“The choice is Obama’s. Stand up for Ukraine and be counted. Or, forever become the laughing stock of the world, from the Boko Haram of Nigeria and the Taliban of Afghanistan, to the over-dressed communist generals who run North Korea, to Putin’s biker gangs of Moscow.”
The Toronto Sun
The first shots in the Ukrainian crisis have been fired.
Fired in the air by invading Russian troops in Crimea, to warn Ukrainian soldiers to back off, but shots nonetheless in what may well become a modern version of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Except this time, chances are it will be the American eagle that blinks, not the Russian bear.
As I wrote last week, the new, changed borders of Europe are a fait accompli.
Just as NATO sliced Kosovo out of Serbia to provide a homeland for Muslim Kosovars, the Russians have invoked the same principle to carve out Crimea from Ukraine’s underbelly, ostensibly to save the region’s ethnic Russian majority from “extremists” that have supposedly taken over in Kiev.
All of this could have been avoided had America shown some resolve in 2008 and accepted Ukraine’s application to join NATO.
Unfortunately, the man who now leads NATO and the West is not John F. Kennedy, who eyeballed Russia into retreating from Cuba.
To put this crisis in perspective, it’s important to look at the timeline in Ukraine.
On Oct. 21, 2013, NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen announced that Ukraine, which had been lobbying to become a NATO member for years, and had been rejected in 2008, would not join NATO in 2014.
A month later, on Nov. 21, 2013, the pro-Russian Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych unexpectedly announced he was abandoning plans to sign a long-awaited trade deal with the European Union.
This came as a shock to many in Ukraine and by December, Yanukovych’s arbitrary actions triggered widespread protests, led by a most unlikely of Ukrainians—a dark-skinned, Kabul-born investigative journalist, Mustafa Nayyem.
(So much for Russian propaganda that the Kiev uprising was some sort of a White supremacist fascist putsch).
Nayyem used social media to rally students and others to protest.
Soon, tens of thousands of ordinary people joined him and his call for a European option for Ukraine.
(By the way, the “Maidan” where Nayyem’s youth gathered, is a Turkish, Arabic, Persian word for a public square, that is used as far away as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and as near as Poland and Ukraine).
The question now before the EU and NATO is less about getting Russian troops out of Crimea than it is ensuring the rest of Ukraine is not sliced into two parts, with Moscow gobbling up the industrial east, with all its mineral resources, leaving a truncated and economically devastated western Ukraine in the lap of the EU to rescue and revive.
There is way to stop Vladimir Putin’s imperial designs, but to accomplish it all of us, including U.S. President Barack Obama, will have to develop stiffer spines and a dose of courage.
Instead of the endless rhetorical condemnations and cliché-ridden utterances, what western governments have to do right now is this:
1. Immediately induct Ukraine as a full member of NATO and call Moscow’s bluff, the way JFK did in 1962.
2. Through back channels, let Putin know he can keep Crimea, but any encroachment on the rest of Ukraine will be considered an attack on the other member states of NATO.
The choice is Obama’s.
Stand up for Ukraine and be counted. Or, forever become the laughing stock of the world, from the Boko Haram of Nigeria and the Taliban of Afghanistan, to the over-dressed communist generals who run North Korea, to Putin’s biker gangs of Moscow.