I’ve already mentioned the Washington Post’s scathing editorial against the Obama Administration’s reactions to the situation unfolding in Ukraine. Now the editors of the Wall Street Journal come out in a similar vein, albeit with more specific recommendations. They suggest restricting Russian banks’ access to the international banking system (something the Europeans will all but certainly oppose) and moving ships into the Black Sea:
Mr. Obama and the West must act, rather than merely threaten, because it’s clear Mr. Putin believes the American President’s words can’t be taken seriously. After the 2008 invasion of Georgia, President Obama pretended the problem was Dick Cheney and tried to “reset” relations with Moscow. Mr. Putin has defied the civilized world on Syria and Mr. Obama rewarded him by making Russia a partner in phony peace talks. Mr. Putin gave NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum over U.S. objections, and he got away with that too.
I think that’s almost exactly the wrong advice. Moving ships into the Black Sea would be seen as a provocation and would maximize the likelihood of an unfortunate incident. I would prefer that the president not even threaten since there’s little in the way of an effective response that he can make and idle threats are worse than silence.
Here are some things to chew on while thinking about the escalating crisis in Ukraine:
- Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine in the form of military and commercial ports, historical ties, millions of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, and millions of ethnic Ukrainians who speak Russian as their first language.
- Russia has legitimate concerns based on the actions of the nationalist Ukrainian parliament and the mobs in the streets.
- Russia will accept friendly countries on its border or “satrapies” as they’re being called and will tolerate neutral countries that convince the Russians they’re not a threat cf. the history of Finland but it will not accept hostile countries on its border, particularly among the old Soviet republics.
- Our material interests in Ukraine are not nearly as compelling.