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Mar 04 2014

Putin is the One Showing Weakness

As the right fires up its mantra machine and chooses “Putin is exploiting Obama’s weakness to invade the Ukraine” as its collective response to the situation there, Zack Beauchamp argues, correctly I think, that the one who is showing weakness here is Putin.

While it might have been nice to hear the Secretary of State say on Meet The Press Sunday that “you just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,” that characterization of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine is not the kind of aggressive military response that’s going to reassure those who see this as an issue of strong Putin versus feckless Obama. To people inclined to condemn American “weakness” in the face of Russian aggression, John Kerry’s condemnation of Russia’s military incursion into Crimea might sound like more empty words.

But that entire frame is mistaken, and not because Kerry also said “all options are on the table.” The fact is that Russia’s Ukraine move is an act of weakness, not strength — an act, as Kerry aptly characterized it, anachronistic in both moral and strategic terms. The fact Russia is trying something like this exposes the country’s global strategy as fundamentally mismatched to 21st century realities. There isn’t a new Cold War…

The military and ideological reasons are tied together by Putin’s core project of rebuilding Russia as a regional and global power. Sevastopol “is of critical importance as Russia seeks to regain some of the global clout that has been dwindling since the disintegration of the Soviet empire,” Hille concludes. If Ukraine slides out of Russia’s orbit, Putin loses both a critical military asset and an example of Russia’s renewed geopolitical ascendance. It makes sense that he’d go to dramatic lengths to ensure Ukrainians don’t endanger his plans.

But Putin’s project is a pipe dream. Russia will not come close to its Cold War power peak during Putin’s lifetime — especially if it relies on ham-fisted military interventions to keep its closest neighbors in line…

An occupation of Crimea would be expensive and politically isolating. It also risks a damaging war with Ukraine’s relatively strong military, an unforced error given how restrained Kyiv has been to date. The very fact that Russia might need to annex parts of Ukraine to maintain political control betrays Moscow’s weakness: An invasion is a tool of the desperate, to be used only when safer, more cost-effective tools are no longer available.

Indeed, Putin has previously used more tempered strategies — cutting off gas exports, its U.N. Security Council veto, and arms sales — to modestly advance Russian interests. The military action in Ukraine is a tacit acknowledgement that the Ukrainian revolution has threatened Russia’s “national greatness” project too fundamentally for these risky options to be worth trying. Again, that’s an indication of Putin’s fundamental fragility, not Cold War cunning.

Russia’s turn to blunt military force in Ukraine is emblematic of the basic flaws behind its push to regain its global and regional standing. The reality is that Russia is a middling power with nuclear weapons; it can frustrate America in Syria, but it can’t make progress towards bending the world to its will using the sort of strategies it has tried to date.

Military power alone can’t do the trick. In a world of free trade and highly globalized markets, territorial conquest simply isn’t a good way to make your country stronger. In fact, it’s harmful. “War has lost its evident appeal,” political scientist John Mueller correctly notes, “because substantial agreement has risen around the twin propositions that that prosperity and economic growth should be central national goals and that war is a particularly counterproductive device for achieving these goals.” War won’t bring Ukraine into Russia’s fold, let alone a broader swath of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The irony here is that the right views the world very much like Putin does. They, like him, think that pseudo-macho bluster and waving around your metaphorical military penis is how you show how strong and powerful you are.

46 comments

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  1. 1
    eric

    I think this is a bit crazy and optimistic. Russia’s move might be described as crazy, autocratic, or desperate, but the bottom line on “weakness” is that if it comes to a fight, Russia’s going to win the territory, the Ukraine is going to lose it, and the west is going to sit on its thumbs and let it happen.

    I completely agree that this is a move more suited to the 19th century than the 21st. However, just saying that doesn’t mean it won’t work to cause a change in territory. This sort of aggression may be unpopular and primitive (relatively speaking), but I don’t see the US or Europe preventing it or rolling it back the way we did when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

  2. 2
    garnetstar

    I had been thinking something rather similiar, which is that the invade-and-conquer strategy was now old-fashioned, out of date. Invade-and-conquer only works when you plan to stay there and make the conquered country your colony, or some such.

    That’s no longer feasible or even desirable, so the benefits of invasion have gone way down in the last century. As this author says, in a global economy it’s much more effective to bend a foreign leader or nation to your will by destroying their economy. Which you can do from home, and which costs you a great deal less.

