When the Ukraine government needed cash and Russia offered it a better deal than the European Union, our imperial diplomats and lawless intelligence gurus were embarrassed. So, the U.S. fomented another revolution in the streets of Kiev. One of our diplomats, Victoria Nuland, acknowledged as much in a tapped and taped (complete with expletives) and eventually viral cellphone conversation. Then, Viktor Yanukovich, the popularly and lawfully elected Ukraine president, was toppled and fled to Moscow. The new unelected Ukraine president has received American recognition and help. Earlier this week, the U.S. offered him $1 billion in immediate cash.
Enter Vladimir Putin. He is the popularly elected president of Russia who has designs on reconstituting the old Soviet Union. Putin is also an ex-KGB agent; he is a torturer, a murderer, a tyrant and a monster. He often has lamented the demise of the former Soviet Union. Ukraine was a part of that union until the evil empire dissolved in 1991. It was the most economically productive part of that union. Today it enjoys a mostly free market and is highly entrepreneurial, though partly a welfare state. Roughly two-thirds of Ukraine identifies with Europe and one-third with Russia.
After Yanukovich showed up at Putin's doorstep in Moscow, Putin flexed his muscles by sending 16,000 Russian troops, in uniforms without insignias and wearing black masks (you cannot make this up), over the border to occupy Crimea, a province of Ukraine, which had been part of Russia and the Soviet Union until 1954.
Putin's invasion is profoundly unlawful, as it constitutes the introduction of military troops into a sovereign territory without governmental invitation or consent, and the absence of identifying insignia puts this invasion outside the protections of the Geneva Conventions and the rules of war. Hence the Russian troops are legally fair game for Ukrainian troops and civilian militias. But don't expect that to happen. Russia has two times the number of tanks as Ukraine, 10 times the troops and 12 times the air power.
As well, don't expect the Russians to leave. Most residents of Crimea are Russian speaking and actually welcome their invaders (again, you cannot make this up). And Putin's track record in foreign incursions shows a pattern of retaining conquered territories. When he invaded Georgia in 2008, he kept two provinces, which are still occupied with more than 40,000 idle and costly Russian troops.
The U.S. and Europe are in no position to resist the Russian invasion, nor should they. Europe receives roughly 30 percent of its oil, natural gas and coal from Russia. If the U.S. tightens the economic screws on Russia, American banks will suffer, and the Russian oligarchs and Russian people will suffer, but no group will suffer as much as Europeans who have grown dependent on Russian fuel. And Putin is unmoved by personal embarrassment or human suffering.
The stated purpose of the Russian invasion is to protect predominantly ethnic Russians in Crimea from the mob-induced fate of Yanukovich. At first blush, this seems nonsense. But consider the view from Moscow of the American-induced expulsion of the popularly elected and Russian-oriented Ukraine president. And then consider this: What would the U.S. do if the Chinese had fomented a revolution in Mexico and installed a Chinese-friendly government there that solicited Chinese loans and invited the Chinese to help govern? Would the U.S. protect English-speaking American-friendly folks along the Texas-Mexico border?
And how is anyone in the U.S. harmed by Putin's lawlessness? Should the United Sates government roam the world seeking monsters to slay, or should it learn from its recent grave mistakes? Nearly two centuries ago, President John Quincy Adams warned his successors against the foreign policies that would be manifest in the Bush/Obama years. "Americans should not go abroad to slay dragons that they do not understand in the name of spreading democracy."
But the government is an old dog that cannot learn new tricks.