Sense and Nonsense about Crimea

map_of_crimea

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has predictably created confusion in the West. The New York Times reports:

    Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he consulted on Saturday with Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the committee, about targeted sanctions against individuals in the Putin government and possibly Russian institutions. The proposal could be taken up as early as this week.

    Mr. Corker was one of the few Republicans in September to support a Senate resolution authorizing airstrikes in Syria, and he said the failure of Washington to follow through on those strikes had emboldened Mr. Putin.

    “Ever since the administration threw themselves in his arms in Syria to keep from carrying out what they said they would carry out, I think he’s seen weakness,” Mr. Corker said Saturday. “These are the consequences.”

This is a stupid argument. Putin knows perfectly well that the U.S. is not going to attack Russia, for the obvious reason that Russia has nuclear weapons. The idea that Putin would be shitting in his pants if the U.S. had dropped some bombs on Damascus is simply childish. Putin decided to seize an opportunity that the chaos in Ukraine created for him. It’s that simple.

The Guardian isn’t much more helpful. An editorial states:

    What is hard to see, having been so effectively outmanoeuvred over the last two days, is how the US and EU should respond beyond futile expressions of concern and outrage. Equally, it is clear that when western political institutions have attempted to penetrate Russia’s neighbours – the suggestion of Nato expansion in Georgia, and closer EU integration for Ukraine – Moscow has pushed back hard on both occasions.

So, what should we do? They tell us:

    One thing is certain: the current crisis presents the biggest threat to security in Europe since the Balkan wars, and western leaders, including Obama and David Cameron (who has spoken to Putin on the phone), have hardly been impressive in their response, demonstrating a weak grasp on the events unfolding. For now, Putin is ahead of the game. It is time for the international community to catch up.

Well, that’s clear, isn’t it? The international community needs to catch up with Russia – whatever the hell that means.

A few things are clear. Crimea is of no strategic importance to the U.S. Although there are concerns about Crimea’s Tatars, there are no signs of a humanitarian crisis at this point. President Obama can only object to Russia’s seizure of Crimea on the narrow grounds that it violates international law. The problem is that the U.S. regularly violates international law with its drone attacks. And the invasion of Iraq was a violation on a far greater scale than what is currently happening in Crimea. International law is a useful tool that we have thoughtlessly thrown away.

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