Russia Risk and Reward

You get more of what you reward

Glenn Reyonlds

While every news network continues to speculate as to just what happened to that Malaysia air flight.  The international poker game for the Rhineland Crimea has pretty much ended.

The game was made a lot easier for Putin as the Ukraine gave up its best card twenty years ago in return for empty promises of security.

Russia played their hand well, first a plebiscite, followed by annexation.  Then after a group of soldiers without insignia seized a base during which a Ukrainian was killed Russia raised:

The Friday deadline for Ukrainian troops to leave Crimea came in an announcement from the Russian Ministry of Defense, which said it had agreed to “a truce” to allow the Ukrainian forces a work week to get back to the Ukrainian mainland.

Russian troops without insignia have been occupying Crimea for two weeks and have surrounded several military bases still occupied by Ukrainians. Ukrainian soldiers said last week that their Russian counterparts had told them that after the referendum their presence would be considered illegal and that they would be given the choices of laying down their arms and returning to Ukraine, taking Russian citizenship or preparing to defend themselves.

And the Ukrainians folded.

the Ukrainian government said on Wednesday that it had drawn up plans to evacuate all of its military personnel and their families and was prepared to relocate as many as 25,000 of them to mainland Ukraine.

It wasn’t a shock.  Flat declarations from President Obama that military force was off the table, coupled with the decision to refuse Ukraine weapons and ammo put them in an impossible spot in the Crimea.  In fact if Paul Minengoff is right that’s not the end of their worries:

I suspect we have not supplied Ukraine with weapons because we want to diminish the prospect of Ukrainian resistance in the event Russia moves into Eastern Ukraine (which Russia seems at least as likely as not to do). Ukrainian resistance is not in Obama’s interest, as he likely sees it, because the resulting bloodbath would further embarrass his administration.

That’s the unspoken policy driver here.  I think all that matters to the administration is perception.  As long as low information voters see images of the President, Joe Biden & John Kerry looking serious and strong on TV they’re fine.  If those voters see fighting in Europe on TV, they’re not.

A sign that Putin has figured this out is this:

Russia signaled concern on Wednesday at Estonia’s treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority, comparing language policy in the Baltic state with what it said was a call in Ukraine to prevent the use of Russian.

Russia has defended its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by arguing it has the right to protect Russian-speakers outside its borders, so the reference to linguistic tensions in another former Soviet republic comes at a highly sensitive moment.

Russia has Obama & the west pegged:

A world in which dissatisfied powers seek to redraw old maps or restore national “honor” will be immeasurably more dangerous when they correctly gauge that the West can offer only moral outrage and little else.

If Russia understands this then every former Soviet Republican & Eastern Bloc knows the US doesn’t have their back.  This means that the Baltic states also know if the US doesn’t have their back neither does NATO!

What’s next?  I don’t know.  It’s Putin game, he holds the cards.  The only thing we know for sure is this:   Every state Russia either has designs on or demands of has to deal with the incentive structure created by three more years of Obama’s “flexibility”.

Final thought:  Just after the Sarah Pailn speech at CPAC 2014 I spoke to a young lady who declined to go on camera.  She was a foreign exchange who wanted to see something of US politics before returning home in a few weeks.  I asked where she came from and as I recall she answered Latvia.

Upon hearing she was from one of the Baltic states bordering Russia I found myself for the first time, self-conscious over the actions of my government.  I apologized to the young woman for our likely inaction to come when the Russians come calling and wished her luck.

I’m the son of a World War 2 vet and the idea that we may let that young lady and her family return to Russian slavery is offensive to me and I submit and suggest that it should be offensive to any American who understand what we are.


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