    Then, what with drones and airstrikes and all that, a limited military operation without invasion is again, surely more effective.

    All those neocon hawks are just old-fashioned, behind the times, fogeys.

  3. 3
    raven

    Putin is on record as wanting to restore the old USSR empire. Which is pretty dumb.

    1. The USSR fell apart because it didn’t work. Keeping all those conquered people fed and putting down revolts didn’t make economic sense. Empires are expensive and rarely pay for themselves long term.

    2. Ukraine seems to be a failed nation state. They keep owing people money and don’t seem to be either stable or moving anywhere. So what does Putin gain by occupying them? It’s just going to end up costing the Russians money over the long term.

    The Russians might be getting ready to start their Cuban alliance up again. That was another long term expense that didn’t pay off.

    3. Hmmm, I’m seeing a tremendous opportunity here. Maybe we can let the Russians take over Afghanistan. Again. It would be a great addition to the neoSoviet empire of Putin.

  4. 4
    Reginald Selkirk

    The man needs a nickname. How about “Razz” Putin?

    Or, if things go badly, Vlad the Butcher?

  5. 5
    Reginald Selkirk

    Putin says he is worried about the safety of Russian citizens on the Crimean peninsula. OK, he has an armed force there on the ground. He can safely escort them back to Mother Russia.

  6. 6
    Artor

    I guess Obama needs to rip his shirt off in public some more, and wrestle bears for photoshoots? Is that what it takes to show your strength?

  7. 7
    Reginald Selkirk

    Russia test-fires ballistic missile

    80s nostalgia is the thing now. Give the kids a dose of Cold War dramatics.

  8. 8
    dhall

    Whether or not warfare is old-fashioned or not, I think it is important to note that some of the arguments here sound very much like the arguments put forth in the years leading up to WWI, particularly the economic arguments, but there was war anyway. Irrational notions of national power and pride have historically trumped calls for reason, and those intent upon empire-building often don’t think about or care about those other concerns. The aggressive foreign policy of the previous US administration makes it bloody clear that sensible reasons being mentioned to avoid war may well not be heeded. Whether Putin is showing weakness or not won’t really matter to the Ukrainians who want to break away from Russian influence.
    Incidentally, the USSR never quite controlled Afghanistan, and in fact, the struggle to control it over the course of a decade-long war–after decades of investments and preparations–was arguably one of the reasons for the demise of the USSR, as it demoralized and weakened the Red Army. It was a often referred to as the Soviet’s version of Vietnam, but it was a lesson George W. ignored. Truth is, the majority of those who have tried to conquer Afghanistan have failed, from Alexander the Great to the present day.

  9. 9
    Synfandel

    Reginald Selkirk wrote:

    Putin says he is worried about the safety of Russian citizens on the Crimean peninsula. OK, he has an armed force there on the ground. He can safely escort them back to Mother Russia.

    President Putin says that he is acting to protect both Russian citizens in the Crimean peninsula and ethnically Russian Ukrainian citizens—of which there are many. He’s hinting at the ‘duty to protect’ doctrine of the UN.

    The question is “Against what?” There is no apparent threat to ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

  10. 10
    Reginald Selkirk

    Since we’re on a nostalgia kick; Kids attempt to use rotary phone, confusion ensues

    Next up: Putin tries to use the hot line to take a selfie.

  11. 11
    Carlos Cabanita

    Invading a country in the XXI century? Well, the country that is criticising is the guilty one. Not a neighborhood country historically connected to the homeland, where people speak the same language, have a port with their main naval assets and, last but not least, citizens there want to welcome union or some very close commonwealth. No, the USA invaded two faraway countries very aggressively, destroyed lives, infrastructure and the social fabric, with millions of refugees, one country producing lots of oil, the other lots of heroine. The USA otherwise intervene militarily in a number of countries which list is classified. US citizens have no control over it nor does anybody else.
    I don’t like Putin at all, but the US should have some shame talking like this.
    This things pass in the USA, where propaganda is very thick, but in the rest of the world it is useless.
    Don’t worry, what happened in Ukraine has already come to a close. The russians are not going to fight Ukraine, they have no need for them. They already have the part they want. The Ukrainians are not going to fight for Crimea, unless they are completely out of their mind. Local political forces with outside support, from Russia and from the USA, are going to keep on fighting for Ukraine.

  12. 12
    Trebuchet

    Putin somehow makes me miss Khruschev.

