PUSHING BACK ON PUTIN: Russia’s Vladimir Putin last week canceled discounts on gas sold to Ukraine.
By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
Vladimir Putin may be a bully, but he’s no dummy.
He has sent Russian forces into Ukraine and has taken control of the Crimean Peninsula — Ukraine’s strategic warm-water port — and he probably won’t give it back.
Last week, President Obama said Putin’s actions were “not strategically clever.” Try telling that to the Ukrainians.
Only the most naïve could miss that Putin’s dream has always been to reconstitute the remnants of the former Soviet Union. His power grab involves some risks, but he sized up the likely reaction from his neighbors and determined the rewards were greater. Unfortunately, he appears to be right.
From Putin’s point of view, what are the downsides of going into Crimea?
Well, the U.S. has threatened to boycott the G-8 Summit that Russia is scheduled to host in June. You can just imagine Putin mulling that one over: Hmmm, hosting a soiree in Sochi or taking control of a peninsula that has been prized by every Russian leader since Peter the Great? Come on.
What’s more, within moments of the U.S. diplomatic contingent floating the idea of a G-8 walkout, the foreign minister of Italy went wobbly, telling reporters that G-8 members weren’t even discussing a boycott.
Yes, economic sanctions can be leveled against Putin, but no sooner was that threat made than the foreign minister of Spain told reporters flat-out last week that sanctions would be unjustified.
EU nations have shown no willingness to get tough, and Putin certainly figured as much when he rolled the troops into Ukraine.
Secretary of State John Kerry keeps talking about how Russia’s behavior has no place among 21st century countries, but that’s seeing the world the way it should be and not the way it actually is — especially when you’re dealing with a cunning former KGB agent who perfectly understands the realpolitik of 21st century Europe.
In that same speech Tuesday, Obama uttered what figures to be the 2014 frontrunner for political understatement of the year when he said, “Countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling.”
Meddling? Mr. President, meddling is when I tell my next door neighbor how to discipline his bratty kid. Sending troops into another country is not meddling; it’s an act of war.
While foreign relations isn’t Obama’s strong suit — e.g., Syria and his ”red line” declaration and subsequent walk-back — to be fair, Obama doesn’t have many options in this crisis, given the flaccid response from the Europeans.
But he does have one card to play: energy.
In a study released with ominous timing this week, guess which of the 25 largest energy users in the world is most dependent on foreign — in this case Russian — sources of energy? Ukraine.
But the U.S. is in the midst of an energy boom. An announcement by Obama to fast-track liquefied natural gas exports to Europe, as well as speeding up the permitting process for refineries, could certainly concentrate the mind of a troublesome adversary.
True, it would take one to two years to get the infrastructure in place to displace even a portion of what Gazprom produces, but it would send Putin a strong message that bad behavior will not be tolerated and, more important, that Russia’s days as the only energy sheriff on the continent are receding if he doesn’t shape up.
Of course, such a move would drive Obama’s environmental flank crazy because an increase in oil and gas exports involves the “f” word — fracking.
But in a nasty geopolitical fight with the likes of Vladimir Putin, such are the wages of leading from behind.
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski