Obama lets another red line lapse in Ukraine, and the consequences will be dire

posted at 8:01 pm on August 28, 2014 by Noah Rothman

As has been a recurring theme since the start of the crisis in Ukraine, United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power could not have been clearer in her August 8 address to the United Nations. Speaking about a proposed “humanitarian aid” convoy which Russia indicated would penetrate Ukraine’s border, Power warned Russia that the United States would regard this as a very specific violation of international norms and obligations.

“[A]ny further unilateral intervention by Russia into Ukrainian territory – including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid – would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming,” Power said at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. “And it would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine.”

She did not throw out that word “invasion” casually. This statement was vetted by the administration. It was designed to establish the gravity and the implied consequences associated with carrying out what the United States considered an assault on sovereign Ukrainian territory.

On August 22, however, that “humanitarian aid” convoy did invade Ukraine. The raid was accompanied by artillery fire from Russian units both inside Ukraine and from across the Russian border. The word “invasion” was never heard again.

On August 27 and 28, Russian intervention in Ukraine became overt. American officials warned that Russian regular forces, not proxies or pro-Russian rebels, were engaged in combat operations inside Ukraine. Senior NATO officials said that more than 1,000 Russian troops were fighting alongside pro-Moscow rebels, but the official stopped short of calling it an invasion, preferring instead to call it an “incursion.”

Power, too, opted to avoid using the “I” word, as did her boss, President Barack Obama. This caught the attention of The New York Times which noted in its headline that Obama steadfastly avoided calling Russia’s “advance an invasion.” Even America’s overseas allies got the memo.

Why does this matter? Well, words have meaning. Particularly when they relate to legal affairs or international accords, and this is precisely what is at stake. Specifically, a 1994 diplomatic memorandum which Russia and Western powers signed that guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity under the condition that they surrender the nuclear weapons stockpiles bequeathed them following the demise of the Soviet Union.

“Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma – the then-rulers of the USA, UK, Russia and Ukraine – agreed to the The Budapest Memorandum as part of the denuclearization of former Soviet republics after the dissolution of the Soviet Union,” The Daily Mail reported in February. “Technically it means that if Russia has invaded Ukraine then it would be difficult for the US and Britain to avoid going to war.”

The memorandum is toothless, there is no legal means of enforcing it, and it was in fact violated in late February when Russia invaded and later annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Nevertheless, diplomats get nervous when governments start ignoring their international obligations. It makes other treaties and memoranda that much more difficult to enforce, fosters global instability, and creates the conditions for future “incursions” by other major powers with territorial ambitions or designs on their neighbors.

Some suggest that this diplomatic dance is foolish. The United States is not going to go to war with Russia, much less over a non-NATO country where few U.S. interests are immediately at risk. Why not be honest about that? A domestic and international audience would appreciate the clarity, this argument goes. The response is that taking tools, any tools, off the table during a negotiation – particularly a crisis negotiation – limits freedom of action.

One never takes a tool off the table during a negotiation without reciprocity from the negotiating partner. To do otherwise is to set a bad precedent, one which a smart negotiating partner will make you repeat.

President Obama insisted that the sanctions regime he has imposed on Russia is working, that he will not approve a military solution to the crisis in Ukraine, and that providing lethal aid to Kiev’s forces is not under immediate consideration. What, then, is on the table? Our options are increasingly limited while Moscow’s freedom to escalate or de-escalate as he sees fit remains robust.

In 2012, Obama set a “red line” which would necessitate action against Syria if and when they used chemical weapons. He walked away from that threat the following year when it became clear it would be politically disastrous for him to follow through with it. At that moment, he took an option off the table without reciprocity from his negotiating partner – who, at the time, just happened to be Moscow negotiating on behalf of its client in Damascus.

Vladimir Putin has made Obama repeat his mistake.


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“Don’t call my bluff”

forest on August 28, 2014 at 8:07 PM

But he was a community organizer!

redzap on August 28, 2014 at 8:08 PM

Smart Power! Putin plays chess. King Barack plays with himself.

GarandFan on August 28, 2014 at 8:08 PM

At this point Obama has proved beyond any doubt that everyone in the world may ignore his threats and expressions of disapproval, without any consequences worthy of note. At worst they may face a few unimportant sanctions, but nothing more.

Steven Den Beste on August 28, 2014 at 8:09 PM

Crisscross enough red lines and you get hashtags.

Like this: #.

#stopinvadingincursioningourallies

de rigueur on August 28, 2014 at 8:10 PM

This is what is called being more flexible.

