There’s a lot to like about the Ukrainian people. Nothing warms an old cold warrior’s heart quite so much as the sight of an angry mob pulling down and smashing a statue of Vladimir Lenin, as demonstrators in Kiev did on Sunday, and any freedom-loving soul should sympathize with a long-oppressed people proudly demanding their independence.
They are getting little sympathy from the Obama administration, however, and that is yet another in a long series of foreign policy mistakes.
The current crisis is a result of President Viktor Yanukovich’s recent decision to scuttle a long-planned trade agreement with the European Union in favor of an economic alliance with Russia. Most Ukrainians are outraged by the move, which is understandable for a number of reasons. Europe is a more prosperous trading trading partner, and for all its flaws is also freer and more democratic than Russia. Ukrainians also carry vivid memories of the genocidal famine that Russia imposed on their country in the ‘30s, along with the other horrors endured during decades of forced membership in the Soviet Union, and they rightly perceive Yanukovich’s decision as capitulation to more Russian bullying and a threat to their hard-earned and still-fledgling independence. The predictable response has been weeks of angry but peaceful demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of citizens, and a forceful and increasingly violent response by the government.
Administration officials have offered perfunctory pleas for restraint, but no other support for the demonstrators. Secretary of State John Kerry has decided to skip a planned visit to Kiev this week, and during a press conference he conceded the popular support for the EU pact but pointedly declined to mention’s Russia role. President Obama has said nothing about the matter, and seems content to once again let the Russians have their way. “With Russia in mind,” reads a Washington Post headline, “U.S. takes cautious approach on Ukraine unrest.”
The administration’s apologists at the Brookings Institute think this wise, arguing that the EU should do the diplomatic dirty work on behalf of the Ukrainian people, allowing the U.S. to avoid giving any offense to Russia while Obama deals with more pressing matters in the Middle East and Asia. With all due respect to the once-prestigious think tank, this is utter nonsense. One would hope that the State Department is sufficiently well-staffed to have some time for the fate of Europe’s largest country, and the “re-set” of American foreign policy with Russia to a supine position has yielded so little in positive results that giving some offense is now clearly called for, and any distraction from Obama’s disastrous efforts at appeasement in the Middle East and Asia would be welcome.
Victory in the Cold War and the liberation of millions of people from Soviet domination was one of America’s greatest achievements in the 20th Century, and allowing Russia to re-establish its evil empire and resume its brutal oppression of neighboring states would be one of its greatest failures of the 21st Century.
— Bud Norman