Putin is to blame

imagesThe New York Times is a substantial newspaper and is the only American newspaper apart from the Wall Street Journal which takes international news seriously. That makes its article Debate Over Who, in U.S., Is to Blame for Ukraine so surprising. Does the paper not realize that events in Ukraine are being driven from Moscow, Crimea and Kiev in that order? The US is peripherally involved, at most.

The Times goes on to consider a few possibilities as to who might be to blame. Senator John McCain thinks that the blame lies with the president. Barack Obama’s weakness – especially in promising action over Syria and failing to follow through – leaves the US with no credibility in foreign affairs. A tougher president might have taken a stand, and been believed, which might have deterred Russia from becoming involved in Crimea. 

As the Times puts it “Some on the left contend that it is former President George W. Bush’s fault for invading Iraq and providing a precedent”. When a journalist claims that “some” believe X or Y he is nearly always stating his own position. If that is genuinely the view of Times journalist, Peter Baker, then he is spectacularly naïve. McCain’s position is little better.

Does Baker imagine that intervening in Crimea would simply not have occurred to President Putin if it had not been for Iraq? Or perhaps that, if he had not been stripped of moral authority by his predecessor, President Obama would have been able to talk him out of it? Neither position can stand even a few second’s scrutiny.

McCain’s position is also ridiculous. President Obama, by declaring a “red line” in Syria, denying that he had said any such thing, promising action and then failing to act, most certainly undermined America’s credibility. He did more than undermine it: he consciously screwed it up into a little ball and threw it in the garbage. But could any president have deterred Vladimir Putin from acting in Crimea?

Crimea matters in Russia. Catherine The Great is known as “The Great” because she fulfilled the long held Russian objective of acquiring a warm water port, in Crimea. Russia still holds the port as the home for its Black Sea fleet. A majority of Crimea’s people are ethnically and linguistically Russian. It is probable that no American threat short of all out war would have deterred Russia from becoming involved in this issue, and there is no American president of the past 100 years – nor any defeated candidate either – who would have gone to war with Russia over Crimea.

Could, then, the CIA be to blame. It is certainly true that if the president had anticipated these events he would have had options that were not available by the time Russian troops took to the streets of Crimea. Georgia managed to forestall Russian invasion in 2002 – by a Russian military putatively looking for al Qaeda operatives – by inviting in US marines. If the American military had already been in place in Crimea, it might well have deterred Russia from involvement. But it might not. Given Crimea’s importance to Russia, Putin might have risked killing few US marines, confident that President Obama would not launch World War III, and that would have left the president looking even weaker.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com


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