Category Archives: Crimea

Welcome to the 19th Century

Well, well, well. Hows the dialog working for you, Mr. President?
‘You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext,” declared John Kerry on March 2 as Russia began its conquest of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Though he didn’t intend it, the U.S. Secretary of State was summing up the difference between the current leaders of the West who inhabit a fantasy world of international rules and the hard men of the Kremlin who understand the language of power. The 19th-century men are winning.

Vladimir Putin consolidated his hold on Crimea Sunday by forcing a referendum with only two choices. Residents of the Ukrainian region could vote either to join Russia immediately or to do so eventually. The result was a foregone conclusion, midwifed by Russian troops and anti-Ukraine propaganda. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed Mr. Kerry’s pleas for restraint on Friday in London, and Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution denouncing the Crimean takeover a day later.

Next up for conquest may be eastern Ukraine. Russian troops are massed on the border, and on Saturday its soldiers and helicopter gunships crossed from Crimea and occupied a natural gas plant on the Ukrainian mainland. Scuffles and demonstrations in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv, egged on by Russian agitators, could create another “trumped up pretext.”

And what is to stop Mr. Putin? In the two weeks since Russian troops occupied Crimea, President Obama and Europe have done little but threaten “consequences” that Mr. Putin has little reason to take seriously. The U.S. has refused Ukraine’s request for urgent military aid, and it has merely sent a few NATO planes to the Baltic states and Poland. The Russian strongman might figure he’s better off seizing more territory now and forcing the West to accept his facts on the ground. All the more so given that his domestic popularity is soaring as he seeks to revive the 19th-century Russian empire.

Left in shambles are the illusions of Mr. Obama and his fellow liberal internationalists. They arrived at the White House proclaiming that the days of U.S. leadership had to yield to a new collective security enforced by “the international community.” The U.N. would be the vanguard of this new 21st-century order, and “international law” and arms-control treaties would define its rules.  Thus Mr. Obama’s initial response to Mr. Putin’s Crimean invasion was to declare, like Mr. Kerry, that it is “illegal” because it violates “the Ukrainian constitution and international law.” As if Mr. Putin cares.

The 19th-century men understand that what defines international order is the cold logic of political will and military power. With American power in retreat, the revanchists have moved to fill the vacuum with a new world disorder.  Backed by Iran and Russia, Bashar Assad is advancing in Syria and may soon crush the opposition. Iran is arming the terrorist militias to the north and south of Israel. China is pressing its regional territorial claims and building its military. And Mr. Putin is blowing apart post-Cold War norms by carving up foreign countries when he feels he can.

The question now is whether Mr. Obama and his advisers will shed their 21st-century fantasies and push back against the new Bonapartes. Jimmy Carter finally awoke after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, but Mr. Obama hasn’t shown the same awareness of what is happening on his watch.  We’ve written about the need for broad economic and financial sanctions against Russia and its elites. Skeptics reply that Europe will never go along. Even if that’s true—and that would mean a failure of U.S. diplomacy—it shouldn’t deter the U.S. from imposing its own banking and financial sanctions. The world’s banks can be made to face a choice between doing business with Russia or doing business in America. We know from the Bush Administration’s experience with North Korea that such sanctions bite.

The West must also meet Mr. Putin’s military aggression with a renewed military deterrent. This does not mean a strike on Russia or invading Crimea. It should mean offering military aid to Ukraine to raise the price of further Russian intervention. Above all it means reinforcing NATO to show Mr. Putin that invading a treaty ally would lead to war.

The U.S. and Europe should move quickly to forward deploy forces to Poland, the Baltic states and other front-line NATO nations. This should include troops in addition to planes and armor. Reviving an updated version of the Bush-era missile defense installation in Eastern Europe is also warranted, including advanced interceptors that could eventually be used against Russian ICBMs.

Russia’s revanchism should also finally awaken Europeans to spend more on their own defense. The 19th-century men know that nationalism isn’t dead as a mobilizing political force. Western Europe’s leaders will have to relearn this reality or their dreams of European peace will be shattered. They need more modern arms of their own in addition to America’s through NATO.

In response to the Crimean referendum Sunday, the White House issued a statement declaring that, “In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another.” We shall see, but Mr. Obama first needs to understand that America’s adversaries reject his fanciful 21st-century rules.

 Welcome to the 19th Century –


Obama’s Unserious Sanctions

The Left will never call Obama out on this…
President Obama and the European Union announced their sanctions response to Vladimir Putin’s rolling conquest of Crimea on Monday, and the most accurate assessment came from financial markets. Moscow’s stock exchange, which has been battered for two weeks in fear of Western sanctions, rose 3.7%. Congratulations, Mr. President. You gave the Kremlin a sanctions relief rally.