Everything else is just kabuki theater, with men wearing mom jeans and an emphasis on a depressing plot.

Dusty on August 28, 2014 at 8:11 PM

Tell Vladimir I will have more flexibility after I am reelected………?.. remember?

Herb on August 28, 2014 at 8:11 PM

Being clean and articulate will only get you so far in life.

307wolverine on August 28, 2014 at 8:13 PM

If Obama ever gets serious about anything related to defense, who’s going to believe him? He could declare war tomorrow, and people would be waiting for the punchline to the joke.

RBMN on August 28, 2014 at 8:13 PM

Obama is kind of like Oddball, it’s just a thing man, and stop with all the negative waves.

Johnnyreb on August 28, 2014 at 8:13 PM

Obama isn’t taking this lightly. He put Russia on double secret probation.

myiq2xu on August 28, 2014 at 8:15 PM

This is sad when I think of all that was done to free the Iron Curtain satellite countries. What took decades to do and was finally accomplished under Reagan-Bush is being undone by Obama.

whatcat on August 28, 2014 at 8:16 PM

How To Bend Over and ScrewLet Putin Screw Yourself and Your Allies
By L.Ron Osama Obama

Do not look at the super white hot, scary smartness of Obama because it will burn your eyes out.

jukin3 on August 28, 2014 at 8:16 PM

“Technically it means that if Russia has invaded Ukraine then it would be difficult for the US and Britain to avoid going to war.”
=================================================================

And yet, here we are!!

canopfor on August 28, 2014 at 8:17 PM

Obama: No US Military Action in Ukraine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGHue1W56Ak&list=UU52X5wxOL_s5yw0dQk7NtgA

canopfor on August 28, 2014 at 8:21 PM

https://twitter.com/ZekeJMiller

Zeke Miller @ZekeJMiller · 1m

. @PressSec: President Obama will host President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine at the White House on Thursday, September 18.

canopfor on August 28, 2014 at 8:22 PM

“Technically it means that if Russia has invaded Ukraine then it would be difficult for the US and Britain to avoid going to war.”

$hit like that is why WWI and WWII happened. The west just didn’t capitulate.

WWI president Wilson- fascist progressive
WWII president FDR- fascist progressive
WWII president Obama- fascist progressive?

Now I’m no rocket surgeon but that looks like a pattern.

jukin3 on August 28, 2014 at 8:22 PM

MeahWhile:

https://twitter.com/markknoller

Mark Knoller @markknoller · 26s

Pres Obama will stay in Westchester tomorrow night to attend the wedding of WH chef & nutrition advisor Sam Kass to MSNBC host Alex Wagner.

Replied to 0 times

Mark Knoller @markknoller · 2m

Tomorrow’s 3 events will bring Pres Obama’s fundraiser total this year to 44. To 403 fundraisers since taking office.

Replied to 0 times

Mark Knoller @markknoller · 3s

Tomorrow, it’s a three fundraiser day for Pres Obama: 2 for the DNC in Westchester, NY and a DCCC event in Newport, RI.

canopfor on August 28, 2014 at 8:23 PM

I believe it’s called Sitzkrieg.

formwiz on August 28, 2014 at 8:29 PM

I am tired of everybody writing 100 different ways everybody is doing everything wrong, never telling us 5 ways they could do things better.

The list of things that are going on in the world that America can’t fix and will NEVER be able to fix is long and growing.

American power and military can only do so much. This country cannot be everywhere and do everything. Because the world doesn’t stay still because we wish it to, things will ALWAYS be coming up. So now it is time to pick and choose our battles. Empires that think they can do it all with their military might quickly find out that the world is a cruel place, and arrogance has been the graveyard of such Empires for millennia.

President Obama insisted that the sanctions regime he has imposed on Russia is working, that he will not approve a military solution to the crisis in Ukraine, and that providing lethal aid to Kiev’s forces is not under immediate consideration. What, then, is on the table? Our options are increasingly limited while Moscow’s freedom to escalate or de-escalate as he sees fit remains robust.

What is on the table? Whatever needs to be done at this point is out of America’s hand. This is a problem that American power can’t solve. And there are a lot of those. Get use to it.

Putin is a problem his European neighbors need to solve themselves. This is a problem they have solutions to. And to be frank I am not optimistic they will have the balls to put them forward. But hope is free, so I am grabbing some.

coolrepublica on August 28, 2014 at 8:30 PM

WWIII president Obama- fascist progressive?

jukin3 on August 28, 2014 at 8:22 PM

Why the question mark?

