The last thing that President Obama needs right now, as he struggles to finalize an accord with Iran and get the peace conference on Syria up and running next month, is a showdown over Ukraine. But he might just get one. The three-week-old crisis there is teetering on the brink of something far worse, as protesters vow to expand their demonstrations and security forces threaten a general, violent crackdown. Despite signs that the government in Kiev may be trying to negotiate a resolution to the standoff, and despite nationally televised talks between Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich and his three predecessors, there’s enormous potential for uncontrolled violence.
The right in the United States, especially the neoconservative anti-Russia lobby, is in a lather, perhaps intoxicated by the toppling of a statue of V.I. Lenin in Kiev by anti-government protesters. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West, urges the United States and the Europeans to expand the confrontation from Ukraine to Russia itself. If Ukraine “falls into Russia’s grip,” he warns, “Europe’s own security will also be endangered.” Complaining angrily that the West has allowed Russia to threaten Ukraine, Lucas says:
The best way Europe or America can help Ukraine—and Georgia and Moldova—is to take a much tougher stance with Russia. The EU may not want to play geopolitics. But geopolitics is being played in Europe, and EU interests and members are at stake.
The EU should freeze Russia’s request for visa-free travel for holders of “official” passports. America and EU countries should also freeze Russia’s application to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Paris-based good-governance club. The EU should intensify its scrutiny of Gazprom’s behavior in the European gas market, and pursue its upcoming antitrust “complaint” (in effect a prosecution) against the Russian state-owned giant with the greatest vigor possible.
It is time to show Mr. Putin that his hunting license in Russia’s neighborhood is now canceled.
But Lucas isn’t confident that anything like that will happen. “Don’t hold your breath,” he concludes.
But everyone ought to be holding their breath—and avoiding sharp public comments such as Secretary of State John Kerry’s unfortunate remark that he was “disgusted” by the Ukraine government’s decision to clear part of Independence Square, where the protests are centered, by force yesterday. (This is the same Kerry who seem quite solicitous of Egypt’s military, which has used vastly stronger violence, killing hundreds, in suppressing protests there since the July coup d’état.) Said Kerry:
“The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv’s Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy.”
And Kerry couldn’t resist getting in a plug for Ukraine’s Orthodox Church, which is rallying the protesters: “As church bells ring tonight amidst the smoke in the streets of Kyiv, the United States stands with the people of Ukraine.”