Obama abstains, Central Europe wanes....
True to form, the president has largely ignored his aid pledge to Ukraine. Through December 2014 half of the promised $118 million in non-lethal aid has reached Ukraine. As to non-lethal military aid, older, less-capable systems have been sent in lieu of promised advanced systems.
The Ukrainian position underscored the formidable obstacles to an accord to end the fighting between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists that has killed more than 5,000 people and displaced more than one million, the worst violence on the European Continent since the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Mr. Putin, in letters this week to Mr. Hollande, and the Ms. Merkel, put forward a proposal that apparently included shifts in the cease-fire boundaries based on recent gains by pro-Russian separatist fighters, diplomats said. The proposal also included a plan to grant political autonomy to the embattled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Western officials briefed on Mr. Putin’s plan described it as a nonstarter that would turn eastern Ukraine into another post-Soviet frozen-conflict zone, like Abkhazia along the border with Georgia or the pro-Russian breakaway Transnistria region of Moldova, where the Kremlin maintains several thousand troops, ostensibly as a peacekeeping force.
But as Obama dithers and Ukraine seeks maximal restoration of its violated sovereignty, a top Europe expert warns that Central and Eastern Europe are collapsing:
The trouble is that while institutional change has come relatively quickly to this part of Europe, cultural change—habits, values, and behavior—have been slower to evolve. Put corruption atop the list. It’s a serious problem across post-Communist Europe, but it’s particularly acute in the south. Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia rank 35, 39, and 43, respectively, on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Compare that to Macedonia at 64th place on the same scale, Bulgaria and Romania at 69th (tied with Greece), and Montenegro at 76th. In case you were wondering, the starkest contrast is between 26th-ranked Estonia and fellow NATO member Albania, which, at 110, rivals Ecuador and Ethiopia in levels of corruption.
Shallow democratic roots, weak rule of law, and media that are frequently neither independent nor especially responsible are now pervasive throughout southeastern Europe.
As elsewhere on the continent, populism keeps popping up, but with arguably more extremist tendencies. And corruption seeps into everything, making countries “ungovernable or governable by somebody else,” as Bulgarian analyst Ivan Krastev puts it. In fact, NATO’s southern flank—including alliance members Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, and Albania—is in danger of sliding into serious crisis.
Put simply, the parts of Europe liberated from the Russian Bear's embrace are well on their way to being drawn back into hibernation. Author Anne Applebaum details how European leaders reacted to Russian claims at a just-concluded NATO meeting in Munich (a fitting locale):
This year, the normally staid audience laughed out loud at the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who seemed, at one point, to question the legality of German unification. Some of the room also applauded loudly when Angela Merkel, the German chancellor — just back from an apparently fruitless peace mission to Moscow — restated her view that “there is no military solution” to the conflict in Ukraine. But when Malcolm Rifkind, the former British foreign secretary, asked her how she would stop Russia without military force, another part of the audience applauded. Even watching online, the conundrum in the room was clear: Everyone agrees that the Russians were lying, and no one believes Russian promises of a cease-fire. But nobody agrees on what to do about it.
She suggests how the West might respond:
What the West needs now is not merely a military policy but a comprehensive, long-term strategy designed to reinforce Ukrainian statehood and integrate Ukraine into Europe over many years. We could begin training not only the Ukrainian military but also the security services, which were devastated by the previous Ukrainian president. We could push far more forcefully for economic reform and support it with real financial commitments. We could treat this as a very long-term project, as Merkel suggested on Saturday, build a Berlin Wall around Donetsk in the form of a demilitarized zone and treat the rest of Ukraine like West Germany.
We could recognize the real danger Russia poses to Europe, not only as a source of violence but also as a source of political and economic corruption. We could impose much harsher, much deeper sanctions. We could cut Russia out of the international payments system. We could enforce our own laws and stop turning a blind eye to Russian money laundering, most of which takes place in European capitals. The city of London and the gnomes of Zurich might pay a price for the loss of Russian clients. But that price will still be far lower than the potential costs of doing nothing.
AA notes that Russia is giving top-grade Russian equipment to the rebels. She warns that if not checked in Ukraine, Putin likely will move against the Baltic countries.
Foreign Policy Institute's Geopoliticus Blog has issued an updated Ukraine Crisis Timeline from its origins in late 2013 to the end of January. The FPRI timeline notes UN figures through end-January 2015 that estimate over 5,000 killed, nearly 11,000 wounded and 500,000 displaced persons. To place this figure in perspective: Ukraine's population is 44 million, slightly more than one-seventh the US population of 320 million. The percent-of-population equivalent numbers for the US thus would be 36,000 killed & 79,000 wounded. And this figure is for a crisis whose military phase had only run 11 months as of end-January.
Bottom Line. Ukraine's fall would be catastrophic for the West. Central and Eastern Europe would be drawn towards neutrality, undermining NATO. And Putin will be emboldened to seize Russian-speaking areas of Estonia and Latvia. Success in any [art of that enterprise would irremediably sunder NATO, and hollow out US alliances around the globe.
Put simply, Russia has started Cold War II. Either we see this and act to counter Putin, or we cede strategic primacy in Europe to Moscow.
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