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March 14, 2014

‘Semi-Delusional’ on Ukraine

Russia has 220,000 troops stationed at the border and will “observe” this weekend’s referendum in Crimea.

The situation in Ukraine remains tense, as the Los Angeles Times reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has deployed a force of 220,000 troops, 1,800 tanks and over 400 helicopters close to Ukraine’s border.” For reference, U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq combined never exceeded 188,000.

Meanwhile, a Russian-backed referendum is scheduled for this weekend in Crimea to determine whether that part of Ukraine will secede and once again become subordinate to Moscow. As the Times notes, “A majority of Crimea’s population is Russian speaking. The region has historic ties to Moscow and is home to the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet.” In other words, it’s likely it will pass. It won’t hurt that 20,000 Russian soldiers will “observe.”

On Wednesday, Barack Obama met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House to discuss options. But as Mark Alexander noted last week, there are precious few of them. Much of that is thanks to Obama’s own failed leadership on foreign policy, including the laughable “Russian Reset,” which he and Hillary Clinton botched back in March 2009.

Obama warned, “We will continue to say to the Russian government that if it continues on the path that it is on, then not only us but the international community … will be forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violations of international law.” We hope that cost is at least in the form of frozen assets and other sanctions against Putin’s inner circle.

The president added that the U.S. will “completely reject” the results of Crimea’s referendum. Those are almost surely empty words, though Yatsenyuk also said, “We fight for our sovereignty, and we will never surrender.” He mobilized a new 60,000-member National Guard to defend Ukrainian borders just to make that clear. But in reality his forces stand no chance against the Russian Bear, while he also hopes to remain “a good friend and partner of Russia,” so the message actually isn’t all that clear. We suppose it counts for something that Obama hosted Yatsenyuk in the Oval Office as a show of solidarity.

Secretary of State John Kerry sounded even tougher, saying, “There will be a response of some kind to the referendum itself. If there is no sign [from Russia] of any capacity to respond to this issue … there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday.” We’ll see.

Commentator Charles Krauthammer astutely summed things up: “[Obama] thinks he actually has a good foreign policy. I think he is semi-delusional about the results of these five years. There is not a spot in the world – you can go from Syria to Libya, to Iran to China, to Russia to Ukraine, where the United States is not worse off, less regarded, considered weak[er] than it was five years ago. This is a completely failed foreign policy and he seems radically unaware of that.”

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