A policy of self-serving hypocrisy towards Russia

The United States has once again twisted itself into a rhetorical pretzel. As when it threatened military action against Syria if a “red line” was crossed, the Obama administration’s rhetoric about Russia and Ukraine goes far beyond what it will be willing and able to enforce.

Earlier this month, President Obama warned that America would “isolate Russia” if it grabbed more land, and yesterday, he suggested that more sanctions were possible. Likewise, Secretary of State John Kerry said the Group of 7 nations were “prepared to go to the hilt” in order to isolate Russia.

But Washington’s rhetoric is dangerously excessive, for three main reasons: Ukraine is far more important to Vladimir V. Putin than it is to America; it will be hard for the United States and Europe to make good on their threats of crippling sanctions; and other countries could ultimately defang them…

The fundamental problem is that the Obama administration doesn’t want to bear the costs associated with an active foreign policy. That’s understandable. A December Pew poll revealed the lowest level of public support for an active American foreign policy since 1964.

This domestic pressure was on display in Syria. Mr. Obama’s error was not that he backed away from military action and accepted Russia’s proposal to rid Syria of chemical weapons. The mistake was that he drew a red line that would have been more costly to back up than the United States was willing to tolerate. America lost credibility internationally for failing to make good on its threat.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration is repeating this mistake in Ukraine…

“Isolating Russia” as if it were Iran or North Korea isn’t a threat America can feasibly make good on. Just because Mr. Putin is acting like the leader of a rogue state, his country cannot be considered as such. Russia boasts the world’s eighth-largest economy. Given the exposure of American corporations to Russia, there would be serious pushback from the private sector if Mr. Obama tried to relegate Russia to rogue-state status. The Obama administration needs to preach what it will ultimately practice. Otherwise Washington’s credibility will erode further as it walks back its words.

A more hard-line response is not the answer. Mr. Obama was right to rule out the military option; diplomacy is America’s only viable path forward…

The Obama administration should focus on supporting Kiev rather than punishing Moscow. That means using its leverage with Europe to ensure that this support sticks, and that Ukraine’s new government does nothing to provoke an extreme response. This will require an acknowledgment of Russia’s core interests and America’s limitations — and an end to empty threats.

There are about three historic levels to the context of this antagonistic complexity. Most of which is viewed with greater clarity outside the United States than within. Not unusual.

On the longest historic stage, Americans forget we acquired foreign territory much in the same way Albanians did Kosovo, Russians did Crimea. We moved in and colonized economic expansion and then used our [foreign] military might to guarantee the freedom of our colonists to secede. In case you never read a history book, that’s how we got Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah and a chunk of Wyoming and Colorado.

Nearer in time, lacking an adjacent border, the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq – especially the latter – didn’t have a damned thing to do with protecting our nation. Not on that scale, nothing to do with what we set out to accomplish and failed.

Pretending there is nothing comparable between the secession of Kosovo and the Crimea is patent leather revisionism. The voting population of Kosovo was skewed by incomers as much or more than Crimea – over a shorter period of time. The politics of each differs; but, international codes are cobbled together in an attempt to function independent of local politics. Whether they succeed at it or not.

Crimea parliament votes to join Russia – referendum to follow

The Crimean parliament has voted to join Russia, with the Ukraine region’s deputy prime minister saying the decree was effective immediately and that Russian soldiers are the only legitimate forces in Crimea.

The parliament unanimously adopted a motion on Thursday for the strategic peninsula to join the Russian Federation…

The Crimea parliament also said a referendum on the region’s status was being brought forward to from March 30 to March 16. Temirgaliev said there would be two questions on the ballot.

“The first: Are you in favor of Crimea becoming a constituent territory of the Russian Federation. The second: Are you in favor of restoring Crimea’s 1992 constitution.” According to the 1992 constitution, Crimea is part of Ukraine but has relations with Kiev.

However, Al Jazeera’s Hoda Hamid, reporting from Sevastopol, said there were serious questions about the legitimacy of the parliament and prime minister.

“The prime minister came to power arguably at gunpoint when the parliament was taken over,” she said. “Then there is a question of legitimacy in the constitution, which says parliament cannot take such a decision…”

As opposed to the democratic thumbs up or thumbs down of insurgents occupying Independence Square in Kiev which validated the current Ukrainian Parliament, eh?

The Crimea parliament, which is afforded some autonomy under current Ukrainian law, voted 78 – 0 with eight abstentions in favour of holding the referendum.

The US president, Barack Obama, meanwhile issued an executive order on Thursday saying that Russia’s involvement in Crimea constituted “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.

