The Ukraine Headache

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Ukrainian flag on the barricade at Hrushevskogo street in Kiev,

In 2012, President Barack Obama made a campaign strategy out of mocking Mitt Romney for warning about the growing threat in Moscow. Two years later, the same Democrats who laughed along at Romney’s supposed naivete are now trying to paint not only Romney, but true conservatives, as somehow cheering Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression because it comes at Obama’s expense. Sorry, but no one is buying it.

Ukraine is a lost cause. Whether we want to acknowledge it, it’s as clear as the Russian bombers making low-altitude flights over Kiev. While Obama and the European Union dither with meaningless discussions over even more meaningless economic sanctions, Putin is staging an airshow over the Ukrainian capital.

Barring a rather unlikely turn events in which Putin suddenly remembers that Russia+Power-Drunk Dictator routinely = bad, the Ukraine is looking at life as a client state in the throwback style of the old Warsaw Pact countries. They’ll enjoy nominal independence on matters like parking tickets and public drunkenness, but the heavy lifting will be done for them — and to them — in Moscow. It’s theoretically possible that the Ukrainian nation will rise up and maintain its true independence; but that version of the old David-and-Goliath tale pits David against not only Goliath, but a couple of Philistine tank divisions.

Ultimately, impact of the loss of Ukrainian independence is a matter of perspective. From a diplomatic perspective, Ukraine was unstable, somewhat isolated and, perhaps most importantly, not a member of NATO — meaning Ukraine was a not a signatory to any mutual defense treaties involving NATO (mostly American) men or materiel. From a geopolitical perspective, Ukraine had struggled in the post-Soviet years, remained an unsteady neighbor and, perhaps most importantly, shares borders with four NATO member states — meaning it provided a buffer between Russia and some of our newer pals. Those newer pals include places like Poland, Hungary and Romania — none of which is in any hurry to relive the Hammer and Sickle’s glory days. From the perspective of the interested observer, the likely dismantling of Ukrainian independence is a sad tale of a nation that escaped one of the most diabolical empires in human history, only to be dragged back into its resurgence. Everyone deserves at least a chance to be free, and they lost theirs just when they got their fingers on it. From the perspective of most Americans, Ukraine sounds like something a woman cites as an exit strategy from a bad date. “I’ve really had a great time, but I’ve got a terrible Ukraine.”

But Putin’s victory in the 2014 Crimean Shirtless Posedown, combined with the rhetorical knuckle sandwich he force-fed to Obama last year in Syria, proffers a cautionary tale. The Bear is back. And while I’m not the first to say it, I can’t help but notice that the Democrats are burying Putin’s Crimean gambit under piles of lapdog media spin. While Obama can’t be fairly blamed for the Russian roll into Crimea, there is no doubt that a resurgent Putin was emboldened by Obama’s asses-and-elbows approach to foreign policy — not to mention his thumbs-and-pinkies approach to explaining his actions to the American public.

Putin might be a pet cat and a monocle away from being the villain in the next “Austin Powers” movie, but he’s not stupid. Putin has noticed Obama’s ham-fisted mishandling of the Benghazi massacre. Putin has also noticed that Obama has somehow managed to engineer a policy that involves both targeting and arming al-Qaida. Putin knows Obama is too busy spying on his people and his friends, and then lying about it to both, to focus on Putin’s behavior. Hell, Obama is too busy getting his lies confused to focus on anything for particularly long — especially during the summer months, when the golf course calls early and often. And Putin no doubt remembers the Syrian spanking he gave Obama last year.

Russia’s de facto annexation of Ukraine might not be the reignition of the Cold War, but it is a frosty challenge from our old Cold War nemesis. And while Russia’s reabsorption of the Ukraine — like its recent digestion of Ukrainian neighbor state Georgia — requires no military action on America’s part, the worry now should be whether Putin’s appetite is sated or whether he’s eyeing vacation properties closer to the Mediterranean than the Black or Caspian seas.

–Ben Crystal

Ben Crystal

is a 1993 graduate of Davidson College and has burned the better part of the last two decades getting over the damage done by modern-day higher education. He now lives in Savannah, Ga., where he has hosted an award-winning radio talk show and been featured as a political analyst for television. Currently a principal at Saltymoss Productions—a media company specializing in concept television and campaign production, speechwriting and media strategy—Ben has written numerous articles on the subjects of municipal authoritarianism, the economic fallacy of sin taxes and analyses of congressional abuses of power.

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