea and I don’t see much other support for it in Europe.

Merkel is trying to broker another cease fire, but this one gives more to the separatists than the last cease fire and who is to say Putin will honor it any more than he did the last one (even Merkel has her doubts), but of course Putin will say he is.  And Ukraine’s problems go way beyond the civil war.  The government is broke and the economic system corrupt, all of which has made me reluctant to even broach the subject in a simple post.

But MSNBC commentator Lawrence O’ Donnell freed me yesterday morning by saying when it comes to the Ukraine:  “I’ve thought about these things all my life and I don’t know what to do.”  He went on to say it would be great if some columnist would begin his or her opinion piece saying that.

Though only a humble occasional blogger, I decided to take on that roll and I feel such a relief.  The problem is I also feel some thing, or things, should be done to counter Putin’s continued aggression and lies about it, a feeling many in the West have but we can’t agree upon what to do.

For those who want to do more than throw up their hands, I suggest a blog by Judy Dempsey on the Carnegie Europe web site called Strategic Europe.   She has been giving daily posts covering the Ukraine crisis which include the opinions of numerous people who think they have a clue.

Check out this post:  The Tragedy of  Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president and commander in chief of its armed forces.   It’s short and provides a sense of the fundamental nature of this dilemma.  Reading about Poroshenko I recall the tragic position of Czechoslovakia’s president Edward Benes during the Munich agreement of the 30’s which led to German annexation.  

I know, Munich analogies tend to distort more than illuminate, but there unfortunately seems potential for some application here.  I can only hope the potential goes unfulfilled.

If you like the Poroshenko piece, click the HOME button on the  upper left of the post and find other illuminating posts by Dempsey.

 

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Ukraine: Lost in the Globalized Shuffle?

I have read quite a bit about the Ukraine situation over the past week and find it difficult to sort out.   It is not quite an international crisis (that word overused to the point of a yawn), but it has great potential to become one.   Of course, so does Syria, which remains a “problem from hell,” but Syria does not pit the U. S. vs. Russian interests as directly.

Yes they are on opposite sides of the Syrian struggle, but as reported in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, they have worked together to remove an estimated 90% of the worst chemical weapons in Syria, a fairly amazing achievement in the midst of a civil war.

Lesser Coat of Arms of Ukraine

Lesser Coat of Arms of Ukraine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That is the kind of news that doesn’t get much coverage.   As you know, the news most covered is almost always bad.  The good news has to be very good to draw the spotlight (*1).   Also, there is another aspect to this good news that undercuts its goodness.  In making this deal with Putin and Assad, Obama was acceding to Assad remaining in power for months to accomplish the task, deflating those rebels (some of the many) we have supported somewhat.

That is the ugly underside of “realpolitik” boys and girls.

Leaving news coverage aside, the simple lesson to be learned from the removal of Syrian chemical weapons is this:   Russia and the United States can work together, even now, when our governments see a mutual interest.   What gives Ukraine such potential for a crisis is that Washington and Moscow have not established  a clear path that will satisfy their mutual interests.

We and our allies would like to see a stable Ukraine developed (which would likely favor the West), while an unstable Ukraine afraid to get too close to the West works in favor of Putin’s Russia.  If he can not have Ukraine as an ally, the weaker it is the better he likes it.

Not to mention that the present day focus on eastern Ukraine has made the Russian gobble up of Crimea yesterday’s news (*2).   It is a fait accompli and we have all moved on to other issues.

I mention “Putin’s Russia,” while generalizing who is in charge of “our Western” efforts, because in Russia so much of the power seems centralized in that one man, with his revival of nationalist pride backed by an often reported 80% in public opinion polls.   Power in the West is much more decentralized, at least when it comes to economic power and in a globalized world, that power is more effective than arms in the long run.    “We”, meaning  the U. S. and the European Union could cripple the Russian economy, but at a cost to ourselves, with Europe bearing much more of that cost.   America can only lead as far as the Europeans are willing to follow.

I am of the opinion that despite his 40,000 troops on the Ukraine border, Putin does not want to invade eastern Ukraine because if he does who knows what the unintended consequences might be?   As is, ingesting a poor Crimean economy into Russia is predicted to be very expensive in itself, and the eastern Ukraine’s economic struggles would figure to be another burden.

But Putin acts like he doesn’t care, so Western analysts can only guesstimate just how much of a gambler Putin is and how he defines winning.   And what with violent clashes popping up here and there who knows what events on the ground might prompt?

In any event, finding an equilibrium between Russia and the West in Ukraine appears to be quite a balancing act and the government in Kiev is walking a shaky line with globalized interests swirling about it.

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(*1)   Receiving more attention are recent reports of the likely use of chlorine gas by the Assad forces, but that is not as deadly nor mentioned in the U. N. chemical disarmament agreement.   One more wrinkle in a complex calculation that you can read more about here.

(*2)  Having said that, I Googled “Russia and Crimea” and found a couple of interesting, though  disparate articles.  One describes the present chaos in Crimea and the other Putin’s plans to build Crimea’s economy, including a boom in casinos.

 

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