Russia is on the move, and there are no signs that Putin intends to slow down. The happenings in Crimea have all the signs of a full scale invasion. The long and storied history of the region shows that it has been tossed back in forth between various regimes seeking to establish or hold on to their power. Whether it's Ottomans and Tsars fighting over religion, or Nazis and Communists fighting over who can kill people and economies better, people have been fighting over Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula for a very long time.
So, why should we all care this time, and what can we do about it? Also, why is our President not answering these questions?
There are many reasons that we should care about what happens to Ukraine. The current geo-political landscape is once again at a cross-roads in its history. Factions within the country are divided between the idea of Russian allegiance, in effect becoming a vassal state, and joining the EU, which also results in some considerable loss of sovereignty.
Many Americans, from various points on the political spectrum, don't see the strategic or tactical importance of the Crimea or Ukraine as a whole, and following that don't see a need for the United States to get involved. This is a natural, and very American, reaction. We are war weary as a nation and no one wants to send our troops into battle for an obscure piece of land on the border with Russia.
Despite all this, we should care. The attempts by Putin to bring back the Soviet era hegemony over former vassal states should concern everyone who wishes for freedom and self determination in government. We should also understand the greater strategic control over the Black Sea that Russia would gain through this invasion if left unchecked.
While many only discuss our options in binary fashions that are more appropriate for burning strawmen than coherent policies arguments, I would rather see a discussion of the many options afforded to us.There are many things we can do in order to push back against Putin and provide the Ukrainian people with the protection they need to set a course for themselves. Isolationism and military interventionism are not, and have never been, our only options.
As Senator Cruz suggested in his statement on events in Ukraine, we should consider such actions as the suspension of Russian membership in the Group of Eight (G8), suspension from the World Trade Organization and even the United Nations Security Council.
In addition to working with world organizations to isolate Russia for its actions, the United States is in a unique position to be able to apply pressure upon Putin while providing protection to Ukrainians and the EU. Russia's conventional armies and nuclear weapons are not what give Putin leverage over Europe, it is Russia's flow of oil and natural gas that do that. The U.S. can bring cheap, recoverable oil and natural gas to market through a loosening of EPA and drilling regulations on federal land in order to weaken European dependence upon Russian gas pipelines. While it would take time for actual production levels to rise, the announcement to clear the regulatory path would itself be a blow to Putin's long term leverage.
These few actions could have a dramatic impact on Putin's ability to act without consequence and are also the sort of real diplomatic steps a nation hoping to avoid the use of military assets should be prepared to advance.
The only problem is that the United States is no longer that nation. The advance of totalitarian governments across the globe has continued apace while our great nation has led from behind.
Despite the fact that it is in the nature of our nation to support freedom from tyranny and a respect for the sovereignty of other nations, that is not the nature of our current Commander in Chief. President Obama does not see the United States as a nation set apart, but rather just one among many. While Obama may not like Putin or the way he makes him look on the global stage, he'd rather be golfing and writing executive orders to further his own domestic hegemony. And for this reason more than any other, President Obama will once again reject the advice of others and idly watch as the world moves beyond America.
Putin will continue to advance in the absence of strong leadership from the west. Americans must understand why this is important, what we should do about it, and why the President hasn't offered real leadership at home, or on the global stage. Inaction, a failure to employ the tools readily available to us, or a selfish complacency used as an excuse to ignore a resurgent, expansionist Russia will guide our nation away from military intervention over an obscure piece of land on the boarder of Russia, it could be our most direct path.