Playing all the wrong cards in
the Ukraine crisis, the White
House pushed Russian President Vladimir Putin into taking
desperate measures in Crimea. After months of Western-backed
demonstrations trying to wrench Ukraine’s government from
Russia, the West finally got what it wanted toppling Feb. 22
Ukraine’s Russian-backed government of Viktor Yanukovich.
Moscow warned the West to stay out Ukraine’s internal affairs.
Putin aide Sergei Glazyev warned the U.S. Feb. 6, over two
weeks before the Feb. 22 revolution and one day before the
start of the Sochi Winter Olympics, that if things
deteriorated in Ukraine Russia would likely intervene. Putin
had to bite his tongue Feb. 22 while denounced by NBC’s Winter
Olmpics anchor Bob Costas denounced the Russian president on
worldwide TV. Putin waited only one week after the closing
ceremony to takeover Crimea.
U.S. jumped all over the Feb. 22
revolution denouncing the Russian-backed government of
Yanukovich, throwing all U.S. support to the new revolutionary
regime. Russian officials made it clear from the get-go that
toppling a duly elected government violated international law. President
Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry immediately
threw their support to Ukraine’s new anti-Russian government.
Putin’s move to put Russian-backed forces into Crimea March 1
essentially annexed the strategic peninsula, home to Russia's
Black Sea fleet. “We believe that a decision to move forward
by Russia to ratify that vote officially within the Duma
would, in fact, be a backdoor annexation of Crimea,” Kerry
told reporters after talks in London with Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov exposed stark differences between the
U.S. and Russian governments..
Instead to pitting the White House
against Moscow, the U.S. should have tried to see the Russian
position that a pro-Western coup in Ukraine was unacceptable.
U.S. and European Union’s instant acceptance of Ukraine’s new
revolutionary government suggests that they backed the coup.
Moving troops into Crimea was Russia’s only way of protecting
its interests in Ukraine before the pro-Western government
applied pressure for Russia to get out. Whether one believes
in Putin’s immediate tactics of not in Crimea, the U.S. and EU
jumped so fast on the new government’s bandwagon they showed
no regard for Moscow. “We lack a common vision of the
situation, and differences remain,” said Lavrov, highlighting
the one-sided view taken by Western governments, especially
the White House. Russia has far greater national security
interests in the Ukraine than the U.S. and EU.
When Putin moved Russian-backed forces
into Crimea, he met almost universal condemnation from the
West. Not one Western country acknowledged that the
anti-Russia coup that sacked Yanukovich’s government was
illegal, violating the sovereign rights of the duly elected
Ukrainian government. Opposing Yanukovich’s decision to scrap
an EU economic relief plan in favor a pact with Moscow to
retire Ukraine’s massive debt prompted demonstrations that
toppled the elected government. Without some U.S. or EU
backing, the coup would not have happened. Whether or not the
Feb. 22 coup during the Sochi Olympics was carefully
orchestrated by U.S. and EU is anyone’s guess. Moscow
certainly thinks so. Putin’s move to annex Crimea has been met
with harsh reactions by the U.S. and EU, now threatening to
hit Moscow with harsh travel restrictions and economic
Strong Russian backing in Crimea’s 2
million people prompted Putin to move forward with a March 17
vote on independence. While Ukraine’s revolutionary leaders
claim Crimea as sovereign territory, it’s whole new ballgame
since the Feb. 22 revolution. Western powers refuse to see the
Russian perspective, especially that former Premier Nikita’s
Khrushchev’s 1954 gift of Crimea to the Ukraine as part of the
Soviet Union. “If the referendum takes place, there will be
some sanctions,” Kerry said. “There’ll be some response,” a
far cry from Obama’s promise of “costs” to Moscow for annexing
Crimea. “Our partners also realize that sanctions are
counterproductive,” said Lavrov, hinting that Russia’s own
travel restrictions could impact American tourists in Russia.
State Department officials issued a travel warning to
Americans considering Russian travel.
Calling on the U.S. Congress to give
Kiev’s new revolutionary government urgent military aid, Sen.
John McCain (R-Ariz.) pushes Putin to dig in his heels. Unless
the U.S. government has a vested national security interest in
the Ukraine, they should let the U.N. and responsible parties
work out their differences. Seizing on Crimea to restart the
Cold War with Russia does nothing to advance U.S. interests in
the region or abroad. Antagonizing Russia, a veto-wielding
member of the U.N. Security Council, undermines pressing U.S.
foreign policy issues of dealing with Syria, North Korea and
Iran. Pitting the Russian Federation as U.S. adversary
reverses years of confidence-building since the 1991 collapse
of the Soviet Union. Ukraine’s new revolutionary government
headed by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime
Minister Arsenly Yatsenuk need to work out their problems with
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes
politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and
global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author
of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.