Why Partisan Politics Is Clouding Understanding of the Russian Incursion in Crimea

Regardless of the reasons for Russia deploying military personnel to southeast Ukraine, the aptitude of American politics to affect this process requires the media, public, and policymakers to understand a set of dynamics that have developed in since the USSR dissolved and Yeltsin ushered in the contemporary mob state. First, any criticism of Obama’s leadership in dealing with Putin—that somehow he is a weak leader and that someone else would do it better—affixes a simple partisan motivation to a deep-seeded structural reality. Namely, no American president in the last century would send troops to back up a deeply divided and volatile Ukraine. Even Harry Truman, who sent “military advisers” to bolster Turkey and Greece, would not send troops in this situation. Even Lyndon Johnson, who was so insecure in his knowledge and confidence to handle foreign affairs that he erroneously escalated the war in Vietnam, would not send troops into a country neighboring Russia (or within the USSR as Ukraine was during the 1960s). Here is a cold hard fact for any anti-Obama neo-conservative who thinks Lindsey Graham, John McCain or Ronald Reagan would handle this situation better: America has no military power on in the former USSR part of eastern Europe. Although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the threat of Iran, have fostered American military relations with the Turkic -stan countries, the extent of U.S. military power in eastern Europe is far inferior, NATO notwithstanding. The extent of military planning in the former Soviet bloc essentially at missile defense planning. No military bases housing American troops exist in this region, with the closest being in Germany and Turkey.

We cannot project our power might here! And if we could, why would we?

Economic sanctions, trade restructuring, and collective pressure through diplomacy (both bilateral, trilateral, and through the UN) are the only possible mechanisms to express displeasure with Russia. Constant dialogue with the pseudo-governing parliament in Ukraine to ensure they do not make the mistake of attacking the Russian military is also paramount. If Russia decides to take any more regions in the country, an argument for self-defense and action would be highly legitimate, but as it stands, Ukrainian forces cannot survive a war with Russia. The only way out of this is to negotiate a preferential deal for Russia and Russian sympathetic Crimeans, and have a full withdrawal of Russian forces. As long as Russian troops maintain a presence in the region, they will pay a continuous price for such behavior. So far, no one has died, kidnappings have not been reported. This is as symbolic as it is belligerent. Cooler heads must prevail.

For America’s part, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox (albeit unlikely), must maintain an objective understanding of what is transpiring in Crimea. Showcasing partisans such as Lindsey Graham, Newt Gingrich, and John McCain, should be met with direct question of “what would you do differently?” It should not be sufficient to simply talk in terms of leadership, since it is an intrinsically subjective quality, but instead decision-making. If the aforementioned conservatives disfavor military intervention, which they have, then they should spell out what their viable alternative is to the Obama administration’s policies.


The NY Times, among others, have shown the language disparity in Crimea. Though this creates more nuance in the public understanding, the narrative of Crimea being receptive to Russian troops is incorrect. Russian Ukrainians are still Ukrainians. The only Ukrainians that do not share a dual Russian-Ukrainian identity are nationalists, who make up a very small percent of the general public. During the tsarist and Soviet eras, Ukrainians identified nationally as Russian, but lived in a distinct historical and cultural region. The only split in the country is political, not cultural or linguistic. The plurality of citizens speak both Ukrainian and Russian, and many households have speakers who know both, even if their children might not.



Posted on March 3, 2014, in Foreign Affairs, History, Military. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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