Putin has clearly over-extended into the Ukraine, and if he doesn’t realize it yet, he will soon enough. Russia remains powerful, but they are not the super power they once were. I’ve argued with many a neocon that Russia is no significant threat to us today. My argument does not rest on an assumption of Russian weakness, however, as I know they are still powerful. My argument rests on a realistic understanding of self-interest and power politics. Russia has nothing to gain from conflict with US, and if anything, they could be a valuable ally against a rising China (assuming China recovers from recent financial woes). But at the moment, they are flexing their military might in neighboring Ukraine, an important western ally in balancing out Russia’s power. We can’t stand by and let this happen, because a Russian dominated Ukraine would shift the balance of power unfavorably for US.
Recent threats of sanctions and possibly removing Russia from the G8 summit are probably our best bet. I am not a fan of long term sanctions against third world dictators, as such sanctions normally oppress the people of those countries while only cementing the power of the dictator. Putin, however, is not a third world dictator. He is a powerful president, clearly, but he has abided by Russia’s constitution. Putin is also wise enough to know the mistake he has made here, and he will probably want a face-saving way out soon enough. This brings me to my main point of this entry.
Not too long ago, pushed by the cacophony of neocons, Obama nearly over-extended us into Syria. We nearly made a terrible mistake, as we were close to aiding the “Free Syrian Army” against the government of Syria (which is backed by Putin). This “Free Syrian Army” is not the only force standing against the government – Al Qaeda is also. By helping the “Free Syrian Army”, we would have indirectly aided Al Qaeda as well. Neocons love to shoot first and aim later, however. Once Obama took enough time to aim, he realized the big mistake we were about to make. Of course, he never admitted to how close we were to actually helping Al Qaeda. Instead, he wanted to pretend that we had accomplished something. Our official reason for being involved was to stop the Syrian government from using chemical weapons, and if we were to stand down without egg on our face, something had to be done about those weapons. Fortunately, Putin came in and made an agreement with the Syrian government that they would follow a schedule to decommission their chemical weapons. We then stood down, and Obama was able to give one of his empty “victory” speeches. The neocons still want conflict with Syria, and are so desperate to get their war fix that they attempted to pass new sanctions on Syria, which would have violated our end of the agreement. Fortunately, the neocons are no longer powerful enough to fear-monger and red-bate us into more pointless wars, and their efforts have failed.
No matter how Obama spins it, the truth is that Putin saved our butts, and we should return the favor when the time comes. I’d recommend that Obama be prepared to meet with Putin, and discuss how Russia can stand down from the Ukraine without public embarrassment. Russia’s official interest in the Ukraine is the well-being of Russian nationals who live there, so any agreement must ensure their protection. It will be good for US, good for Russia, and good for our western European allies. The big loser? Why the neocons of course! This is why the neocons will loudly beat their war drums over the next few weeks. I think, however, that Putin will see his error, and Obama will be happy to return the favor from Syria (mostly to spite the neocons and other chicken-hawks in Congress).