Fleitz: Time for Obama to Regroup on Ukraine Crisis

Tuesday, 04 Mar 2014 01:01 PM

By Fred Fleitz

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During a 90-minute phone call on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Barack Obama warned that Russia would face “serious repercussions” unless it halted its military operations in Ukraine.

On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry threatened Russia with “very serious repercussions” for its intervention in Ukraine and said Putin will “lose” on the world stage.

Warnings and statements like these are too little too late and hurt America’s reputation since the U.S. will make Russia pay a significant price for invading Ukraine. Putin knows this. It is time for President Obama to acknowledge the reality that there is nothing the United States can do to reverse Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and adopt realistic policies to prevent future Russian military activity and interference in former Soviet states.

There is zero chance Mr. Obama will approve a military option. Any sanctions or diplomatic measures the U.S. may impose against Russia will not only be weak and inefficient, they probably will be set aside in a few months as the U.S. moves on to deal with other matters of mutual concern with Moscow.

Will we stop talking with Russia about the Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian crisis because Russia has occupied Crimea? Of course not.

Europe does not favor taking any significant steps against Russia. Germany opposes kicking Russia out of the G-8. The UK reportedly opposes trade sanctions against Russia because this could derail the global economic recovery. Without British and German support, the U.S. cannot effectively pressure Russia on Ukraine.

Putin’s power ambitions are too strong to be deterred by weak sanctions and empty rhetoric by U.S. officials. Putin is also well aware of the Obama administration’s atrocious track record in backing up its international warnings and ultimatums.

Putin knows Syrian President Assad violated President Obama’s red line on chemical weapons use without suffering any consequences. He knows that despite tough talk on the Iranian nuclear program by Mr. Obama and Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry, the U.S. slowly reduced its demands on Iran’s nuclear activities over the last five years. The result is the current interim nuclear agreement with Iran that does not call on it to dismantle any of its nuclear facilities and implicitly acknowledges an Iranian “right” to enriched uranium.

The crisis in Ukraine is the product of five years of failed U.S. policies that can’t be easily fixed. Aside from other U.S. foreign policy fumbles, the Obama administration ignored Ukraine over the last five years and did nothing to ease its move toward Europe.

So how should the United States respond to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine?

Strong condemnations of Russia, diplomatic pressure, and boycotting the Sochi G-8 meeting to be held in June are appropriate steps. Kicking Russia out of the G-8 would be an overreaction unless Russia’s actions result in a bloodbath which will probably happen if it invades eastern Ukraine.

Since there is no chance the U.S. can force Russian to reverse its invasion of Crimea, Obama officials should cease threatening Moscow with consequences if it does not do so. America’s credibility has been damaged enough by other Obama ultimatums that were ignored by rogue states.

Another reason for revising the Obama administration’s response to the Russian invasion is Ukraine’s dire economy. Ukraine’s economy is in shambles and needs between $20 billion and $30 billion in loans this year to avoid default. Ukraine may have as little as $12 billion in foreign currency reserves. Russia has made Ukraine’s economic situation worse by demanding repayment of a $1.5 billion gas bill.

Ukraine wants an emergency $15 billion loan from the IMF but the Fund is hesitant to provide such a large sum because Ukraine didn’t live up to the terms of a 2010 loan. Even if the IMF agrees to a smaller loan, approving it will take time and the Fund will demand tough and unpopular conditions such as ending fuel subsidies.

Secretary Kerry said at a news conference today that the U.S. and its European allies are working on an aid package for Ukraine and will provide a $1 billion loan. Are Obama administration and European officials prepared to provide Ukraine with enough loans to cover its debts and prevent a default? Given how shaky the new Ukrainian government is, its reputation for corruption and economic problems in the U.S. and Europe, such loans will be hard for Western governments to sell to their people.

The Obama administration will eventually need to face the reality that saving the Ukrainian economy will require negotiating with Moscow, not threatening it.

The Ukraine situation requires the Obama administration to make some hard choices and devise policies to limit the damage from the Russian intervention and look several steps down the road. This must include the U.S. working with its European allies to engage Russia and other former Soviet states, especially Moldova, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to prevent future Russian incursions into their territory.

The best way to promote global peace and stability in the aftermath of Ukraine crisis is to restore American credibility. I believe this is not possible under this president and his ineffective national security team. As a result, the next two years will be very dangerous as Russia, Iran, Syria, China, and North Korea move to take advantage of American weakness.

Fred Fleitz served for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently Chief Analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service. Read more reports from Fred Fleitz — Click Here Now.

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