  13. 13
    raven

    It also risks a damaging war with Ukraine’s relatively strong military,

    I don’t think this is even remotely true.

    The Ukraine navy has a whole 10 ships, all of which are under Russian control.

    The army is 130,000 and I’ve never heard that they were especially well trained or equiped. The Russians have millions and they are well equipped and there is a long border.

    IIRC, just yesterday, the Ukrainian government admitted they have no military options.

    Which is another problem. They don’t have much in the way of a functioning government either. The last head, who seemed to be a truly incompetent kleptocrat, ran and they have a pickup team trying to run things under pressure.

  14. 14
    Carlos Cabanita

    The empires use brutal measures to maintain their power that function like radioactive waste, poisoning the land for centuries. In Russia and the USSR, whole populations were moved away from their homelands, in some case exterminated. The Tatars were expelled from Crimea by Stalin and replaced by ethnic Russians. Some returned after 1991, but they are a minority. That is how the majority in Crimea favors Moscow. Everywhere in the Russian empire and in the USSR, the ethnic Russians were moved to the regions where the central power wanted to weaken separatism and they were given some privileges. In the regions that became independent, those populations are mistrusted and they sometimes protest that they are considered second class citizens. Moscow, of course, never fails to use them as a tool to interfere in those countries.
    A friend of mine was born in Georgia from ethnic Russian parents. When things got complicated there with the fall of the USSR, they went to Abkhasia, a part of Georgia the Russians managed to separate. They still did not think things were good for them, so they passed into Ukraine. My friend studied Medicine and emigrated to Portugal. I don’t know if her parents are still in Ukraine.

  15. 15
    lancifer

    I agree with eric’s post #1,

    Zack Beauchamp sounds like a nerdy kid trying to convince a bully that if the bully beats him up the bully will have “lost” due to some esoteric intellectual argument.

    “Yes, you could pound me into the ground, but that will just demonstrate your inability to deal with the complexity of inter-personal social interactions and in the long run disadvantage you in society.”

    Anyone that has ever dealt with a bully knows that those words are followed by a “beat down”. And make no mistake Putin is a bully.

    I doubt Putin will go full invasion. He doesn’t need to. There are pro-Russian Ukrainians all too willing to do his dirty work on the ground. He is posturing for a return of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

    It’s a win win for Putin. If Yanukovych is reinstated he will be beholding to Putin and effectively make Ukraine a Russian client state. If Yanukovych is not reinstalled Putin can claim that the Ukrainian government is illegitimate and continue to support pro-Russian separatists while claiming to be “protecting” the large portion of Ukraine that is peopled by Russian speaking rural folk that have greater cultural ties to Russia than Keiv.

    Beauchamp is indulging in “chattering class” wishful thinking.

  16. 16
    matty1

    “you just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,”

    Kerry said on October 9, 2002; “I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.”

    To be fair he did later change his mind about the wisdom of that war but he is in no position to claim this as something that just doesn’t get support this century.

  17. 17
    Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam

    Carlos Cabanita @ 11:

    Invading a country in the XXI century? Well, the country that is criticising is the guilty one.

    For another layer of irony (or hypocrisy, if you prefer) in the American statement, keep in mind that it was given by John Kerry, whose loss of the 2004 presidential election is often attributed to him being in favor of the 2003 Iraq invasion when it began but opposing it as a candidate.

    He was for “in the 21st century behav[ing] in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text” before he was against it.

  18. 18
    Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam

    Aaaaaaaaand beaten to the punch by matty1 by a matter of seconds. Go go gadget hivemind!

  19. 19
    eric

    @11

    Invading a country in the XXI century? Well, the country that is criticising is the guilty one.

    If we are hypocrites, that doesn’t make Russia’s actions justifiable. We can be hypocrites AND Russia’s actions can be unjustifiable.

    In fact it seems Russia pretty much knows its actions are unjustifiable, since the their troops appear to be under orders not to state what country they are from. That makes absolutely no sense at all if they are there for any sort of peacekeeping mission.

    Not a neighborhood country historically connected to the homeland, where people speak the same language, have a port with their main naval assets and, last but not least, citizens there want to welcome union or some very close commonwealth.

    If all of that were true, then why does Russia need the soldiers to make the Crimean peninsula theirs? If Crimea is so pro-Russian, let them vote for secession. The only time you need troops is if you are pretty sure you don’t have the majority you need to win a vote.

