July 28, 2014

What Will It Take to ‘Stiffen Spines’ Against Russia?

Even Time magazine sees that the West is losing the Second Cold War.

In the dismal two weeks since the destruction of 298 lives aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, it’s become more and more apparent Vladimir Putin and Russia may get away almost scot-free for supplying the Ukrainian rebels with the surface-to-air missile that downed the doomed flight. That’s the conclusion of a lengthy cover story in this week’s Time magazine.

In reference to Barack Obama’s call on Putin to cooperate with the MH17 investigation, Time reporter Simon Shuster noted, “That was the crisis in a nutshell: the least Putin could do was the most Obama could ask for.”

So far the administration’s reaction of choice has been sanctions on Russia, or at least enhancement of those already put in place when the whole Ukrainian crisis began. While the sanctions are supposedly horrifying the Russian business elite, Europeans aren’t keen on them. In both cases, it’s because Putin controls a vital function: Russian business elite are forced to keep their objections close to the vest for fear of retribution from the state, while European nations depend on Russia as both an export market and provider of natural gas. Germany and Italy lead the exporters, while Austria and the Baltic states rely on Russia’s energy resources. “As soon as the EU gets the slightest chance to turn away from Washington on the issue of Ukraine, they will take it,” predicted Sergei Markov, a political consultant.

Thus it’s truly an open question on whether the Malaysian jet tragedy will really “stiffen the spine of our European partners going forward,” as Barack Obama said. Despite Hillary Clinton insisting “the reset worked,” the actions of the United States under Obama make it little wonder that Europe is moving, as Obama put it, “[n]ot as fast as we’d like” on sanctions.

Analyst Charles Krauthammer notes, “I think there’s a general perception that the world is going to hell and the president’s out there playing golf.” The Europeans aren’t going to follow him as long as he’s content to play 18 holes.

One place Obama won’t be playing a round of golf is Chechnya. Russia just banned the U.S. president, among others, from traveling to the area because, the Russian foreign ministry says, “[T]he Obama administration has some responsibility both for the internal conflict in Ukraine and its severe consequences.” Furthermore, Moscow is taking aim at a universal symbol of American capitalist might: McDonald’s.

In 2012, Obama was caught on a hot microphone promising the Russians he’d have more flexibility after being re-elected. And in a debate that year, he mocked Mitt Romney, who believed Russia was a significant geopolitical threat, saying, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” Well, we had a pretty good solution to the Russian problem in that decade, but Obama’s lack of leadership 30 years hence will assure us our next president will have to reset Russian relations once again on better terms for America and its European allies. As Time put it: “Cold War II is underway – and the West is losing.”

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