Now that Ukraine’s presidential election is over, and as preparations are made in Kiev for swearing in the newest billionaire wheeler-dealer to run that country on June 7, President Obama and America’s allies in Western Europe need to eschew triumphalism and get serious about making a deal to stabilize Ukraine. A symbolic chance to kick-start that effort will happen in France later this week, when Obama will have what is likely to be an awkward encounter with autocratic and self-aggrandizing President Vladimir Putin of Russia during ceremonies marking the anniversary of D-Day, 1944.
Unfortunately, and despite Obama’s stirring speech last week in which he repeatedly declared his reluctance to use military options in dealing with political problems abroad, before the Obama-Putin encounter this week—and it’s just, so far, an “encounter,” because no formal meeting is planned—it looks like Obama will use his visit to Poland as an opportunity to talk about NATO, about strengthening America’s security commitment in eastern Europe and about insisting that Europe take a hard line on Ukraine. The Wall Street Journal, reporting in advance of Obama’s trip, says that Obama is “concerned international pressure on Russia may ease in the wake of a successful election in Ukraine,” and so he “will use a visit to Europe this week to urge U.S. allies to maintain a hard line against Moscow.” The Journal quotes a White House official thus:
What we don’t want is for everybody to exhale, “the election went well, now we’re all done.”
Well, no, we’re not all done. There’s still dangerous fighting going on in parts of eastern Ukraine that border Russia, including a report on Monday of a 500-person assault on a border post by pro-Russian (i.e., mostly Russian) forces. But Russia has signaled that it’s ready to talk turkey with Petro Poroshenko and the new government in Kiev, and Russian troops have moved away from the border, easing tensions. So, you’d think that Obama would use the opportunity presented by a trip to Poland—a country, by the way, with deeply ingrained anti-Russian instincts and close ties to western Ukraine, parts of which used to be “Poland”—to launch a major initiative to ease the crisis. During the trip, Obama will meet Poroshenko. Maybe Obama will announce steps to reignite diplomatic efforts over Ukraine, but it’s not looking good.
Instead, it seems that it will all about projecting American strength into the region. Reports The Wall Street Journal:
In a speech in Warsaw on Wednesday, he is set to reaffirm U.S. commitment to defending the region’s security during the 25th anniversary celebrations of Poland’s first free, post-Communist elections, White House officials said. Upon arriving in Poland, the president is set to visit an airport hangar in Warsaw with American and Polish pilots. The visit is intended to underscore the increased joint air training missions in the wake of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.