  20. 20
    poolboy

    Ed, you seem to be confused or very ignorant.

    A far right coup took over the government, completely supported by US and company, after lawful and legal agreements were made for peaceful reforms and elections agreed to by EU, Ukraine government, Ukraine opposition, and Russia.

    The legal and lawful executive of both Ukraine, and Crimea, requested Russian intervention.

    Russia has ALWAYS had military in Crimea. Crimea is an autonomous region, with it’s own constitution. Do you know what the decades old laws between Russian and Ukraine (not just Crimea) regarding Russia military in Crimea are? They’re allowed MUCH MORE troops in the region than there are now.

    Opposing blatant US and company expansion and overthrow of democratic states isn’t weakness, it’s the LEAST one can do.

    Even if you look at this as a purposeful greedy, selfish, action by Russian authorities, there’s no loss. Russia has pad billions to “rent” out Crimea for it’s military. If Crimea becomes fully independent, Russia is going to save on that.

    It’s incredibly laughable to think that world wide conquest and intervention on parts by US and company is lawful, and signs of power, but Russia lawful intervenes in a tiny region, and it’s suddenly WW3 and signs of desperation.

    What happened to rational thought?

  21. 21
    Marcus Ranum

    Kerry also went to Vietnam (the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was also a manufactured excuse) and actually was involved in the killing personally. Then, he came back and protested against it. Then he was later in favor of invading other countries and killing people. He’s a hypocrite of the purest, most refined sort.

  22. 22
    eric

    I admit I’m not understanding the Kerry-bashing here. The guy’s currently acting as a mouthpiece for the Obama administration. Even if he is the hypocrite and windsock everyone here paints him to be, it would not make one ounce of difference to what he’s going to say. Because he’s not the one deciding what US foreign policy is going to be.

    You don’t like the messenger – he’s got a mixed past, I get it. You realize that his past has nothing to do with the message he’s carrying? If it were Hilary, the message would be the same (maybe delivered better, but the content would be exactly the same).

  23. 23
    matty1

    Actually I have no strong opinions on John Kerry, I just found the hypocrisy amusing. In fact I wish he was right that invasions are something we don’t do any more but it doesn’t seem to be true.

    With regards to the Crimea I’m very wary of making pronouncements about who will do what or who is in the right, though neither side looks great. I would suggest that the situation is better understood by looking at the politics and history of the countries involved rather than that of the US, which is so far a commentator not an actor.

  24. 24
    bmiller

    So…let’s not personalize things. Let’s turn the cirticism to where it belongs: Mr. Hope and Change himself. I actually agree with the right wing here. Obama has been a disaster. Libya? Yemen? And we won’t even talk about his economic policy (e.g., give lots of money to casino gamblers and financial criminals)

    clusterf&^%s everywhere.

    All we have is the third and fourth terms of George W. Bush. heck, some of the same people carried over.

    Poolboy is also right. These “rebels” are about as legitimate as the Contras in Nicaragua. It’s all economic gamesplaying.

  25. 25
    Pierce R. Butler

    dhall @ # 8: … the majority of those who have tried to conquer Afghanistan have failed, from Alexander the Great to the present day.

    Alexander had control of all of Afghanistan that he wanted – he just failed to set up any structure to hold it after he died (as with most everything he conquered).

    Genghis Khan swept through with little trouble, and he and his heirs quashed local rebellions quickly. Tamerlane, ditto.

    Persian autocrats (though not the central government) invaded and held most of Afghanistan for centuries.

    For the last couple of centuries, no foreigners have lasted very long after setting boot in A’stan (the American attempt obviously has no future), but the “graveyard of empires” image is rather exaggerated.

  26. 26
  27. 27
    janiceintoronto

    “you just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,”

    Like Iraq? Worked for dubbya.

  28. 28
    Olav

    Putin is a cynical realpolitiker and of course I don’t believe most of what he says. But at least he is stating his case rather intelligently here: http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/6763

    Dubya, if he must be mentioned, was never this eloquent. Just a poseur.

    I see no hope that the USA will be able to contribute positively to the solution of the current crisis. John Kerry has no respect, anywhere. Why would anyone listen to him? It seems to me that the German government is in the best position to lead any diplomatic effort.

  29. 29
    bmiller

    Except the German government is simply looking for more markets and more cheap labor to keep the vaunted “economic machine” working. They also see no problem funding and working with anti-Semitic fascist elements.