Cleombrotus on August 28, 2014 at 8:31 PM

But he is the best the libtards can do……

ultracon on August 28, 2014 at 8:32 PM

We don’t even honor our own southern border and have let in tens of millions of invaders and occupiers through it, so why should we fight a major and nuclear power for Ukraine’s eastern border to prevent a few hundred or a few thousand Russians from coming across it? And after all, aren’t they also undocumented residents? Or is the problem that they aren’t undocumented Obamacrats?

VorDaj on August 28, 2014 at 8:34 PM

See what the Freaks think.

pcrdds

Bmore on August 28, 2014 at 8:36 PM

Now I’m no rocket surgeon but that looks like a pattern.

jukin3 on August 28, 2014 at 8:22 PM

You found it. Your search is over.

VorDaj on August 28, 2014 at 8:38 PM

I believe it’s called Sitzkrieg.

formwiz on August 28, 2014 at 8:29 PM

No, for that both sides have to actually show up. The One has no intention of showing up.

As to why, it’s so simple everyone misses it.

This isn’t the MidEast.

This isn’t any sort of “mystical enlightened regime’”, on either side.

It’s just Putin playing Il Duce.

The One thinks if he goes over there, people will notice the resemblance in mentality between him, Vlad, and Benny the Moose. Which may be the only thing he’s ever been right about.

But mostly, it ‘s just because, since this isn’t about a Mystical Eastern Triumph…

He just doesn’t give a flying f**k.

clear ether

eon

eon on August 28, 2014 at 8:39 PM

Apparently whatever the plan is involves setting out hashtags like the tank traps the Germans used on the beaches of Normandy. And it will be just as effective in stopping the enemy.

Happy Nomad on August 28, 2014 at 8:44 PM

Obama lets another red line lapse in Ukraine, and the consequences will be dire

Slava!

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 28, 2014 at 8:48 PM

‘Consequences’ are for The Little People.

Tard on August 28, 2014 at 9:01 PM

Maybe the US doesn’t want a direct war with Russia, but they could have been providing military hardware (tanks, artillery, aircraft) to the Kiev government in Ukraine. Ship them in from Poland over the border. We’re not really at war with Russia if Ukrainians are shooting with our weapons, but Ukraine didn’t have time to build much military hardware before Putin invaded.

Besides, if the French are selling battleships named “Sebastopol” (in Crimea) to the Russians, why shouldn’t we give military hardware to Ukraine?

Steve Z on August 28, 2014 at 9:08 PM

Putin is a problem his European neighbors need to solve themselves.

Right. Because a stronger hegemonic Russia poses no threat to US interest, doesn’t drive our allies away from us, and ensure stability in Europe.

Aplombed on August 28, 2014 at 9:15 PM

She did not throw out that word “invasion” casually. This statement was vetted by the administration. It was designed to establish the gravity and the implied consequences associated with carrying out what the United States considered an assault on sovereign Ukrainian territory.

What gravity? This is Obama’s world we’re talking about!!

President Obama insisted that the sanctions regime he has imposed on Russia is working, that he will not approve a military solution to the crisis in Ukraine, and that providing lethal aid to Kiev’s forces is not under immediate consideration. What, then, is on the table?

As usual, he has no idea what he is doing, and the media thinks he’s great. The rest of the world, who aren’t as “intelligent” and “elite” as the East coast “thinkers” are, and never went to Hah-vahd Lore School, think he’s an idiot and are tired of waiting for him to do something.
Like today, when he stated there is no ‘Syrian plan yet.’ Of course there isn’t. He’s never understood the concept of strategy, much less the implementation.
Dammit, this is frustrating. /rant

DublOh7 on August 28, 2014 at 9:18 PM

As my good friend Dick van Dyke would say:

Vladimir Putin brags: “I won.”

ExpressoBold on August 28, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Putin plays Obama like a fiddle yet republicans can’t figure out how to??

sorrowen on August 28, 2014 at 9:31 PM

The red crayon in his crayon box is down to the nub.
Someone hand him the invisible red ink. It will work just as well.

31giddyup on August 28, 2014 at 9:41 PM

Like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkzWyOaS8kU

JetBoy on August 28, 2014 at 8:50 PM

Ah, JetBoy! I was racking my small brain trying to remember which cartoon character did that line bit.
Thank you!

31giddyup on August 28, 2014 at 9:44 PM

The repetition of propaganda is strong on this site lately. Listen carefully: There is no “invasion,” none.

