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Russian President Vladimir Putin
Associated Press/Photo by Alexei Druzhinin (RIA-Novosti/Presidential Press Service)
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Taking Russia seriously

Foreign Policy

In the Ukrainian Crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing chess while President Barack Obama is playing peekaboo. Obama emerged from presidential fun like March Madness predictions and comic television appearances promoting youth interest in Obamacare to issue farcical sanctions against a handful of Russian plutocrats. The Russian stock market actually went up the next day. Essentially, Obama threated Putin that if he does not stand down, we will kick his dog.

Obama sent his vice president, Joe Biden, a notorious clown, to Eastern Europe to calm and reassure those virtually defenseless nations against the prowling Russian bear. True to form, the clown upstaged the emissary, and Putin had another good day.

Putin is looking for a military response from Ukraine so he can invade the country. He did the same in the Republic of Georgia in 2008. In Crimea, he is using Russian troops disguised as Crimean defense forces to seize Ukrainian military bases in Crimea and a gas plant on the Ukrainian side of the Crimean border. Putin is allowing Ukraine’s 25,000 troops stationed in Crimea to make their way home but without their weapons—no guns, tanks … nothing. This was designed to humiliate and provoke.

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Meanwhile, we refused a Ukrainian request for defensive weapon aid. The Obama administration instead offered military rations, meals ready to eat. He could not have sent Putin a clearer signal of either abject weakness or overt permission. Either way, Obama threw open the door and said, “Take it; it’s yours.” What is more puzzling: the lost Malaysian jet or what President Obama is thinking in this crisis? One is tempted to wonder whose side he is on?

Obama appears to be addressing the wrong questions. He has asked himself: How can we show international disapproval for what Russia is doing, thus to shame them into a return to good behavior. So he “stands with” the European leaders in “standing with” the Ukrainians. And in standing with everyone in this way, he reminds Putin of what good behavior means in these enlightened, post-historical times. We saw this in the supposedly tougher stance of his White House Ukraine speech, with statements like, “Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community” and, “Nations do not simply redraw borders … simply because they are larger or more powerful,” and, “We want the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny. …” Touching, one would think.

But Putin does not care about moral isolation, diplomatic frowning, and the principles of self-determination that his American friend has so helpfully reiterated for him. He cares about restoring Moscow’s pre-1991 dominance in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Putin has Ukraine by the foot, and he will bite and bite until he swallows the head. Then he will turn to Moldova and Estonia, a European Union and NATO alliance member.

The question for Obama is: What are you going to do to stop him? A rapid airlift of military hardware to Ukraine would be a good start.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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