This year the Munich Security Conference produced the usual litany of sound bites for the media to feast on regarding smoldering conflicts around the world. The common theme permeating the global press coverage of the event was the West’s response to Russia. Some comments were the usual, tired refrains from conflicts which have not found a solution over the decades. Some comments were shockingly crazy.
An example of the latter was the words spoken by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who when talking about Russian involvement in East Ukraine, sensationally declared, “The rule of law means nothing to Russia … Does it mean anything to us? I’d be glad to have a better relationship with Russia but it’s difficult. I used to worry about antagonizing Russia. I won’t worry about that anymore. You’re going to get what you deserve if you keep this up. And to our friends in Georgia and Ukraine, be patient. Hopefully the rest of us will get a backbone and push back against aggression that I feel is unwarranted.”
I am all for confronting Russia when the Kremlin threatens U.S. interests around the world. However, I still do not understand how American involvement in Ukraine, on the border of the Russian Federation, a former Soviet territory that is involved in a hot civil war with separatist forces supported and armed by Moscow, is in America’s interests.
The nations of the Baltics and Eastern Europe made substantial progress in fighting corruption and developing a market economy as they were pulled into the West’s circle of influence. Ukraine is still mired in corruption and is experiencing an outburst of rabid nationalism. Mr. Graham telling Russia it was “going to get what it deserves” was the height of irresponsibility and shows clearly why he had no chance of being elected president.
In other developments, President PetroPoroshenko of Ukraine presented a peacekeeping plan he commissioned via an American expert declaring that 20,000 non-NATO troops were required in Donbass to hold elections and implement the Minsk accords. This is probably a non-starter to the Kremlin, who offered a limited peacekeeping contingent along the forward line of troops as an olive branch to the West. Kyiv wants an occupying force that can ensure Russian doesn’t move armament and resources into Donbass. This seems like a non-starter. As I have written before, it will take Moscow deciding that the cost of supporting “Malorossiya” is no longer worth it to solve this conflict. I frankly think that a Western-oriented Ukraine is not going to be a situation this government in Moscow will ever accept. That is simply the hard fact. The history of Ukraine and Russia is just too tightly interwoven.
In Moldova, Prime Minister Pavel Filip once again called for the removal of Russian troops from the breakaway territory of Transdniester. The small strip of land along the Moldovan border with Ukraine is home to several thousand Russian troops and a massive arms Soviet arms depot left over from the Cold War. Moldova sits right in the middle in the struggle between East and West and Transdniester is the oldest frozen conflict of the USSR.
These are the unanswered questions, which to me, the Munich Security Conference did nothing to solve: Is the goal of the West to encroach on Moscow’s borders as much as it can? Or is the goal to create a balance of power that can preserve the peace for generations? What is it about Russia that generates such hysteria among the Republican Party establishment and the American left? It obviously is not communism, as the Clintons cozied up to Beijing for money, and Barack Obama cozied up to the Cubans because he could never find a dictator where he didn’t want to lick his boots.
So, it’s not ideology, it’s not the lack of freedom, it’s not the lack of free markets that the left and the neocons hate. It’s Russia and its system. Why?
There are plenty of places in the world where the United States can and should use its vast power to support freedom and democracy and the rule of law. After the disastrous, wasteful campaigns and failed geopolitical leadership shown in the Middle East by America over the last two decades, I happen to believe getting involved in civil wars with American blood and treasure in the rotting ruins of the Soviet Union is not good American First policy.
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