While Putin has about the same level of moral authority in global politics as, say, Dick Cheney, he foretold occurrences like the Crimean move to regain independence from Ukraine when the UN and the US recognized Kosovo. For, regardless of the historic circumstances leading to the move for independence, the context is much the same, e.g., a single ethnicity being the majority of a region and then taking that region into secession.

Nations, even states, which prate about democracy find themselves with their nickers bunched over this question time and again. The LDS Church, American Mormons, were forced to resettle from state-to-state until they picked up and moved to faraway Utah to live their own lives. The US Constitution was ignored by their Midwestern Christian neighbors who said they had a moral imperative to keep Mormons from voting. Still, the LDS hierarchy had to revise their ideology to join the union of the United States of America. And they had no Mormon next-door neighbor to acquire their new state. Kosovo, for example, has Albania – should they so choose. Crimea has Russia.

Again and again, the motivations for secession are often grounded either in hopes for profit – so many of my nationalist friends in Scotland; freedom from ethnic suppression – La Raza in the American Southwest or the Quebecois in Canada; or truly reactionary hatred – today’s Tea Party Confederates mostly in the American South but anywhere else that harbors militia-level paranoia.

Only the egregious deny the likelihood of Crimea voting to claim full independence from Ukraine, tried previously in 1992, and rejoin Russia. Crimea returned over 70% vote for Janukovych in the last election. Their joining to Ukraine was a welfare check to Kiev, payment from the Soviet Black Sea navy. Uncle Sugar will make up that welfare check and more until – and unless – some future election involving all of Ukraine displeases Washington. When Catholic western Ukraine decides it really is Poland…and Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine prefers independence from the west.

Then, we can play the same game all over again.

In many of these nations, from Scotland to Ukraine, I have old friends and relatives on both sides of the individual questions. Depending a lot on their influence on this old brain, my own position may fluctuate. I try to stick to whatever fits within my understanding of political economy. For a more detailed relation of the history of the Balkans and everything east of the Danube, I’d suggest wandering through Ina Vukic’ blog.

UN court says Kosovo independence is legal


Declaration of Independence in 2008
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Kosovo’s unilateral secession from Serbia in 2008 did not violate international law, the World Court has said in a decision with implications for separatist movements everywhere.

The non-binding, but clear-cut ruling by the International Court of Justice is a major blow to Serbia and will complicate efforts to draw the former pariah ex-Yugoslav republic into the European Union.

It is likely to lead to more states following the United States, Britain and 67 other countries in recognizing ethnic-Albanian dominated Kosovo, which broke away after NATO intervened to end a brutal crackdown on separatism by Belgrade.

It may also embolden breakaway regions in countries ranging from India and Iraq to Serbia’s war-torn neighbor and fellow former Yugoslav republic Bosnia to seek more autonomy.

“The court considers that general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declaration of independence,” Judge Hisashi Owada, president of the ICJ, said in the clear majority ruling delivered in a cavernous hall at the Hague-based ICJ.

“Accordingly it concludes that the declaration of independence of the 17th of February 2008 did not violate general international law…”

News of the court’s decision prompted celebrations in the Kosovo capital Pristina, where people drove through the streets waving Kosovo, U.S. and British flags and shouting “USA, USA!.”

That last bit is scary enough on its own.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder about what depth was dedicated to discussion of ethnic minorities moving into a region – and then claiming it as their own? The history of Kosovo since WW2.

Albanians moved in and eventually became a regional majority and declared independence.

It’s the sort of politic tactic long used as a slander and fear in the United States. First against Mormons. Nowadays – realistically – against Mexicans. I have a few acquaintances who have dedicated their lives to reclaiming the Mexican state of Aztlan – which would include Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California at a minimum.

Xenophobes on the American Right don’t miss a chance to bring it up every chance they have. And there are enough of those, lately.

It’s also cutting off your nose, etc., on the part of the U.S. government which applauds Kosovo – and whines to the heavens over Ossetia. Which is it to be: hypocrisy or a double standard?

Serbia wins bid to review independence of Kosovo

In an unusual resort to international law, Serbia has won a bid to have the International Court of Justice review the manner in which Kosovo declared its independence.

The vote in the United Nations General Assembly was sharply polarized, with 77 countries supporting Serbia’s request, 6 opposed, including the United States, and 76 nations abstaining.

Anyone remember far enough back to when the United States supported the international Rule of Law?

Serbia’s foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, said the nonbinding decision from the court “will serve to reduce tensions in the region and facilitate our efforts at reconciliation” by transferring the dispute to a judicial arena. Serbia, calling Kosovo a breakaway province, believes that it acted illegally by announcing what Serbia considers a unilateral declaration of independence, and that the court case will make other states hesitate before extending diplomatic recognition.

The court, based in The Hague, is often called upon to mediate border disputes and the like, but requests from the United Nations for legal rulings are rare.

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