Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, March 1, 2014

It's Getting Real

I think Josh Marshall makes all the relevant points here.  There is little that the US can do to force the Russians to do anything.  But this is also not the same as the Georgian war of four years ago.  There, Georgia was at least as much to blame as Russia.  Here, the issue is really Russia's invasion of territory that is indisputably Ukrainian.

I think Marshall also makes a very important point that you could miss skimming the news.  It's unlikely that Putin has a game plan here.  He is simply letting Ukraine know that A) they better be careful about crossing him and B) he is not willing to lose Russian access and bases in Crimea.  He doesn't have a master plan.  He's reacting to the fall of Yanukovych and what that might mean for his immediate plans to draw Ukraine into his EU counterpart.

It's also worth remembering that Russia is profoundly weaker than the Soviet Union.  Yes, it is still a nuclear power, but it's military is much less impressive than it was in the Cold War.  The troops are underpaid, under-trained and under-equipped. And what's more, Russia is much more integrated into the world economy than you might think.  While their control of Europe's natural gas supply is a huge problem, the fact is that Russians have assets around the world now that can be seized. Sanctions will hurt Russia in a way that they couldn't hurt the Soviet Union.

Obama has always been prudent and slow moving in these situations.  It is his best quality as a foreign policy president.  Events in Ukraine may require a reaction, but it doesn't have to be today.  We simply don't know what tomorrow might bring.

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