  30. 30
    jameshanley

    I don’t want to come across as defending Putin, who is a terrible man who’s done his country great harm, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the Crimea was historically Russian–only being attached to Ukraine in the…’50s, I think, when the idea of an independent Ukraine wasn’t on the radar screen except perhaps of a few die-hard Ukrainian nationalists–and is majority Russian still today.

    The U.S. doesn’t want Russia to have the Crimea because we don’t want them to have its Black Sea port at Sevastopol. But if we were to think in the terms of self-determination that we have so often trumpeted, the Crimea would already be Russian territory.

  31. 31
    laurentweppe

    Putin says he is worried about the safety of Russian citizens on the Crimean peninsula

    They’re not Russian citizens: they russian-speaking Ukrainians, and the only ones fearing for their safety right now are the pro-EU russian-speaking people (because you know, having russian as your maternal tongue doesn’t magically turns you into an enthusiastic putinian) who are being browbeaten into silence by land corsairs three weeks before a referendum about Crimea secession, referendum which may very well be heavily rigged (last polls showed than only 23% of Crimean inhabitants -not even a majority if you count only the russian speaking ones- wanted to secede from Ukraine: but given the intimidations of the locals going on right now it’s not impossible that the secessionist minority to win the referendum).

    ***

    Anyone that has ever dealt with a bully knows that those words are followed by a “beat down”. And make no mistake Putin is a bully.

    Indeed, but a bully never tries to openly challenge one that is stronger than him: annexing Crimea and telling the world “fuck you all, I have nukes” would put the rest of Ukraine on fast tracks toward an integration within the EU and give a lot of clout to the anti-russian states, thus increasing the contact surface between Russia and a political entity 4 times more populous and 9 times richer.

    ***

    A far right coup took over the government, completely supported by US and company, after lawful and legal agreements were made for peaceful reforms and elections agreed to by EU, Ukraine government, Ukraine opposition, and Russia.

    That’s a lie.
    A lie originally produced by the russian oligarchy’s PR department and repeated by every media outlet with unavowable sympathy to Putin’s parasitic regime: no coup happened: liberal protesters took on the streets when Yanukovych rejected a partnership between Ukraine and the EU. Part of the reason of such rejection was the fact that the deal came with demands of transparency regarding Ukrainian finances (and given what was later revealed about Yanukovych’s Kleptocrat Neverland, he had, let’s say, personal reasons for refusing transparency), but it also had a lot to do with the russian business class which feared an opening of Ukraine -which they see as a captive market- to european brands and products would affect their rents.
    When the protesters didn’t falter despite the police gunning them down with kalashnikovs, Yanukovych announced a deal for anticipated elections, then on his own decided to flee the capital with his supporters, leaving the opposition alone in the parliament: it’s not the opposition who broke the “lawful and legal” argument, its the kleptocrat who ran away when he realized he couldn’t bully the population into submission and was facing an humiliating trouncing in the anticipated election.

  32. 32
    Nick Gotts
    A far right coup took over the government, completely supported by US and company, after lawful and legal agreements were made for peaceful reforms and elections agreed to by EU, Ukraine government, Ukraine opposition, and Russia. – poolboy

    That’s a lie. – laurentweppe

    That’s a lie. In constitutional terms what happened was undoubtedly a coup, and fascists were heavily involved in the demonstrations, and are prominent in the new regime. I’ll repost here a comment I made at The Guardian:

