Ukraine Is Putin’s Problem

Michael CohenFinally we are getting some decent reporting on Ukraine! I’m not talking about reporting on what’s going on there. The reporting on that has been reasonable. And it’s been sad. But I try not to be focused on whatever tragedy the mainstream news is focused on. The world is full of tragedies: you can have your pick. My interest is what the Russian invasion of Crimea means to the United States. And despite all the yammering from conservatives, what Russia’s actions mean is: very little.

Yesterday at The Guardian, Michael Cohen wrote a great article, Don’t Listen to Obama’s Ukraine Critics: He’s Not “Losing”—and It’s Not His Fight. Now, he could focus on John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the latter of which said, “We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression. President Obama needs to do something.” I do love these proclamations. They are very American: doing anything is far more important than doing the right thing. But the fact that the entire Republican Party is rising up in unison to call for “something” to be done is not a surprise. It is a gambit. They will criticize whatever Obama does.

Cohen, however, is interested in actual reporters and pundits. He goes through the various ridiculous ways that the conflict is being framed: from some kind of personality battle where Putin is invading just to thumb his nose at Obama, to inappropriate historical analogies like Leonid Bershidsky who compared “seizing Crimea to the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938.” Fun stuff! But his focus is on how the analysis is making the Ukraine crisis all about us. “As in practically every international crisis, the pundit class seems able to view events solely through the prism of US actions…” Indeed. If a country other than Russia had invaded Ukraine, the mainstream press probably wouldn’t even notice.

This is old Cold War thinking. But it isn’t the Cold War and Russia isn’t the Soviet Union. In 2012, the United States spent $682 billion on its military. That same year, Russia spent $91 billion. Our friend Mr Arithmetic tell us that the big bad Russian military is 13% the size of our hopelessly fragile military. I don’t know how Americans sleep at night! The ex-communist hordes are coming for us!

Cohen focuses on what a mess Putin has put himself in, calling Ukraine “Putin’s Waterloo.” That’s almost certainly true. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, it too was characterized as Carter’s problem when it really wasn’t—at least until Carter made it his problem. Cohen sees Putin’s situation as similar to Brezhnev’s:

Putin has initiated a conflict that will, quite obviously, result in greater diplomatic and political isolation as well as the potential for economic sanction. He’s compounded his loss of a key ally in Kiev by further enflaming Ukrainian nationalism, and his provocations could have a cascading effect in Europe by pushing countries that rely on Russia’s natural gas exports to look elsewhere for their energy needs. Putin is the leader of a country with a weak military, an under-performing economy and a host of social, environmental and health-related challenges. Seizing the Crimea will only make the problems facing Russia that much greater.

And sure enough, as Jason Karaian (via Ed Kilgore) noted:

But the markets are punishing Russia much more swiftly than the diplomats. A wide range of Russian assets—stocks, bonds, and the ruble—plunged in value today. To shore up the ruble, which is plumbing record depths, Russia’s central bank unexpectedly hiked interest rates today. It ratcheted up the benchmark one-week rate from 5.5% to 7%, and traders report that the central bank has also been spending billions of dollars in currency markets to stem the fall in the value of the ruble…

For most people in the Political-Entertainment Complex, we have to act and that requires military hardware. But they are just dusting off their old arguments from 11 and 12 years ago, as Cohen explains:

You don’t have to listen to the “do something” crowd. These are the same people who brought you the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other greatest hits. These are armchair “experts” convinced that every international problem is a vital interest of the US; that the maintenance of “credibility” and “strength” is essential, and that any demonstration of “weakness” is a slippery slope to global anarchy and American obsolescence; and that being wrong and/or needlessly alarmist never loses one a seat at the table.

That’s right, because inflicting pain on other people—be it the poor in this country or the civilians in others countries we claim to be helping—is what makes one Serious.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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