Summarizing The West’s Russia-Ukraine Propaganda

casuist on August 28, 2014 at 9:51 PM

If only Ditka had run for President. None of this would be happening.

Decoski on August 28, 2014 at 9:56 PM

Ill. state Senate rather…

Decoski on August 28, 2014 at 9:58 PM

“I didn’t draw that red line! Somebody else drew that!”

LashRambo on August 28, 2014 at 10:12 PM

Right. Because a stronger hegemonic Russia poses no threat to US interest, doesn’t drive our allies away from us, and ensure stability in Europe.

Aplombed on August 28, 2014 at 9:15 PM

Allies? What allies?

“Playoffs…playoffs…? You kidding me?”

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 28, 2014 at 10:27 PM

Perhaps Obama will offer free Russian language lessons to people in Western Ukraine to go with the MREs he sent.

Sadly, Putin may just reopen Babi Yar and go for creating a lesson for other former Soviet slave states that may consider opposing reintegration with the Borg.

KW64 on August 28, 2014 at 11:35 PM

casuist on August 28, 2014 at 9:51 PM

You keep forgetting your sarc tag.

KW64 on August 28, 2014 at 11:37 PM

Putin is a problem his European neighbors need to solve themselves. This is a problem they have solutions to. And to be frank I am not optimistic they will have the balls to put them forward. But hope is free, so I am grabbing some.

coolrepublica on August 28, 2014 at 8:30 PM

Putin has nuclear weapons that the Central European Nations and Ukraine lack because we promised that we would protect them if they did not maintain a nuclear arsenal. So now you take the position that we have no responsibility for these helpless sheep when the Putin wolf is eating some and threatening the others. What class you have.

KW64 on August 28, 2014 at 11:44 PM

obama is evil for the world.

China paid attention today.

Schadenfreude on August 29, 2014 at 1:17 AM

Was it ever proven who used the chemical weapons in Syria?

If not, how could any strike be authorized?

ISIS in embryo could have done it.

It fits their psychotic behavior.

Assad was winning at that point and didn’t need to use such weaponry.

Thus, the “red line” point was rendered meaningless, since no culprit was ever legally determined, only presumed.

But the deal with the Ukraine that we made when they agreed to give up their nukes is real.

And that “red line” has been crossed by Putin.

And proves the lack of seriousness of the West.

The Ukraine is the new Sudetenland.

And Obama and his fellow leaders are Chamberlain and crew.

Fools, and useless allies of the Ukrainians, one and all.

profitsbeard on August 29, 2014 at 3:21 AM

Am I the only one who remembers that these animals just shot down a civilian airliner and got away with it? Doing nothing about the invasion of Ukraine (a failed, corrupt state) is one thing. Doing nothing about the shot-down plane is a morally bankrupt obscenity.

Rusty Nail on August 29, 2014 at 3:31 AM

Obama would rule out military action even if the Russians were making a combat amphibious assault on Long Island.

rplat on August 29, 2014 at 5:59 AM

Am I the only one who remembers that these animals just shot down a civilian airliner and got away with it? Doing nothing about the invasion of Ukraine (a failed, corrupt state) is one thing. Doing nothing about the shot-down plane is a morally bankrupt obscenity.

Rusty Nail on August 29, 2014 at 3:31 AM

This.

Ukraine is a rat’s nest that took a treaty with a nation halfway around the world as permission to let their military rust with a bankrupt, desperate Ivan within a stone’s throw.

Unanswered shootdowns of civilian airliners will cripple the tourism and travel industries in very, VERY short order.

LawfulGood on August 29, 2014 at 9:49 AM

Once again, it’s all or nothing for the mongoloids like coolrepublica. There are ways to help Ukraine and stop Russian aggression beyond worthless sanctions and full on WWIII military engagement.

Arm Ukraine. Export more energy. Put anti-ballistic missile weapons back in Eastern European allied states.

But I guess doing nothing, proclaiming that we have no strategy, wagging a finger, and golfing are the preferred strategy of leftist dolts.

TarasBulbous on August 29, 2014 at 11:01 AM

Besides, if the French are selling battleships named “Sebastopol” (in Crimea) to the Russians, why shouldn’t we give military hardware to Ukraine?

Steve Z on August 28, 2014 at 9:08 PM

Because we don’t want to get into even a proxy war with the French.
In our military state, we might loose.
And that would be way embarrassing.

ReggieA on August 29, 2014 at 2:36 PM

France had its Maginot line. Obama has his imaginary line.

Dr. Charles G. Waugh on August 29, 2014 at 5:30 PM