The situation in Ukraine has alternated between rhythm and discord. The music began when Ukraine decided to pursue an Association Agreement with the EU. The first discordant note sounded when the Ukrainian president was told that he must end relations with Russia. His decision not to sign the AA resulted in local protests, which culminated in Victoria Nuland’s phone call. In retrospect, this phone call was probably misleading. Unfortunately, it’s given credence to Putin’s focus on the United States. Conflict between Russia and the United States is certainly safer for Putin in the short term than conflict with the EU. However, he seems to be using the U.S. to avoid dialogue with his closer neighbors. In my opinion, Putin is on the line to respond appropriately to Keiv’s latest attempts to restore harmony.
Ukraine’s leaders have responded to his concerns in two ways: by addressing the radical right, and by indicating a willingness to discuss the federalization of Ukraine. These things should have the potential to end the crisis, but at this time the pro-Russian groups in Eastern Ukraine are out of step. Regardless of whether Russia is supporting them, if Putin fails to call them to order he is at fault.
Some are now saying that the United States’ presence in Poland is part of the problem. However, the American strategy has clearly been defensive so far. The administration probably wants to demonstrate support for Central Europe, as has been stated. The reason: if these countries believe they have been left on their own to face Russia, they might decide they have no choice but to make peace with Putin. NATO can’t handle Central Europe’s requests for help because NATO is cash-poor and divided. Therefore, the United States has to take up some of the slack. [ref]From Estonia to Azerbaijan: American Strategy After Ukraine. Stratfor Global Intelligence. March 25, 2014. available:http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/estonia-azerbaijan-american-strategy-after-ukraine?topics=286[/ref]
All things considered, it’s difficult to make the case that this is another Cold War as some on the Left would like us to believe. It’s not a conflict between the United States and Russia, except perhaps for purposes of propaganda. The U.S. has clearly been playing a supporting role to the EU and Obama’s continuing restraint supports this view. Harsh retaliation has been ruled out because it would damage the EU as much as Russia.
No one is forgetting that Russian security was threatened, but Russia is not under threat from the United States at this time. Putin must work with his neighbors in the EU and Ukraine. Perhaps he believes his focus on the U.S. will win support for his personal agenda. Too bad Obama hasn’t taken his bait.
It’s Putin’s turn to strike a chord. He should end this.