The upper house of the Russian parliament has authorized Vladimir Putin to use military force in Ukraine despite a warning from President Obama that if the Russians do intervene “there will be costs.” Now the President, who has come under fire for drawing a red line in Syria over chemical weapons without following up, is on the hot seat again.
Putin’s intervention is the only thing that saved Bashar Al Assad, the president of Syria and Russia’s ally, from missile strikes from the United States after it was confirmed chemical weapons were used in the civil war in Syria last year. Putin used the opportunity to promote himself as a peacemaker, rather than a supporter of a war criminal in Assad, and even penned an op-ed for The New York Times scolding America for its planned military intervention and questioning the idea of American exceptionalism. Political opponents of Obama slammed him for looking weak and used the situation to further attack the President’s foreign policy abilities.
The President comes to a moment of truth yet again, this time with more serious implications. Just hours after warning the Russian Federation not to authorize military force within Ukraine, it seems that Putin plans to do just that and we’re left to wonder what Obama will do. This is more than a push to action, it’s a shove, and the world is watching with bated breath as Cold War-era tensions manifest in Crimea, an autonomous region within the Ukraine.
It’s been a week since former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, also a Putin ally, was ousted amidst civil unrest. The country has been struggling to establish a peaceful transition government and now the newly appointed, pro-Russian Prime Minister of Crimea, Sergiy Aksyonov, has secured control of the military and police there and has asked for military aid from Russia. It seems that’s exactly what he’s going to get, as Russia’s Black Sea fleet is already parked along Crimea’s shores. Aksyonov says he seeks to maintain “peace and tranquility” in the region and has claimed that unidentified armed men and military equipment have been detected nearby due to the central Ukrainian government being unstable. These claims are unconfirmed.
Chief of Crimea’s national police, Igor Aveytskiy, said in an interview that “all was peaceful” last night. “Conditions are good. The Situation is under control” he said. When asked about violence in Crimea, Mikhail Amirov, a guard at the Interior Ministry said, “It’s all rumors, all lies.” The news didn’t stop a quick response from Russian politicians that gives Putin a free hand to move troops into Crimea.
If we’ve learned anything about Obama’s foreign policy style, it’s that he favors the slow play. He’s a pragmatist at heart and in five years under his administration, America has avoided getting massively involved in any one world conflict, though he has flirted with the idea in Syria and “led from behind” in Libya. However, Obama is still presiding over the war in Afghanistan, started by George W Bush, as commander in chief and has been labeled “The Drone President” for his unrivaled use of remote strikes against terror targets abroad.
It’s clear Americans have no stomach for boots on the ground and find themselves adopting a non-interventionist mindset after a decade of fighting in the Middle East, but this incident screams for a firm, measured response from the President. Obama has drawn another red line and just hours later he is forced to back up his words as Russian force has been authorized in the Ukraine and we are left to wait and see what he will do about it. It is ironic, though maybe unsurprising, that just one week after the Olympic flame, an icon of world peace, was extinguished in Sochi that the drums of war are beating again.
By Matt Stinson