Finally: Russia kicked out of the G-8

Technically their membership’s been suspended, subject to reinstatement if/when Putin starts to play nice, but don’t hold your breath. What makes the Crimean invasion ominous isn’t its strategic significance but what it signals about Russia’s commitment to a confrontational posture with the west. The tenor of Kremlin propaganda makes compromise impossible: The Nazis are now in charge in Ukraine, backed by perverts in the U.S. and EU, imperiling ethnic Russians in all former Soviet satellite states. Having taken that line, how does Putin re-join the G-7, especially with (weak) sanctions now in effect? He’s setting Russia up as a counterweight to the G-7, not a partner. In fact, Russia’s foreign minister said today of suspension from the group, “Maybe, for a year or two, it will be an experiment for us to see how we live without it.” You can’t fire them. They quit.

Here’s today’s statement from the Hague semi-officially kicking off Cold War II. Cold War I was a high-stakes ideological showdown between capitalist and communist superpowers. This one’s a slap fight between fading empires — an insurance company versus a gas station.

1. We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission met in The Hague to reaffirm our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence…

3. Today, we reaffirm that Russia’s actions will have significant consequences. This clear violation of international law is a serious challenge to the rule of law around the world and should be a concern for all nations. In response to Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to demonstrate our determination to respond to these illegal actions, individually and collectively we have imposed a variety of sanctions against Russia and those individuals and entities responsible. We remain ready to intensify actions including coordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation…

6. This Group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. Russia’s actions in recent weeks are not consistent with them. Under these circumstances, we will not participate in the planned Sochi Summit. We will suspend our participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion and will meet again in G-7 format at the same time as planned, in June 2014, in Brussels, to discuss the broad agenda we have together. We have also advised our Foreign Ministers not to attend the April meeting in Moscow. In addition, we have decided that G-7 Energy Ministers will meet to discuss ways to strengthen our collective energy security.

Upon reading that, Putin belched, scratched himself, and ordered the invasion of eastern Ukraine. (Well, not quite, but almost.) Here’s a thought experiment for you: Given the EU’s palpable reluctance to alienate Russia’s energy sector — the price of natural gas just went up in Kiev, don’tcha know — and the continent’s wider terror at a new round of Russian military adventurism, how little would Putin have to do for the G-7 to pronounce him rehabilitated and to re-admit Russia to the group? They’re desperate to keep things on a “diplomatic track”; if Putin turned around tomorrow and said he’d pull Russian troops off the Ukrainian border and return to that track in exchange for western recognition of Crimea as Russian territory, would the G-7 go for that? If instead Putin made a move on eastern Ukraine and then, having occupied it, renounced further claims on the country, would that be enough to turn the G-7 back into a G-8? My sense is that there’s virtually no limit to the slack the west will cut him in return for putting his guns down, so long as he doesn’t make a move on a NATO country. Especially given the U.S./EU interest in Russian cooperation (or “cooperation”) on Iran and Syria.

Exit question: Here’s what Obama told a Dutch paper today.

“The United States does not view Europe as a battleground between East and West, nor do we see the situation in Ukraine as a zero-sum game,” Obama said in an interview with Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant. “That’s the kind of thinking that should have ended with the Cold War. The Ukrainian people do not have to choose between East and West.”

Does anyone still believe that?