September 3, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted recently that “if I wanted to, I could take Kiev in two weeks.” Unfortunately, as the Obama administration and our allies have stroked their chins, the Russian-backed separatists have been pummeling Ukrainian forces, to whom we have denied defensive weapons and intelligence data. The Post reports today:

President Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves after their meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, on Wednesday. (Valda Kalnina/European Pressphoto Agency)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday announced a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, although major questions remained about whether it would be implemented.

The surprise decision comes as Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine have made rapid strides to retake territory in the last week, after apparently receiving an infusion of support from Russia, which the Kremlin denies.

The cease-fire may not hold, as “Poroshenko appears likely to come under fire from Ukrainian hard-liners who have put heavy pressure on him to stop at nothing short of a full military victory in the east.” However, without a victory on the battlefield Ukraine is operating from a position of weakness at the negotiating table. The only question remaining is what Poroshenko must sacrifice to halt Russian-backed rebels’ advances. (“The Russian leader called for ‘statehood’ for the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine in an interview broadcast Sunday, although his spokesman later said that what Putin meant was autonomy within the Ukrainian state. Russia has also sought guarantees that Ukraine would never be able to join the NATO defense alliance.”)

Russia and its separatist allies have every reason to push a hard bargain. Russia enveloped Crimea and sent forces to invade Ukraine. Separatists shot down a civilian airliner. In response, the Obama administration and the European Union issued many huffy declarations and some middling sanctions. Barely a pinprick. As in Syria, our failure to help allies win on the battlefield consigns them to defeat at the bargaining table.

It need not have been this way. Executive director Christopher J. Griffin and senior policy analyst Evan Moore of the conservative Foreign Policy Initiative argue that we could have enacted sector-wide sanctions on Russia’s gas industry and financial industry, piled on additional sanctions against specific human rights abusers and put in place an “airtight” arms embargo. More important, as Republicans demanded months ago, the administration should at the very least have provided “Ukraine anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to enable their military to stand up to Russia’s” in addition to trainers and intelligence to aid defense of their homeland. The authors continue:

In addition, the Ukrainian government has indicated that it plans to request NATO membership, pending approval by the country’s parliament. NATO has already expressed its support for Ukrainian accession, provided that Kyiv meets the conditions for joining the alliance. As Ukraine pursues NATO membership, the United States and Europe should make clear that they will support Kyiv’s aspirations. …

Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania have requested that NATO forces be permanently stationed on their territory. As a step towards accommodating their request, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen told reporters that the alliance would create a “spearhead” rapid deployment force at the summit next week.  However, this “more visible” NATO presence near Russia is envisioned as a rotation of member state forces, not a permanent deployment. . . . Western leaders should not shy away from taking appropriate action to protect NATO members and deter further Russian aggression.

They also recommend expansion of NATO for Ukraine, Sweden, Finland and others. We should begin a Membership Action Plan (MAP) “to make MAP a reality for Georgia, while also pressuring Tbilisi to desist in its politicized prosecutions of former government officials. This step, essential for Georgia’s long-term security, sends a vital message of reassurance to Ukraine’s parliament as it debates seeking membership, and puts Moscow on notice that it cannot veto its neighbors’ NATO aspirations.”

Now that there is a cease-fire, it remains doubtful that the president would do any of this. It would be “provocative.” Instead, expect President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to “welcome” negotiations and urge accommodation of Russian demands. This is how the administration operates — withhold support for friends, issue empty threats to foes, allow aggressors to advance and then cement their gains in a negotiated deal. This is pure appeasement.

We’ve seen this routine in Syria, to the surprise of those who actually believed Obama had ruled out appeasement, and are likely to see it play out in Iran. After all this “progress,” the administration probably will try to get a deal that essentially preserves Iran’s ability to go nuclear at some time in the future. But, but Obama said he didn’t bluff! He said it would be unacceptable! Yeah, right. Obama says a great many things (including a vow today to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State), but that has little to do with what he does. Our foes and friends know it. And that is why he is presiding over the dismemberment of Ukraine.

 

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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