“The West Is Paying The Price For Failing To Face Down Putin On Crimea Annexation” — Five Years Ago Today, March 18, 2014; And A U.S Treaty Guaranteeing Ukraine’s Territorial Integrity — Brokered By Former POTUS Clinton — Mostly Forgotten
The title above comes from H.E. Natallia Galibarenko and Dr. Andrew Foxhall’s Op-Ed in today’s/March 18, 2019 edition of London’s The Telegraph. Ms. Gailbarenko is Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.K.; while, Dr. Foxhall is the Director of Russia and Eurasia Studies Center, at the Henry Jackson Society. “Five years ago today, (Mar. 18, 2014),” they write, “Russia annexed Crimea. It was the first time a European state had seized territory from another since World War Two. And, it was the second time in six years that Russia had carved up one of its neighbors.”
“In late February 2014, Russia sent its armed forces — masked and dressed in unmarked uniforms — into Crimea, a strategically-important peninsula in the south of Ukraine,” the authors note. “Ukraine’s Russia-backed President, Viktor Yanukovych, had already fled the country, after being toppled by pro-democracy demonstrators. These armed forces quickly asserted control over the peninsula. Russia quickly organized a sham referendum in which an implausibly high, 95.5 percent of participants voted for Crimea to join Russia.”
“Western leaders declared the referendum to be “illegal,” and “illegitimate,” and called for “dialogue,” and “de-escalation,” the authors write. “But, while the West equivocated, Ukraine was dismembered.”
“With the stroke of a pen, on March 18, 2014, Putin signed a treaty absorbing Crimea into Russia,” the authors remind us. “Putin claimed the annexation was about protecting the rights of ethnic Russians on the peninsula. Instead,” the observe, “it was about Russia’s discontent with the post Cold-War international order, which Putin had famously made clear at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. It was about Russia, resurgent and nationalistic, pushing its way back into the captive states of the former Soviet Union, and reversing losses the Kremlin felt it had suffered.”
“The West did impose sanctions on Russia,” the authors wrote, “with the United States being first, while the U.K. led the EU into introducing targeted measures against individuals and entities involved in the annexation. But, these [measures] were too little, too late, to halt Putin’s expansionist ambitions. In April 2014, Putin launched a war in eastern Ukraine. It is a war, in which, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, more than 13,000 people have died. The war continues today, and is now one of the longest running in Europe in almost a century.”
“Sanctions were later expanded to target specific sectors of Russia’s economy, following the destruction [shoot-down] of the Malaysia Air Lines flight MH17, by a Russian surface-to-air missile,” Ms. Gailbarenko, and Dr. Foxhall wrote. “And, these [latest sanctions] are working — if they were not, it is unlikely Putin would have spent so much time and effort trying to get them lifted. But, while the sanctions have raised the price the Kremlin must pay for its behavior, Moscow has not stopped its aggression on the peninsula, or towards Ukraine.”
“Over the last five years, Russia has exported its oil-fueled kleptocracy to Crimea,” the authors write. “According to the United Nations, opposition voices are silenced, human rights are violated, and organized crime is rampant. At the same time, Russia has dramatically increased the size and capability of its Black Sea fleet and land-based forces there. Its new air, and coastal defenses mean that it is able to establish an anti-access/area-denial zone covering almost all of the Black Sea — including parts of NATO members, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey.”
“Russia’s aggression is not straightforwardly military,” the authors note. “Ukraine has served as a scorched-Earth testing ground for the Kremlin’s hybrid warfare. Moscow’s efforts to wreak chaos and divide societies through the targeted use of corruption, propaganda campaigns, and cyber warfare, were all tested there (as well as elsewhere in eastern Europe) before being rolled out against the West. Ukrainians will vote for their next president later this month; and, there is already widespread Russian interference in the election.”
“If the West is serious about facing down the threat posed by Russia, then it must up its game,” the authors argue. “The U.S. is leading the way, deploying some of the most potent weapons in its financial arsenal, including measures previously only used against rouge states, terrorist groups, and transnational crime. The EU, in turn, has shown itself willing to expand existing sanctions — last month, eight Russians were blacklisted, after 24 Ukrainian soldiers, and their vessels were illegally detained in the Kerch Strait.”
“These actions are important, but more must be done,” the authors urge. “NATO’s presence in the Black Sea should be increased. So too, should bilateral military assistance to Ukraine. International human rights monitoring missions should be sent to the Crimea, and Magnitsky legislation used against individuals guilty of human rights abuses there.”
The authors conclude, “For all of this the West is just playing [still] catch-up. Its initial response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea was weak [under POTUS Obama’s watch] ; and, this emboldened Putin, [and China’s Xi as well]. From Syria to Salisbury, we have been dealing with the consequences ever since.”
It is useful to understand/remember how we got to where we are now. In 1996, then POTUS Bill Clinton and his Defense Secretary Bill Perry, persuaded Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons, after the fall of the Soviet Union — in exchange for a treaty that the U.S. signed, guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Ukraine. But, instead of coming to Ukraine’s rescue and confronting and deterring Vladimir Putin, POTUS Obama vacillated and his National Security Adviser preached ‘Strategic Patience.’ While POTUS Obama and Ms. Rice concentrated on ‘Strategic Patience,’ which meant nothing, and focused on climate change — while our adversaries like Russia and China, focused on geographic change. Putin seized the Crimea, and China began building and militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea. The failure of the United States to publicly and demonstrably honor our treaty with Ukraine, essentially gave Putin a green light to cement his territorial grab; and, encouraged China to become much more aggressive in the Pacific. And both China and Russia planted their flags, and established a physical presence, in the Arctic.
‘Strategic Patience’ — was in tatters, even before POTUS Obama left office; and POTUS Trump was left with playing field where the adversary saw — and exploited U.S. weakness.
The time to confront Russia and China was in 2014 when POTUS Obama basically let our adversaries have the freedom to fill vacuums, and that is just what they did. What is the old saying, ‘possession is ninth tenths of the law.’ It is much harder and much more challenging to confront China and Russia, after we allowed them to go mostly unchallenged in their geographic pursuits during Obama’s presidency.
Having said all that, we signed a treaty with Ukraine guaranteeing their territorial integrity. Either we honor it, or leave it in tatters. I hear former POTUS Clinton and SECSTATE Clinton still out publicly speaking on various issues of the day. When is someone going to ask former POTUS Bill Clinton about his PROMISE TO UKRAINE. And, if we do not honor this treaty, it is another reason for North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, not to give up his nuclear weapons. RCP, fortunascorner.com