    I’ll say clearly first that nothing that has happened justifies Putin’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, which is a blatant violation of international law. That said, the narrative we see here, as in the western media generally, is one-sided to the point of shameless dishonesty. The role of the USA in the movement against Yanukovych, revealed in the bugged phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt – in which they discuss who should be in the government once Yanukovych is removed, has more or less vanished down the media’s memory hole. (Their preferences accord closely with the actual lineup of the new cabinet). The facts that Yanukovych’s removal was unconstitutional (the Ukranian constitution allows for Parliament to impeach the President, but this is a complex procedure involving several votes and the approval of the Constitutional Court), and that it was the then-opposition that reneged on the agreement negotiated by EU foreign ministers, are glossed over.
    Most alarmingly, the prominent role of fascists in both the demonstrations and riots, and the new regime, is consistently downplayed (with honourable exceptions such as the Guardian’s Seamus Milne). Svoboda, which has several members in the new cabinet (alongside a number of individuals as corrupt as Yanukovych) as well as controlling the General Prosecutor’s Office, has observer staus in the Alliance of European Nationalist Movements (only parties in EU states can be full members), and as such is the sister party of the BNP, of Hungary’s antisemitic and anti-Roma thugs Yobbik, and of fascist parties from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Bulgaria. France’s Front National left the AENM as it found it too extreme. Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tyahnibok, has denounced the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” he says was running Ukraine, praised John Denjanjuk, the convicted accessory to the murder of thousands of Jews at Sobibor extermination camp, and was a founder-member of the openly neo-Nazi “Social-Nationalist Party of Ukraine”, Svoboda’s predecessor, alongside Andriy Parubiy, who is now the head of the Ukranian National Security apparatus. Parubiy is supposedly an ex-Nazi and has joined the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) Party, but would any decent politician place even an ex-Nazi in such a position? Parubiy’s deputy is Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the paramilitary “Right Sector”, which considers Svoboda too liberal. Yarosh has called on the al Qaeda-linked terrorist, Doku Umarov, to help Ukraine against Russia. All these facts about the far-right role in the overthrow of Yanukovych and the new regime can be found on the web, most of them even in less prominent places on the BBC if you search diligently, but in the headlines and main articles the role of the far right is always “alleged” or the term is in scare-quotes.
    To repeat: none of this justifies the Russian invasion of Crimea; but nor can it be justified to pretend that Russian rhetoric about a fascist coup, hypocritical though it is, is without foundation. The IMF is now insisting on Ukraine “reforming” its economy – i.e., inflicting further pain on the already poverty-stricken Ukraniain people; a more effective way of further strengthening the fascists in the regime could hardly be devised.

    For the prominent role of fascists among the extra-Parliamentary protestors, notably in the violent confrontations with the police, see for example, this BBC Newsnightreport, or look for the Salon report by Max Blumenthal (not linked because of the limit to 2 links per comment here).

  33. 33
    Nick Gotts

    He is posturing for a return of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. – lancifer

    Putin says Yanukovych is still the legal President, which is true, since he has not died, resigned, or been impeached as per the Ukranian constitution. He also says he recognises that Yanukovych has no political future.

    If Crimea is so pro-Russian, let them vote for secession. – eric

    I agree that a vote on the status of Crimea (part of Ukraine, part of Russia, or independent) under the supervision of international monitors would be the best solution, and unlike some here, I don’t think I know what the outcome would be. But do you think the new regime in Kiev would allow it, except under duress?

  34. 34
    dingojack

    Nick – “The role of the USA in the movement against Yanukovych, revealed in the bugged phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt – in which they discuss who should be in the government once Yanukovych is removed, has more or less vanished down the media’s memory hole. (Their preferences accord closely with the actual lineup of the new cabinet).”

    Firstly, not that I necessarily disbelieve you but – citation required.

    Secondly, Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed who’d win the Superbowl on PBS Newshour the Friday before the game, and they were both right!!!
    OMG they both totally fixed the Superbowl @@

    Dingo

  35. 35
    Raging Bee

    Invading a country in the XXI century? Well, the country that is criticising is the guilty one.

    Yeah, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that keeping silent is a good idea. There was a lot of antisemitism in the US and UK back in the 1930s and ’40s — should that have precluded us from doing anything about the Nazis? There was a lot of racism in the US in the 1980s (as there always is) — should that have precluded us from criticizing apartheid in South Africa?

    Just because we’re a bit hypocritical doesn’t mean we should shut up and let others get away with murder and oppression. When something goes horribly wrong in some other part of the world, we can’t always wait till we’re above all reproach to do something about it.

    As the right fires up its mantra machine and chooses “Putin is exploiting Obama’s weakness to invade the Ukraine”…

    Obama’s weakness? It wasn’t Obama who exhausted both our military power and our political will to use it by starting a totally unnecessary war; it wasn’t Obama who refused to raise taxes to pay for said war; and it wasn’t Obama who looked into Putin’s soul and called him “brother,” or wholeheartedly supported ALL of Putin’s bigoted oppressive agenda. Once again, the Republicans get everything desastrously wrong and then blame Obama for the consequences of their miserable failures.

  36. 36
    Raging Bee

    I don’t want to come across as defending Putin, who is a terrible man who’s done his country great harm…

    …says Hanley, as he promptly proceeds to defend Putin.

    But if we were to think in the terms of self-determination that we have so often trumpeted, the Crimea would already be Russian territory.

