New Castle News

March 10, 2014

Mitchel Olszak: Taking a realistic look at Ukraine

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Congressional Republicans have taken a tough stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military moves against Ukraine.

That’s to be expected. Putin’s decision to send troops into the Crimean region of Ukraine is an obvious threat to that country’s independence, and it couldn’t be ignored.

But in listening to assorted GOP officials expound on the Ukraine crisis, I couldn’t help but notice they seem to direct some of their strongest words toward President Obama. In their world, the president has fallen down on the job by failing to anticipate Putin’s move on Ukraine, by refusing to take tough action in response or a combination of both.

Having politicians take pot shots at one another across party lines is hardly new. But there was a time when — except for maybe the most extreme of circumstances — an attempt was made to show national unity in the realm of foreign affairs.

Of course it’s possible to criticize Obama over events in Ukraine, just as it’s possible to find fault with anything any president does or does not do. That’s part of politics.

But a thoughtful person needs to look beyond the posturing and axe grinding to determine what’s going on, and what steps can — and should — be taken in response to Putin.

Republican Sen. John McCain in particular has been critical of the fact U.S. intelligence failed to detect Putin’s move in the Crimea. Perhaps it should have done so, but Russia has so far used a relatively small number of troops on a peninsula where it already has a military base. Is this a legitimate complaint under the circumstances?

Maybe if the National Security Agency was spending less time monitoring all of our emails and phone records, it could devote more resources to Russian activities. But McCain has been a past defender of NSA priorities along these lines.

As for the perceived lack of aggressiveness on Obama’s part regarding economic sanctions or military moves in the wake of Putin’s Crimea maneuver, it’s worth asking what the president could do that might achieve a real result.

America has economic options, but they are limited. Real leverage regarding Russia lies in western Europe — a major trading partner. Yet getting European countries to stand together on a tough position is a lot like herding cats. Good luck with it.

I would note that back in the 1990s, European nations were reluctant to take a stand against the ethnic cleansing and mass murder occurring in the former Yugoslavia. What’s going on in the Crimea now is nothing compared to that.

So does that mean Putin gets to invade and take over Ukraine? Hardly. Ukraine is a big country with a substantial army in its own right. Putin’s ambitions there and ability to control the future are limited.

What’s more, even if Europe can’t rally behind a tough stance on behalf of Ukraine, a militaristic stance will take its toll. It will deter investment and trade with Russia. Putin and company have a lot more to lose here than Europe.

It may not satisfy people who prefer chest thumping to sound policy, but Putin’s actions in Ukraine will work themselves out. And ultimately, it will be Russia — not America — that will suffer.