Fred Kaplan writes: The most startling thing about the crisis in Ukraine is how horribly all the actors have played their hands.
First, the Ukrainian parliament, after stepping up to power, drastically overstepped its bounds, dissolving the courts and ousting President Viktor Yanukovich by fiat rather than through legal processes of impeachment—thus giving Russian President Vladimir Putin the sliver of an excuse to declare the new leaders “illegitimate” and to intervene under the pretense of restoring “order.”
Then, Putin went overboard, not merely bolstering the security of Russia’s naval base on the coast of Crimea (an autonomous republic of Ukraine that once belonged to Russia) but mobilizing 30,000 troops to occupy the entire enclave. This was unnecessary, since Putin already, in effect, controlled Crimea. It may also prove stupid, as the move’s violence has further alienated Ukrainians, raised suspicions among Russia’s other ex-Soviet neighbors, and roused resistance from otherwise indifferent Western nations.
Which leads to President Obama, who has responded to the aggression by imposing sanctions—a cliché of foreign policy that usually has no effect, but in this case will almost certainly make things worse.
Sanctions only work (and, even then, rarely) when they are universal, when they truly hurt the regime being targeted, and when they coincide with—or prompt—political change. Russia fits none of these categories. Too many European nations are too dependent on Russian gas supplies or bank deposits to make sanctions bite or endure. None of the sanctions under discussion are knockout blows; no conceivable sanctions would compel Putin (or any Russian leader) to surrender Ukraine. And regime change in Moscow is hardly on the horizon.
This crisis will be settled by making things somehow right with Ukraine—keeping it secure from further encroachments and ensuring that its government reflects the will of its people. The path toward both goals runs through the upcoming elections in May. And neither goal can be accomplished—no free and fair election can take place—without Russian involvement. [Continue reading…]