    The same excuse can be used to justify Russian invasions of parts of just about EVERY former SSR — they all have significant Russian populations. That’s kinda what happens when one nation invades and/or colonizes others — they put their own people into the newly acquired territories, and those people then say “This is OUR land! We want self-determination!”

    If the Russians wanted to keep the Crimea as “historically Russian,” then they shouldn’t have put it within the Ukranian SSR in the first damn place.

  37. 37
    colnago80

    Actually, I think that Putin’s objectives here are somewhat limited.

    1. He want’s to insure Russian control over the port of Sevastopol.

    2. He wants to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO or the EU.

    3. He doesn’t want to reintegrate Ukraine back into Russia as this would be counterproductive. He is satisfied with a situation in which the Ukraine is independent but in Russia’s orbit.

    Given what I perceive to be the limited objectives of Putin’s policy, to advocate military action by the US, as chickenhawk neocon Charles Krauthammer has, makes little sense. Our adventures in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq should have taught us a lesson but warmongers like Krauthammer are like the French Bourbons, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. They should take heed of Einstein’s suggestion that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insanity.

  38. 38
    Raging Bee

    …and fascists were heavily involved in the demonstrations, and are prominent in the new regime.

    This may well be true — Ukraine was stuck for some time between Nazi and Stalinist brutality, with no “third way” option, so democratic traditions and institutions haven’t had much chance to take root there. But the best solution to that problem is to give the protesters what they wanted in the first place: the chance to build connections to the relatively democratic mixed economies of the West, and get themselves out of Russia’s fascist sphere of influence.

    No democracy ever starts out perfect, and refusing to work with one until it’s perfect won’t help anyone.

  39. 39
    Raging Bee

    Except the German government is simply looking for more markets and more cheap labor to keep the vaunted “economic machine” working. They also see no problem funding and working with anti-Semitic fascist elements.

    Like who, exactly? Last I checked, Merkel had no intention of mucking about in any part of Ukraine. Bmiller, do you have any clue what you’re talking about?

  40. 40
    Raging Bee

    A far right coup took over the government, completely supported by US and company…

    If you’re referring to the ouster of Yanukovich by the ELECTED Ukranian legislature (in an attempt to roll back Yanukovich’s accretion of powers), poolboy, then you should stick to cleaning pools. You have no fucking clue what you’re talking about.

    And how, exactly, did the US “completely support” this ouster? You sound like just another wanker crying about “US puppets” controlling the whole world 24/7.

  41. 41
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Zack Beauchamp argues, correctly I think, that the one who is showing weakness here is Putin.

    What the Fuck?!

    To people inclined to condemn American “weakness” in the face of Russian aggression, John Kerry’s condemnation of Russia’s military incursion into Crimea might sound like more empty words.

    Well, duh! No shit sherlock.

    Also sounds that way to me and, well, pretty much everyone a few whackjobs aside I’d say.

    The fact Russia is trying something like this exposes the country’s global strategy as fundamentally mismatched to 21st century realities.

    Russian troops are occupying Crimea and menacing the rest of Ukraine – that sure looks like the reality here.

    There isn’t a new Cold War…

    Tell that to Putin then. Convince him not the rest of us.

    Russia will not come close to its Cold War power peak during Putin’s lifetime — especially if it relies on ham-fisted military interventions to keep its closest neighbors in line…

    You may think that but you aren’t running Russia.

    Just because rebuilding the Soviet empire is impossible doesn’t mean the goal doesn’t drive conflict and atrocities and cause terrible harm and risks for others. Just as the fact that the Jihadists dream of a global Caliphate ruled by an Ayatollah dispensing shariah law and enslaving or converting all non-Muslims is impossible doesn’t stop them thinking it and justifying terrorism in its cause.

    An invasion is a tool of the desperate, to be used only when safer, more cost-effective tools are no longer available.

    It would be nice to think that were true – but that’s an unsupported and counter-intuitive assertion of very dubious validity.

    Indeed, Putin has previously used more tempered strategies — cutting off gas exports, its U.N. Security Council veto, and arms sales — to modestly advance Russian interests.

    Modestly? Putin? I think your idea of modest is a wee bit off here.

