I can’t tell if he has something specific in mind in saying this, i.e. that post-1989 eastern European history points in one direction and Russian revanchism points in another, or if it’s just a phrase that pops mindlessly to his lips when he’s at pains to condemn something, as it seems to do for lots of progressives. (Spread some cheer by reminding a liberal friend today that he’s on the wrong side of history when it comes to gun control.) Russia rolling over its neighbors to demonstrate its strength is history, isn’t it? Until the day comes that either (a) Russia no longer needs a warm-water port or (b) Ukraine and the EU are willing and able to go toe to toe with the Russian army, nukes or no nukes, then Russian domination of its western borders seems like an unfortunate historical fact. For what it’s worth, China seems to disagree with O’s assessment. Go figure that the Chinese see the historical virtue in a nation reclaiming land inhabited by its ethnic descendants.
Obama says he’s working on sanctions and diplomatic measures to “isolate” Russia. Will that stop Putin?
[T]he Russian president is betting that any sanctions would be relatively short-lived. Pushing Putin too far could be dangerous. Many European nations haven’t forgotten about their deep economic ties to Russia, including their dependence on its crude oil and natural-gas exports. For western Europe, implementing serious economic sanctions would be unwise, as Russia could retaliate by cutting off the gas pipelines that run through Ukraine to Europe. And U.S. sanctions would barely make a dent in the Russian economy: Russia accounts for less than 2 percent of American trade.
So far, Western Europe is sidestepping sanctions. The European Union and the governments of Germany and France have pushed for mediation between Moscow and Kiev, not sanctions. The organization’s emergency meeting on Monday is “expected to result in a strongly worded statement of condemnation, but no immediate punitive measures,” according to the EurActive Network, which reports E.U. policy news. Any action by the United Nations is unlikely, thanks to Russia’s veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council.
Don’t expect the EU, which has to live with Russia geographically and economically, to do much. Sources tell BuzzFeed there may be visa bans on Russian officials in charge of the Crimean invasion but nothing serious by way of trade sanctions or freezing accounts. Which raises the question: If the EU isn’t willing to punish the Kremlin for disrupting relations with one of its own would-be member states, why would the United States go to the mat on this?
Meanwhile, Putin can reply to O by wondering which side history is on in Afghanistan:
Meanwhile, there’s also the problem of Afghanistan — the “real war,” as Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry used to describe it. Now they want to disengage, and the Ukraine crisis creates a very uncomfortable problem: The U.S. needs Moscow’s cooperation as it withdraws the more than 33,000 troops left in Afghanistan because one of its main withdrawal routes runs through Russia.
The Pentagon began developing a supply route from Afghanistan through Central Asia and Russia because of frequent disruptions on the main routes through Pakistan, including a seven-month closure in 2011-12 stemming from the deaths of 24 Pakistani troops in a NATO air raid. A three-month blockade by a provincial government in Pakistan’s northwest in protest over the U.S. drone strike policy only ended Thursday after a court ordered it stopped.
Russia has allowed NATO to develop a transit hub at a base in Ulyanovsk to move cargo by air, road and train from Afghanistan through the country to its northern ports. At least a third of the cargo coming out of Afghanistan is expected to move by that route — if Moscow doesn’t shut it down.
Here’s the vid. Maybe, if the ruble continues to get pounded, Putin would be willing to be more accommodating on Syria in exchange for the U.S. lightening up on Ukraine. Assuming, that is, that Syria’s still a priority. As noted in the excerpt above on sanctions, our attention span for these international flashpoints is short and seemingly getting shorter. Exit question: Why is Obama intent on punishing Russia for an “uncontested arrival”?