The conundrum of Crimea

The Crimean War of 1853-56 cost over 700,000 lives.

The Crimean War of 1853-56 cost over 700,000 lives.

By Jim Tortolano  E Pluribus Unum

The latest crisis in the Ukraine and Crimea has brought about a lot of chattering and finger-pointing from the professional blaming class. It’s very high-decibel woofing, which is interesting because two weeks ago most Americans couldn’t find Crimea on a map of Crimea.

Most of this manufactured anxiety seems to be coming from the right, where President Obama is being called “feckless” and “weak,” all of which critics suggest practically tempted Vladimir Putin (whom many right-wing pundits seem, perversely, to admire for being “strong”).

Putin has been compared to Adolph Hitler, and there are some striking similarities to the German dictator’s conquest of Czechoslovakia. He complained of some fantasy abuse of ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland area of that nation, using that as an excuse to invade.

That was in 1938, and it was a precursor to the start of World War Two in 1939.

Our latter-day Fuhrer looks like he is trying something similar, barking about the “danger” to Russian-speaking people living in the Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula where the Black Seas Fleet has a base, leased from the Ukrainian government.

OK, so Putin is playing a dangerous game and we don’t want to be “feckless.” What are our reasonable options here?

* Military intervention:  And just how? We have no treaty obligations to Ukraine, and none of our allies are showing the least interest in coming in on our side for such an adventure. Are Americans, weary from two long wars, ready for another, perhaps bigger one? Not at all.

• Economic sanctions: That’s the “safe” route, although Putin could well retaliate with sanctions of his own. Russia is a major exporter of oil and natural gas. We don’t depend on them for that, but many other nations do. An economic ring around Russia would be darned leaky.

• Pour a bunch of money into the Ukraine and warn the Russians (behind the scenes) that they’ve gone as far as NATO is willing to permit, and back it up with a new treaty adding the Ukraine to the alliance.

• Do nothing.  Anything we do will be expensive, potentially dangerous and probably ineffective.

In the 1850s, Russian expansionism led to the Crimean War. It pitted the Rosskies against an alliance of England, France and the old Ottoman Empire (Turkey plus). It was a ruinous conflict costing the lives of over 700,000 people. The Russians eventually were defeated, but it took almost three years and untold treasure and misery.

Do we approve of Russian bullying? Do we want to see a reconstruction of the old Soviet Union? No. Do we want to fight over it, right now? No. Do we know for sure how to stop it? No.

To do the wrong thing just because we want to do something is probably a dumb move. What Obama is doing now seems like the most reasonable course. Better to be accused of lacking “feck” than to prove you lack “sense.”


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  1. Wayne Sherwood says:

    Naturally, I have an opinion. Since around 80% of the population in Crimea is Russian, let them decide if they want to stay with Ukraine or go with Russia. Of course, there are several ethnic and religious minorities in Crimea, some being Muslim and Russia does not have a good track record with dealing with Muslims in their outer boundaries. But let Russia take it if the majority of people there want to join Russia.

    As for Obama being weak, that is simply name calling. The upper levels of the Republican party knows that we cannot go to war with Russia over this. Not even a Republican President, except possibly George W. Bush, would start a war there. As a result, the Republicans are simply taking the opportunity to make it look like Obama is weak for not taking action. All the Republican noise is simply propaganda baloney that they are dishing out knowing the less informed will buy it.

    In my opinion, Putin’s excuse for invading Crimea, to protect the people of Crimea, is nearly the same excuse George W. Bush used to invade Iraq, to protect the people/region. So to turn a biblical phrase, “who are we to cast stones?”

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