Obama's phantom red line in Crimea

David Adesnik:
The goalposts moved while you weren’t looking. At the end of February, President Obama warned “there will be costs” for Russia if it invaded any part of Ukraine. Yet while in Europe, Obama has made it clear that there will only be meaningful costs for Russia if it launches a second invasion, targeting some other part of Ukraine. Once again, a red line has vanished.

In his major address in Brussels, Obama waxed eloquent about the unity of the United States and Europe in the face of Russian aggression. ”Together, we have isolated Russia politically, suspending it from the G8 nations and downgrading our bilateral ties,” he said, ”Together, we are imposing costs through sanctions that have left a mark on Russia and those accountable for its actions.”

If one is charitable, one might say the current US and EU sanctions have “left a mark.” In Washington, Ukraine’s staunchest defenders on both sides of the aisle expected the President to go to Brussels and bring back a commitment from the Europeans to impose the kind of sanctions that could actually influence Vladimir Putin’s strategic thinking. Instead, all Obama would say is that “if the Russian leadership stays on its current course, together we will ensure that this isolation deepens.”

Hardly a ringing call to restore the sovereignty and unity of Ukraine. What does it mean “if” Russia stays on its current course? The annexation of Crimea is a fact on the ground. The only logical meaning of “if”, is “if” Russia commits a second action as provocative as invading Crimea, then Obama and the EU will get serious.
There is more.

This is why the Russians are hammering Obama and Kerry for more concessions leading to autonomy for the Russian population of Ukraine.  Weakness is an invitation for more demands and more backpedaling.

If they are going to limit themselves to sanctions they should at least have the courage to make them meaningful.


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