Crimea turned its clocks to Moscow time literally and figuratively. And in case you didn't notice, if you plan to spend your vacation on Crimean beaches you must now get your visa from the Russian Embassy. As I ruefully predicted in my first post, “Crimea, Ukraine and the Agony of Impotence,” Crimea has joined Russia, and regardless of Western sanctions and condemnations there is no turning back for this historic clock. The White House agreed. In its recent statement, “If Russia does not take any steps to further violate Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, a diplomatic solution remains possible," Washington abandoned its devotion to revisionist history and acknowledged that Crimea is no longer part of any diplomatic settlement.
With the first round of the Ukrainian chess game Obama vs. Putin complete, it is time to recapitulate the outcome and see who is paying the “costs for invading any part of Ukraine,” as President Obama warned about in February.
Putin got Crimea and he got to keep the $15 billion he offered Ukraine earlier for not joining the EU. Furthermore, he will be getting billions of dollars in back payments for gas and market prices for the future gas supply (thus far Ukraine has been getting gas at a subsidized price). There is no more lease payment to Ukraine for the Navy base in Sevastopol. The downside: Western sanctions, condemnations, and a few F-16’s flying along the Russian border as a demonstration of NATO resolve.
As Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin put it, “these sanctions are not worth a grain of sand of the Crimean land that returned to Russia.” He is right. If President Obama ever looked at the map, he would realize that the strategic importance of Crimea for Russia cannot be overstated. As far as NATO resolve is concerned, instead F-16’s NATO should organize a gay parade along the Russian border; that would make a deeper impression on Putin.
In the meantime Obama committed the US to borrow money from China to pay Ukraine, so that Ukraine can pay Russia for gas. Makes sense.
What about the EU? It has committed itself to support Ukraine. Ukraine will become a black hole for billions of euros, with no end in sight. Once committed to adopt Ukraine, the EU will own it and will not be able to pull out, because if it does, Ukraine will disintegrate.
Round two began with a guessing game in Washington and European capitals. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers, R-Mich., summarized the sentiment. "While an invasion of Ukraine is a concern," Rogers said, "nobody really knows what [Putin's] intentions are." Is that why we’re spending billions of dollars on the CIA, NSA, and a bunch of other agencies, so we do not know? You can get it here for free.
Putin is not going to invade Ukraine. The reason is that the situation in Eastern Ukraine is not as clear as it was with Crimea. Although there is a strong movement toward independence from Kiev, joining Russia has its own problems even within the Russian population. The Russians living in Ukraine do not want their sons to be drafted into the Russian army and sent to fight in Chechnya. Hence, Putin will let the drama in Kiev play itself out. The impending collapse of civil authority and subsequent chaos and violence in Western Ukraine will inevitably drive Eastern Ukraine into Russian hands. Meanwhile, Putin allows President Obama to declare a tiny victory and MSNBC will say how skillfully the president protected Ukraine and avoided a conflict in Europe or some other nonsense that its viewers will enthusiastically endorse.
What is Putin’s next objective? The dissolution of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or, short of that, keeping NATO away from the Russian borders. Putin sees NATO as the biggest military threat to his country. For those of us who are too young to remember or never learned it in school, or perhaps did but are now having a senior moment, NATO is a military alliance created in April 1949. The main purpose of NATO was to protect Europe from Soviet expansion. In response the Soviets formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955.
The two military camps threatened to destroy the world, and the standoff, which lasted for the next 34 years, was called Mutually Assured Destruction. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact disintegrated as well. If you are Putin, you would ask members of NATO, “Against whom are you maintaining this beautiful friendship?”
Furthermore, after the cessation of the Cold War, NATO and Moscow negotiated the terms of the German unification. In accordance with the agreement, NATO committed not to extend any further to the east. This promise was broken and the alliance has aggressively expanded eastward growing drastically from 16 member states in 1990 to 28 currently.
The expansion of NATO toward the Russian borders may eventually lead to a conflict similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961. Today, however, the United States does not enjoy nuclear preeminence and its economic strength is dwindling. The Crimea affair was a test of resolve on the part of the US and NATO allies in dealing with adversity. It has demonstrated that the West has no power to confront Russia and lacks the leadership to build a consensus. Convinced of the West’s impotence, Putin can proceed with his prime objective; the penalties are negligible, the rewards are huge.
NATO’s strength, a collective defense, is also its greatest weakness. If Putin is thinking of invading other countries, it would be one of members of NATO. NATO’s failure to defend its member effectively will make membership in NATO a liability. Backed by a growing arsenal of nuclear and conventional weapons, Putin will be in a position to assert Moscow’s right to impose a non-NATO membership doctrine on its neighbors.
Those members of NATO and the Ukrainians in Kiev will come to appreciate the wisdom of Henry Kissinger, who once observed, “To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal.” As Putin has learned, to be an enemy of America is no longer dangerous.