Russia is once again flexing muscles in Ukraine. The timing is not arbitrary. The action is not arbitrary. Russia never makes arbitrary decisions.
This is a direct test of the Biden administration and a clear message to Ukraine about joining NATO. It is black and white, as simple as that. There is no need to make it complicated.
Russia is dead set against Ukraine joining NATO.
The premise upon which NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was founded is “one for all and all for one.” If one member is attacked — it is as if all were attacked. And Russia does not want Ukraine strengthened. Not now. In fact, not ever.
Russia has, once again, set its sights on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. Both regions border Russia, and Russia wants the leeway to behave as Russia wishes along her borders. No questions asked.
Russia has invested a great deal of thought, of time and of troops, on these areas. These are regions that are home to a majority of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. Sound familiar? These are the areas which were split off from Ukraine in 2014. These are the areas that survived because Russia took their side against Ukraine, because Russia came to their aid. And since that time, these areas have become semi-autonomous Russian regions in Ukraine.
Tensions are very high. The 2015 Minsk Accords, the ceasefire which ended the tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been tenuous from the start. So tenuous, in fact, that the United States has had to warn commercial airlines to be wary when flying over the region.
Russia has sent a flotilla of war ships to the Black Sea off the coast of Ukraine. Their claim is that the flotillas are there to lend “humanitarian support” to Russians living in the area. The term “humanitarian support” is one of Russia’s most oft used phrases when playing their game of justification.
What “humanitarian support” means for Russia, is not what it means for the West. “Humanitarian support” for Russia is code for invade and conquer.
It was their excuse as far back as 1956 when they invaded Hungary and, again, in 1968, when they invaded Czechoslovakia. “Humanitarian support” was even Russia’s excuse for invading Afghanistan in 1979. And it was used again when invading Crimea in 2014.
Using the term again, as an excuse for going into Donetsk and Luhansk, would be expected. But this time, Putin has added a new — and necessary, twist.
Most people in Crimea were ethnic Russian. Putin realizes that “humanitarian support” is no longer enough to justify an invasion. So he granted Russian citizenship to 650,000 people living in Donetsk and Luhansk.
In 2014 the Obama administration spoke a tough game about the Russian invasion of Crimea. In actuality, the United Stated did next to nothing to put the brakes on Russia.
The only world leader who acted was Angela Markel. Germany pumped oil and natural gas into Ukraine, providing the Ukrainians a lifeline after Russia cut them off.
Russia is a divisive force. Divisive in the region. Divisive throughout the world. While the Russians have only a few allies, the allies they do have — China and Iran topping their list, followed by Turkey, are powerful.
The Czech Republic is the last European country to have had good relations with Russia. Now they are engaged in a serious spat. Czechia recently determined that an explosion at one of their ammunition factories was the work of Russian intelligence.
In response, the Czech Republic expelled Russian diplomats. Then the Russians expelled Czech diplomats from Moscow. So Czechia expelled some more. It’s a game of diplomacy.
The United States is no stranger to the game. The Biden administration has, also, just expelled Russian diplomats — 20 of them, after concluding that Russia was behind the SolarWinds hack and was guilty of meddling in the 2020 presidential election. So, Russia expelled U.S. diplomats.
But the Russian naval build up in the Black Sea, close to Ukraine, remains. And the navy has been joined by troops. The United States is worried and has sent their own war ships to the Black Sea.
Russia has said, in essence, stay away. Approach the region at your own risk. It is a risk the United States is willing to take.
Russia must not control the Black Sea. It is a hugely important sea route — especially important for oil.
The Black Sea is a misnomer, it is actually the largest lake in the world. There is only one way in and out of the Black Sea. It all begins in the Dardanelles Straits, also known as the Straits of Gallipoli which flow into the Marmara Sea, then through the Bosporus Straits and finally, into the Black Sea. The Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles Straits separate Europe from Africa.
This Ukrainian grab by Putin is a serious challenge for the Biden administration. The Russians are taunting the United States. Strong words of warning mean nothing to Putin.
And her ally, China, is watching intently and planning its own next steps. China is involved in naval intimidation, especially with Taiwan, and the United States is nearby.
The United States has asked Russia to join them for a summit — to sit and to talk, in the style of the United States. Putin, however, is not a talker. Putin is a pusher. And most of the time, when Putin pushes others do not push back. As president, Joe Biden is new at this. We will soon learn how Biden and Putin play out the game.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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