Mr. Obama had promised “consequences” if Mr. Putin followed through with the Crimean referendum, so we doubt even the Russian President thought the West’s actions would be this weak. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny tweeted from Moscow that the sanctions list was “of course, funny.” He added that “Obama only delighted all our crooks and encouraged them.”

That turned out to be literally true when one of the Russians on Mr. Obama’s list, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, tweeted, “It seems to me that some kind of joker wrote the U.S. president’s order :)” LOL.  The U.S. list included a mere seven Russians and four Ukrainians who the President cited for having threatened “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The list included only two Russians of note: Mr. Putin’s political fixer Vladislav Surkov, and Sergei Glazyev, a nationalist who handles the Kiev portfolio at the Kremlin. The other five are lawmakers with little influence.

The most notable names were those not on the list. Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu, Mr. Putin’s chief of staff Sergei Ivanov and Alexander Bortnikov, who runs the FSB (formerly the KGB), belong to the circle of hard-liners on the Russian national security council, where the decisions on Ukraine are taken. Mr. Shoygu’s department has deployed some 20,000 men to Crimea. Mr. Bortnikov’s charges are running special operations in eastern Ukraine to whip up separatist demonstrators.

Mr. Putin’s moneymen are also absent. Alexei Miller is a close ally who runs Gazprom OGZPY +3.65% and can squeeze Ukraine on gas supplies and prices. Igor Sechin, another crony, runs the oil giant Rosneft. Gennady Timchenko became an energy billionaire after Mr. Putin took over the Kremlin. These men have assets and business in Europe and America, and limiting their ability to invest or travel would bring financial pain to the Putin inner circle.

Mr. Obama called his sanctions list a “calibrated” response [my, how strategic] and hinted that more were possible if Mr. Putin escalates his campaign against Ukraine. But this is the same diplomatic gradualism that caused Mr. Obama to delay any sanctions after the initial Crimea invasion in hope that Mr. Putin would reconsider. That didn’t work and neither will this.

Coming after so many warnings from the White House, the sanctions are more likely to reconfirm the Russian strongman’s view that Mr. Obama has no stomach for a confrontation. And sure enough, within hours of the White House action, Mr. Putin signed a decree recognizing Crimea’s independence from Ukraine. Next up may be a path to formal annexation of the peninsula, though Mr. Putin may decide he doesn’t need to invade eastern Ukraine if he can achieve political control by other means. But watch out, Moldova.

Sanctions are an imperfect foreign-policy tool, but Russia’s weak economy and dependence on Western capital markets give the U.S. and Europe some leverage if they are serious. The sanctions Mr. Obama announced are worse than useless because their main impact will be to make America look weak.

Obama’s Unserious Sanctions –


The Price of Failed Leadership

Is even the Right paying attention?
Why are there no good choices? From Crimea to North Korea, from Syria to Egypt, and from Iraq to Afghanistan, America apparently has no good options. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, Russia owns Crimea and all we can do is sanction and disinvite—and wring our hands.

Iran is following North Korea’s nuclear path, but it seems that we can only entreat Iran to sign the same kind of agreement North Korea once signed, undoubtedly with the same result. Our tough talk about a red line in Syria prompted Vladimir Putin’s sleight of hand, leaving the chemicals and killings much as they were. We say Bashar Assad must go, but aligning with his al Qaeda-backed opposition is an unacceptable option.

And how can it be that Iraq and Afghanistan each refused to sign the status-of-forces agreement with us—with the very nation that shed the blood of thousands of our bravest for them?  Why, across the world, are America’s hands so tied?

A large part of the answer is our leader’s terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, “a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community—and to the White House—that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more. That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.

Months before the rebellion began in Syria in 2011, a foreign leader I met with predicted that Assad would soon fall from power. Surely the White House saw what this observer saw. As the rebellion erupted, the time was ripe for us to bring together moderate leaders who would have been easy enough for us to identify, to assure the Alawites that they would have a future post-Assad, and to see that the rebels were well armed.

The advent of the Arab Spring may or may not have been foreseen by our intelligence community, but after Tunisia, it was predictable that Egypt might also become engulfed. At that point, pushing our friend Hosni Mubarak to take rapid and bold steps toward reform, as did Jordan’s king, might well have saved lives and preserved the U.S.-Egypt alliance.

The time for securing the status-of-forces signatures from leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan was before we announced in 2011 our troop-withdrawal timeline, not after it. In negotiations, you get something when the person across the table wants something from you, not after you have already given it away.

Able leaders anticipate events, prepare for them, and act in time to shape them. My career in business and politics has exposed me to scores of people in leadership positions, only a few of whom actually have these qualities. Some simply cannot envision the future and are thus unpleasantly surprised when it arrives. Some simply hope for the best. Others succumb to analysis paralysis, weighing trends and forecasts and choices beyond the time of opportunity.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton traveled the world in pursuit of their promise to reset relations and to build friendships across the globe. Their failure has been painfully evident: It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office, and now Russia is in Ukraine. Part of their failure, I submit, is due to their failure to act when action was possible, and needed.

