Western allies should stand up to Russia in Ukraine

Date Published: 
March 21, 2014

We all know about Crimea because Alford, Lord Tennyson, wrote a famous poem about the Crimean War and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Crimea has always been a controversial issue in international relations because of its strategic location on the Black Sea.

Recently, Russia has taken Crimea through naked aggression. Its action belies the telephone conversation President Obama had with President Putin in February, where Putin reportedly said that he would work cooperatively with the U. S. in solving Ukraine’s problems.

By invading Crimea, Russia has violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which it signed with the U.S. and the U.K. This treaty induced the Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons for assurances that Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty would be protected.

Since Peter the Great, Russia has sought a warm-water port, and Crimea has that asset. The natural gas and oil pipelines in the Ukraine feed Europe and give the Ukraine more strategic importance. Will the Western powers fight to stop Russian aggression?

Probably not, but it should. Too much is at stake in this Russian power grab. The Obama foreign policy does not inspire much credibility. The U.S. needs to create a military coalition to stand firm in the face of Russian aggression. International law, treaties and U. S. assurances to Korea and Japan are at stake.

President Obama’s foreign policy relies on diplomacy for the solution of international problems, but diplomacy does not work well in the face of aggression unless the military option is on the table. So far, no military option is being considered, but it ought to be.

Putin’s motives are very unclear. Will he be satisfied with the annexation of Crimea or does he also want to annex Ukraine? World War I started because of the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and the botched communications leading up to the war. France, for example, had no communication from Belgrade because its ambassador was ill.

In 1954, the U.S.S.R. “gave” Crimea to Ukraine. Pravda said, “Decree of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet transferring Crimea Province from the Russian Republic to the Ukraine Republic, taking into account the integral character of the economy, the territorial proximity and the close economic ties between Crimea Province and the Ukraine Republic.” The U.S.S.R. believed then that Crimea belonged more to Ukraine than Russia.

Putin’s pattern of Russian aggression has resembled the foreign policy of Soviet Union during the Cold War, e.g., the Afghanistan invasion of 1979. Central to its plot is a head of state that allies itself with Russian interests. When the head of state faced negative public opinion or riots in the streets or was unable to control its population, Russia used this as a pretext to invade the country.

The leader in this case was President Viktor Yanukovych, who was toppled recently, following riots in the streets by the Ukrainian people. Thus, Russia reverted to its past to pull out a game plan that it believed would work.

The U. S. should deploy war ships to the Black Sea and at the same time call President Putin to pull his troops out of Crimea. However, the U.S. must not act alone. It must form a coalition of forces to confront the Russian advances.

This might be difficult because of the economic impact and the possible disruption of the oil and gas pipelines to central Europe. Russia and Europe are trading partners, and disruption of their trade would create an economic impact on Europe.

But if Russia seizes the Ukraine, it will be able to squeeze Europe when it pleases. It is now massing troops on Ukraine’s eastern border.

A successful absorption of Crimea into Russia would add to the list of territories, including parts of Georgia that have already been absorbed. Crimea conducted a referendum last weekend in which it voted to join Russia. President Obama announced increased sanctions on Russia, but I don’t believe they will be effective because the costs are minimal.

In the past, Russian leaders have asserted the right to intervene militarily in other countries to protect fellow Russians. In Moldova, 6 percent of its population is Russian, and the Baltic States have similar percentages. These states are nervously eyeing the Crimea takeover as they believe that they may be next.

Russia’s action reinforces the belief that Putin is a dictator and wants to recreate the power of the former Soviet Union. Who will stop him?

Perry J. Mitchell is a retired professor of political science living in Ocean View. He has taught international relations courses for more than 30 years.