Harry C. Blaney III

Secretary of State John Kerry on this Friday in London met with Sergei Lavrov the Russian Foreign Minister. Lavrov told journalists in London through an interpreter, “We do not have a common vision of the situation,” adding that the “dialogue was constructive.” Russia’s foreign minister said the United States and Russia were still far apart on the crisis in Ukraine despite last-ditch talks. Lavrov disingenuously told reporters that “Russia had no plans to invade southeastern Ukraine.” Kerry in his own press conference noted that if a solution was not found that the U.S. and the EU would implement unspecified sanctions but that he would rather solve this issue through negotiations.

The atmosphere is ominous and filled with uncertainty. Most commentators believe that Putin will keep the Crimea at least and that the West does not have the will to try to reverse this move. The question, in a nutshell, then turns how to minimize or obstruct any further advances by Russia and how to implement sanctions that will cost Russian more than any gain of the Crimea And to do this in a way that makes it clear that Russians will be better off in cooperation with the West than in an authoritarian failing state isolated from the larger world.

The stories and future narratives in the press and on the web about Ukraine and the Crimea are all over the map. We are seeing largely vapid and misguided blasts from all sides of the pundit scale using slogans like Obama or the West is weak or strong, or that Putin is fanatic nationalist or one part monster. We also are seeing a very wide range of proposed sanctions from the clearly symbolic weak sanctions to the irrational and unworkable ideas to the vague threats of military force.  All often without much analysis of follow-on consequences.

The recent debate in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on providing aid to the Ukraine illustrates the duplicitous game SOME right wing Republicans are playing. On the one hand,  they are criticizing Obama for being too weak or worse. President Obama, who just met with the Ukrainian Prime Minister to organize a common approach to helping that nation, aims to organize the government with a timely and urgent aid package tied to the International Monitory Fund (IMF)  and EU efforts. But some of the GOP members opposed adding an absolutely necessary  adjustment of IMF lending capacity to make the package work but the “chicken hawks” of the Republican House and a few in the Senate faced with doing something real, threaten to derail the whole package because of the IMF strengthening provisions.

It is a mean-spirited effort and counterproductive at every level — largely aimed at undercutting Obama’s key effort to stabilize a still shaky Ukraine and to make him look bad. An example of how extremist views have not only paralyze domestic policy but also our vital national security and foreign policy goals.

What these yahoos have ignored is the endangerment of America’s key interests and maintenance of democracy for narrow self-serving reasons. One can add there was a spiteful and parochial element rather than looking to our larger interests far ahead beyond trying to win the next election. It puts at risk a larger US and Western goal of a stable, safe Europe and beyond that of establishing a global order based on the rule of law, a peaceful space among the community of nations, and the prevention of armed aggression. It also means negotiated differences rather than issues being settled at the butt of a gun. The next few days will tell whether America wins in this effort to help Ukraine or whether the mean spirited, myopic and foolish will win again and hurt Ukraine and our larger strategy.

To be bipartisan, there have been voices on the left who have urged wrongly our total ignoring or supporting the Ukraine. Also some have grievances against the new Ukrainian government due to it having a small continent from the Ukranian far right. I would have to add that under that rule we could not cooperate with half the nations in NATO, and if you include the bigots and crazies of the far right in the Republican party who populate our Congress, we should not deal with ourselves. But we would have to add as impediments to action those with special interests among the bankers, financial firms, big business more interested in profits in Russia than American values – those with investments in Russia who want us to do nothing to help the Ukrainian people and especially against hard hitting sanctions.

More importantly, what is still needed is a strong but careful and modulated approach that aims to use diplomacy. But it must be a diplomacy that contains both carrots and sticks – sticks that will really hurt since I believe that Putin will not back down and will even be encourage if there is no meaningful costs to him and his regime. Yet, again we need in explicit strong terms to say that we want the Russian people to achieve true democracy and that the West is their friend not their enemy and we want to help them achieve their true hope for a better life. We also have other interests with Russia including non-proliferation, arms control, Syria, Iran, and terrorism which will remain no matter the outcome of Ukraine.

Getting to what can be done! Sanctions need to be more a fine knife and not a sledge hammer that people like Charles Krauthammer want in his WashPost op-ed on March 14, who would use lots of NATO military activities near the Russian borders which would only inflame a still dangerous situation. Some proposed sanctions that could hurt or endanger people we do not want to hurt. In that context, I suggest that the sector of finance and certain trade items are best, along with what I can only call symbolic individual sanctions on individuals and confiscations of wealth we can get our hands on of these involved in the decision or supporting efforts to occupy Crimea. This specially if Russia threatens other parts of the Ukraine and or other Eastern European and Eurasian nations.

The second line of real impact can and should be energy. Most have said we have little leverage in this area.  It is right that on shipping gas to the Ukraine via liquified methods and ships are long-term at best and not immediately effective. But there are real actions that we can take now that will add to the energy supply of the Ukraine –-  at some cost – but with immense effeteness over the medium and long term and even this year. I suggest we initiate a kind of broad cleaner and alternative massive global energy infrastructure project that with the World Bank, the EU, Canada, and the U.S. which would provide for Europe, North America and other nations secure, cleaner, and affordable energy supplies that are not dependent on the whims of Russia. But this would at the same time act as a economic stimulus for much of the globe and put people back to work constructively and end Russian dominance over Western and Eastern Europe and beyond.

The model should be what we did for Berlin when the Soviets tried to isolate the Western part of the city and we immediately responded by our famous airlift. If the West could mobilize just a fraction of our technology, resources, transportation modalities, and economic and poetical will, the Ukraine would have an assured source of energy and Russia would be hurt seriously by selling much less gas/oil to Europe. Further, I suggest we enlist Saudi Arabia and the other Arab oil/gas exporting countries to assist in this effort. A kind of payback for what Putin’s effort has done to abet the massacre of Syrian civilians. But perhaps of equal importance, bring down the cost of gas and perhaps oil that would hurt Putin and his regime especially when his government budget depends on these energy sales for about 90% of its funding. The combination of lower prices and supplying Europe including Ukraine with new energy sources would severely diminish the funding of the Russian state. The action needed could also have a salutary result for Europe if it moves more urgently to diversify its supplies and move toward cleaner fuels over time. But the general unity of the West needs to be strengthened and Obama and Kerry seem to understand that.

Special Note: I will be going to Europe over the next two weeks and reporting to this blog on European reaction to events in the Ukraine, pubic and elite attitudes, and what options are debated and their perspective on what to do. And beyond Ukraine, the direction Europe is heading in the coming years.




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