A chastened president and Secretary of State Kerry, a year into his job, can yet succeed, and for the country’s sake, must succeed. Timing is of the essence.

Mr. Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts and the 2012 Republican nominee for president.
Mitt Romney: The Price of Failed Leadership –


Lessons in Democracy for Ukraine’s Neighbors

Lessons that we should all be “aware of”, I might add.
The world justifiably feels for Ukraine and finds itself scrambling to come up with an appropriate response to the Russian incursion. Yet even as a whole host of new democracies race to forget their pasts, one could see this Ukraine mess coming. If you are running any of the new democracies with difficult histories—Poland, any of the Baltic republics, Croatia, Hungary and others—what are you to make of the developments in Ukraine? What lessons are there for you and for your people? Here are three:

• Weapons trump agreements. Ukraine now looks incredibly naïve to have agreed to give up its nuclear weapons. Ukraine, the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, under which Russia, the U.K and the U.S. promised to respect Ukraine’s borders. They also agreed to abstain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine; to support Ukraine where an attempt is made to place pressure on it by economic coercion; and to bring any incident of aggression by a nuclear power before the U.N. Security Council. In return, Ukraine agreed to give up what was then the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The treaty clearly uses the term “assurances” in reference to the other signatories’ pledges, but Ukraine has always interpreted the assurances as “guarantees.”

It is arguable whether Ukraine had the wherewithal to maintain the weapons and even whether nuclear weapons are an effective deterrent against a conventional attack. But in hindsight, you can bet that Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov and his transition team rue the day Ukraine gave up its rusty but powerful nuclear deterrent in return for paper assurances.

Other states beware: Treaties of cooperation, partnership, mutual defense and even union work wonderfully in times of peace and plenty—when you don’t need them. All too often, though, such undertakings leave the weaker partners holding the empty bag in times of war or economic hardship.

As expensive as such advice is to follow, and as politically incorrect as it may seem, new democracies would be wise to look back to early last century for guidance and follow the admonition of President Theodore Roosevelt to “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that new democracies need to go on a weapons-buying spree, but they do need to think twice before giving up their military capabilities or letting them degrade. In short, if you are a new democracy living in a historically dangerous neighborhood, speak softly—but don’t give up your stick.

• Make hay while the sun shines. Ukraine was handicapped by the remnants of a heavy and long-term Russian colonization policy. However, like many of the new democracies, it had 20 years to get its act together politically and economically—and chose not to. This assessment may sound rough but it is true, and not just for Ukraine. The citizens and politicians of Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia and a host of other countries have allowed inept leadership to squander the first two decades of their newly attained independence.

Instead of building on the national goodwill they inherited, which was ready to forgive many rookie leadership mistakes, the various leaders of Ukraine couldn’t get over their adolescent self-absorption and allowed graft, corruption, greed and legal mayhem to eat away at an already fragile state, weakening it financially and militarily to such a degree that its ultimate survival has been thrown in doubt.

It is difficult to build a prosperous new democracy on the foundations of a harsh and oppressive past. Yet it is exactly that harsh past which should make its new leaders more responsible, not less; more honest, not less; and more statesmanlike, not less. The crisis in Ukraine today is a crisis of leadership—in Ukraine, the EU, U.S. and Russia. While Ukraine cannot influence the leadership elsewhere, it can control the leaders it produces and lets run the country.

Nation-building is messy, and democracy can seem further away with each new “free” election, and good leadership further away with each new political party. Ukrainians (and people in some other countries with similar backgrounds and choices) need to ask themselves:

What have we done for 20 years to ensure that we are economically and militarily as strong as possible? Did we pick leaders because they told us the truth or because they told us what we wanted to hear? Did we hold leaders accountable, or did we blindly follow the party line? Did we always blame Russia for our problems, even when we were our own worst enemies? Did we see corruption in what others did, but not in what we did, which we classified as merely helping our families? Did we get involved, or did we sit idly by and complain?

None of the foregoing absolves Russia of its responsibility for its military aggression or us from our responsibility to help. It does highlight that Ukraine is weaker because of its own choices.

• We are all potentially Ukraine. The “we” refers to any of the 20-plus new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe with a tumultuous past and an immature political present. We are not very different, and it can happen here. Many of us have frittered away the national dreams of generations, the goodwill of our countrymen and the good intentions of our friends and neighbors. That is nobody’s fault but ours. Let the sad example of Ukraine be a wake-up call.

Mr. Račić is the CEO of Indium, a Croatia-based management-consulting and business-development company.
Lessons in Democracy for Ukraine’s Neighbors –