You’ve heard that old expression about history many times, haven’t you?
No politicians have ever blamed a President of the United States for an invasion of sovereign territory by Russia or the Soviet Union. To do so now is hypocritical. Russia invaded Georgia during George W. Bush’s term in office, and the President’s political party would have been absolutely livid had the Democrats accused him of foreign policy weakness, and blamed him for the invasion, as well as the resulting inaction. Bush, essentially, verbally condemned the invasion and didn’t even offer sanctions. In this case, the President sent the Secretary of State to the Ukrainian capital, proposed sanctions and pulled the plug on Russian investments in the US. The fact of the matter is that Putin would have invaded the Crimea in this particular scenario no matter who was in the White House. You can’t blame that on the President. So that settles that argument.
Nor did Sarah Palin’s brief mention of the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine hit anywhere near the ballpark of the context in which it was made. She was speaking of an imminent invasion, not one five years into his presidency, and it was forgotten, along with most of her other historical and political gaffes and mis-statements of the 2008 campaign. There, the politics of the whole situation are clear. Now let’s get down to the real facts.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the establishment of a number of free “republics” that once made it up, including Ukraine, Russia was left with limited naval bases. In spite of the fact that it is the largest country in the world, and remained so, Russia has very limited access to the ocean. The only ice-free seaports available to Russia year round are Murmansk, in the North, Vladivostok, in the far, far Siberian west on the Pacific coast, and along the Black Sea at Sevastopol in Crimea. But when the Soviet Union dissolved, the Crimean peninsula, jutting into the Black Sea, became part of Ukraine. Russia negotiated a lease on the naval base at Sevastopol, to continue having a year round, ice free port for its navy, but the base was now on the sovereign territory of Crimea.
The Crimean peninsula has always been a strategic military base, and it has drawn all kinds of conflict, including war with Great Britain involved, and the invasion and conquest of the Soviet Union by Hitler, whose air force leveled the city of Sevastopol. His planned conquest of Asia depended on holding the Crimea as a naval and military launching point. It was the scene of the Yalta conference between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt at the end of World War 2.
With unrest in the Ukraine, and a pro-Russian prime minister being ousted from office, the Crimea became the center of Russia’s military attention. They feel threatened by a pro-Western Ukrainian government, and it puts their naval base at Sevastopol in “enemy territory” so to speak. Sort of like the US and Guantanamo Bay. It didn’t take a fortune teller to predict that the Russians would do something.
Not only that, but during all the years that Crimea has been part of the Soviet Union, and Russia, most of its population has become “Russian.” But as a province of Ukraine, it’s government is supposed to be loyal to Kiev. While I don’t think a pro-western government in Kiev would put the Russian citizens of Crimea at any kind of risk, I can see where they would feel uncomfortable about it. And what we don’t understand, as Americans, is that while Ukrainians and Russians all look very much alike, and their languages sound very much alike, and their culture is difficult for us to distinguish, there are some very distinct differences between the two, mostly related to ancient hatred that goes back more than a thousand years. The similarities haven’t smoothed over historical animosity that is rooted in a legacy of oppression, exploitation and cruelty that runs deeper and occurred over a longer period than the American Civil War. Eastern Europe, including Russia and the Ukraine, have never known the kind of freedom that we have. The whole area has been repeatedly ravaged by war and the poverty that accompanies it, most recently during the German invasion in World War II. The devastation that occurred in the Ukraine, Crimea, and in that part of Russia was the worst ever inflicted on any of the world’s people.
Let’s look at it from a purely American perspective. We expect the countries that border on the United States to be friendly to us, and in reality, to be willing to take on some of our causes. During the course of our history as a nation, we have interfered in the affairs of the sovereign nations in hemisphere on more than one occasion, partly because we can, and partly because we wanted to guarantee our own security. That includes Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Cuba and Grenada, just to name a few. The reason we’ve given each time is protecting our own sovereignty and national security. We’ve found it particularly difficult to tolerate the presence of a communist regime in Cuba, and we’ve worked very hard to prevent that from occurring elsewhere in our hemisphere, particularly in Nicaragua. I can only imagine what action the US would take if there were any danger of the Mexico falling into the hands of a communist dictatorship. Sure, it’s not a direct comparison with what is happening in Eastern Europe right now, but it’s the language Putin is using.
It’s not an issue of “weak foreign policy” on the part of the President. Russia invaded and occupied Georgia during the Bush administration, and, like this action, it had nothing to do with the foreign policy strength or weakness of the United States. The fact of the matter is that the US didn’t have the ability to do anything about it. Likewise, we don’t have the ability to do anything about his either, except the sanctions and restrictions on the Russian economy. And we’re actually getting a lot more cooperation from our allies and friends than the previous administration was able to muster in its foreign invasion ventures.
But that’s where things need to be left. This is not a problem that the US can resolve. The door was left open for this to occur when the Ukraine became an independent country, and continued to lease the naval base at Sevastopol to the Russian Republic. The Ukrainian people are going to have to figure out how to handle this. Sanctions, and the pressure of having the Secretary of State in the region may cause the Russians to back off, but it will be difficult to justify much else, since the majority of the Crimean population is Russian anyway, and the world has recognized Russia’s ownership of the Black Sea port access.