    Russia’s turn to blunt military force in Ukraine is emblematic of the basic flaws behind its push to regain its global and regional standing. The reality is that Russia is a middling power with nuclear weapons

    Middling power? Ex-superpower, a flawd imperialist dictatorship throwing itsweightaound? Middling. Maybe, in some classifications and senses of tehword. Still a big threat and problem? Definitely. I’m sure the Ukrainians facing Russian guns will be reassured to know that some academic somewhere thinks its notsucha big deal that the Russians have invaded and are waving guns in their faces – not.

    To those Ukrainian troops defending their country I guess this is exactly what’s meant by the term “an academic point.” Middling, piddling, much more bloody major than that, whatever. They’ve invaded, they’re about to try to take your land and do who knows what. They’ve got guns in your face. Itain’t an absratctionor academic question to them.

    ; it can frustrate America in Syria, but it can’t make progress towards bending the world to its will using the sort of strategies it has tried to date.

    Funny. Its occupied Crimea and is getting away with it. Sure looks like Russia’s bending the world to its will – what;s contradicting or stopping that impression or fact?

    Military power alone can’t do the trick. In a world of free trade and highly globalized markets, territorial conquest simply isn’t a good way to make your country stronger. In fact, it’s harmful.

    War is harmful, water is wet. Pope is catholic.

    Can’t do the trick? What trick? Occupying Crimea and getting away with it. That isn’t an illusion. Russia’s going to annex territory, wreck Ukrainian lives and lands and grow larger and get its way. Yeah, seems to be happening. Stopping it is .. what?

    ..substantial agreement has risen around the twin propositions that that prosperity and economic growth should be central national goals and that war is a particularly counterproductive device for achieving these goals.” War won’t bring Ukraine into Russia’s fold, let alone a broader swath of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

    Won’t it? We’ll see.

    Don’t think Putin shares your academic agreement there somehow – & this is his show – more’s the pity.

    Hope I’m wrong. But I don’t see why I am if I am.

  42. 42
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    There isn’t a new Cold War…

    I ‘spose it isn’t a war if one side surrenders without a fight and lets the other do whatever it wants.

    Bloody tough on the poor Ukrainians and Crimean Tartars and, no doubt, many others who will suffer the consequences though.

    I wonder if Zack Beauchamp also thinks he’s convincingly worked out an argument for why 2 + 3 = minus fifty?

    If so it probably make more sense than this.

    I mean seriously. Russian is weak for invading and taking over another country and Obama is, what, string for doing nothing but wagging a finger and then doing nothing?

  43. 43
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Thank fuck it was Reagan in charge not Obama when it *was* the real Cold War.

  44. 44
    aaronbaker

    Gakk, Putin’s military penis. That’s burned into my brain now forever (metaphorically, of course).

  45. 45
    colnago80

    Re StevoR @ #41

    As I stated above, IMHO, Putin’s goals are limited and to not include reintegrating Ukraine back into Russia (it should be pointed out that Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire for a long time before the Bolshevik Revolution).

    The other problem is that Russia is a large supplier of natural gas to Europe. The suggestion by Andrew Sullivan that somehow Russian gas can be replaced by natural gas from the US seems rather unlikely, considering that the switch from coal to natural gas for electricity production is well underway and will not leave much excess in the future for export; particularly in the quantities needed in Europe.

  46. 46
    laurentweppe

    Most alarmingly, the prominent role of fascists in both the demonstrations and riots

    “Prominent role” is a way to imply that the fascists were the leaders, or the most important faction of the protest, which is simply not true:
    What sparked the protests in the first place was Yanukovych refusal of a partnership deal with the EU, something the Ukrainian far-rightists never wanted (and still do not want), clinging to their fantasy of a Mighty Nation looking down on the rest on the world.

    If the ukrainian far-right had been at the instigation of the protests, well, to put it bluntly, having neither the numbers nor the firepower to violently oust Yanukovych, they would have been slaughtered by the police and virtually no one would have raised an eyebrow.

    Now, the far-right Is trying to surf on the protesters success to increase their clout: fascists are nothing if not opportunistic, but there’s a huge difference between fascists following a movement which which they don’t even agree with, then pretending to have spearheaded it and fascist actually spearheading a movement.

    ***

    But if we were to think in the terms of self-determination that we have so often trumpeted, the Crimea would already be Russian territory

    Less that one fourth (23%) of the crimean population wanted to be annexed to Russia… Of course, that was before ununiformed russian troops entered Crimea and started to intimidate the locals, especially the majority of russian-speaking Crimeans who’d rather stay ukrainian citizens.

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