Monday, February 23, 2015

Ukraine, Germany and Russia

Anne Applebaum writes about The risks of putting Germany front and center in Europe’s crises Washington Post 02/20/2015.

Her piece is better argued than a lot of neocon-oriented foreign policy writing, which tends to be bluster dressed up with highbrow slogan and bad historical analogies.

I'm actually willing to defend Angie on this one. A little bit. It's nice to see that after a month of Greece challenging Merkel's economic policies and another brush with death for the euro, a leading commentator like Applebaum is starting to acknowledge that Merkel's euro policy has been a high-risk gamble.

But it seems to me the main argument she's trying to make is in the paragraph where she writes, "Merkel has put her personal stamp on a cease-fire agreement she cannot enforce — and if it fails, there is no Plan B."

Please. Europe and Russia have a lot of mutual dependencies, which means real influence on policy flows both ways. If Germany ever made the claim that they would militarily enforce the ceasefire, I missed that part entirely. It hard to lose credibility by not doing something you never promised to do.

In the same paragraph, she gives us a glimpse of her preferred policy: "Ukraine could give up its eastern provinces, build a 'Berlin Wall' around them in the form of a demilitarized zone, tighten its borders and gain time to rebuild its state. But for that plan to work in the longer term, the West would have to treat the rest of Ukraine like it once treated West Germany, reinforcing it economically, politically and militarily, in order to deter Russia."

In other words, she suggests that the only solution for her is yet another neocon fever dream: re-enact the Cold War and incorporate Ukraine de facto or formally into NATO.

It's worth everyone remembering in this context that the neocon doctrine of preventive war was a direct outgrowth of advocacy for a Preemptive nuclear strike strategy by the US against the USSR. Russia and Putin have committed all kinds of bad deeds in the Ukraine crisis. But neither Germany nor the US nor NATO has a mutual defense treaty with Ukraine. If NATO wants more military sabre-rattling against Russia without trying to re-enact the Berlin Airlift or the Cuban Missile Crisis, a more sensible place to do it would be a major reinforcement of military defenses in the Baltic countries which *are* members of NATO.

Fred Kaplan takes a "realist" look at How to Defeat Putin in Ukraine Slate 02/12/2015. He puts an important part of his analysis near the end:

The sidebar story to the Ukrainian cease-fire on Thursday was the International Monetary Fund’s bailout of Ukraine’s economy to the tune of $17.5 billion. If President Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the others want to get serious about helping Ukraine, they would immerse themselves in that intervention, and they’d see that it’s woefully inadequate. As the Economist notes, the actual disbursement amounts to about $5 billion, it’s the follow-up to an old promise, and it’s laced with the usual IMF austerity requirements. Ukraine needs a massive infusion of aid and, even more, investment, along with expansive political ties with the West. [my emphasis in bold]
Here is how he frames the practical situation:

The eastern sliver of Ukraine seems destined to come under some sort of Russian control, but what sort: as a breakaway republic, like South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, which might at least clarify the country’s politics; as one district in a federated Ukraine, which would weaken the central government in Ukraine and impede it from leaning further westward; or, as some fear, will Vladimir Putin use his territorial gains as a springboard to move in still deeper?
He opposes US arms shipments to Ukraine, because it would only encourage escalation and Russia has the ability to match US moves with their own escalation. If an American President wants to go that route, he writes, "he (or she) should do so in full awareness that war with Russia would be a real possibility."

And he makes the important point that Ukraine is much more important in Russia's view of its interests that it is to the US, putting it this way:

Besides (and I know this sounds cold), the fate of eastern Ukraine doesn’t make the list of vital U.S. security interests — that is to say, interests worth going to war for. This is one reason President Bill Clinton didn’t include Ukraine in his NATO “enlargement” campaign, which did bring Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltics into the fold, nor did President George W. Bush amend the list after mulling the pros and cons. ...

Ukraine has been integral to Russia for 1,000 years, a vital trade partner, agricultural supplier, and security buffer. Neither Putin nor any other Russian leader would sit passive while Ukraine slipped away to the Western camp."

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