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Situation in Ukraine grows more dangerous

By Dale R. Herspring

The situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, and resolving the crisis in a manner that will serve Ukrainian, Russian and American interests is increasingly difficult. A couple of things are clear.

First, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds the key cards. To some degree, he would have held them regardless of who the U.S. president was.  After all, Ukraine is in his part of the world, and there is no question that Russian special forces are operating in Eastern Ukraine. Western intelligence services have identified some of the “militia troops” as Moscow’s special forces personnel and have confirmed that some of their weapons are distributed only to troops of the elite Spetznatz. As a result, unless Washington is prepared to send Marines to Ukraine, Moscow will continue to have a strategic advantage. NATO officials believe Russian troops on the Russian side of the Ukrainian border could conquer the poorly trained and poorly equipped Ukrainian Army in the eastern sector of Ukraine in about 12 hours.

Second, the Russians are convinced that the coup in Kiev that ousted Moscow’s favored president resulted from CIA intrigue. To them this means the confrontation really is an East-West Cold War dispute.

Third, the Europeans are always prepared to take serious actions against Moscow — as long the Americans carry the weight. Euro-peans are prepared to do anything except invoke serious sanctions against Russia because that would hurt them as well.  They are almost all dependent on Russian gas. German Gen. Harold Kujat, former inspector of the Bundeswehr, put it well when he said, “NATO threatens Russia over Ukraine, although it has neither the possibility nor the will to act militarily.” He went on to note, “In 2000, Germany had 4,800 modern tanks, today it has only 225.”

The United States also has a major problem with regard to Russia. As one observer put it, “Russia is too big to be ignored and too strong to be lectured to.” The same author also said that the way the West deals with Russia will have to change. Unfortunately, when it comes to standing up to Putin, President Obama does not excel. New York Times columnist David Brooks said that when it comes to the Middle East, “Obama has a ‘manhood problem.’ ” Brooks was referring to the perception abroad of Obama’s inability to come with up a coherent policy and follow it through.  He threatens, but seldom acts. For example, on Russia, the best the State De-partment can come up with is to suggest that we are doing our best to isolate Russia.

Putin is far more concerned about a return to Russia’s imperial greatness than he is about the country’s economic situation. If anything, his handling of the Cri-mean and Ukrain-ian crises have in-creased his al-ready immense popularity.

The U.S. and NATO have taken tangible steps in Poland and the Baltic states. U.S.  troops are in Poland servicing a battery of Patriot missiles. Others U.S. troops have deployed in Lavia, and more are on the way. Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak recently made a formal request that the United States station up to 10,000 troops in Poland. The Poles believe that a sizeable number of NATO troops in Poland would cause Moscow to think twice about moving a military force into Poland or even threatening it. One source argued that the U.S. forces should include cyber-defense units.  Such a step would irritate the Russians. We will have to wait to see what Obama decides.  

Vice President Joe Biden recently traveled to Ukraine to show U.S. support for the Western-oriented government.  His visit had little impact on the Russians, whose propaganda said the purpose of the visit was to find “a face-saving exit from America’s foreign policy catastrophe.”

A Russian writer made an interesting observation. He said NATO should be very appreciative of Putin because Putin’s actions may spur NATO’s revival and give it a new reason to exist.

Regardless of whether the West or Russia wins Ukraine, it is an economic and ethnic basket case. Thus, the winner can look forward to paying a tremendous bill on this bankrupt state. It makes one wonder if gaining supremacy there is worth it.

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