Guy Benson


A surreal debate with an unserious person. As you watch this, keep in mind that our topic was the relatively nonpartisan issue of sanctions against Putin. The only coherent thread of Jehmu's, ahem, "analysis" was her confounding blame-storming of the Tea Party. Try to follow along. It was a struggle for me:


benson on Ukraine from Mister Smith on Vimeo


So there you have it. Conservatives would prefer Putin to be president, or something. Things didn't get much better when we the discussion shifted to Obamacare. On to the very serious matter of Russia, there are worrisome signs that Vladimir Putin may have his sights set on a larger portion of Ukraine, beyond Crimea. Secretary of State John Kerry's last-ditch effort to patch things up with the Russian government failed over the weekend, as expected. Once Crimea's bogus "referendum" went through, the imposition of American sanctions became a fait accompli. Make no mistake that Sunday's vote was a complete sham. Balloting took place on an occupied peninsula, with Russian gunmen presiding at numerous polling places. Many Crimean opponents of Russia's illegal invasion and effective annexation boycotted the vote (not to mention that much of the region's ethnic Tatar population was purged by the Soviets). And the only two options on the ballot involved breaking away from Ukraine; there was no explicitly pro-Kiev, anti-Kremlin choice. The United States and the West are rightly refusing to recognize the vote's lopsided results. Moscow was forced to wield its UN Security Council veto to block a resolution declaring the farcical outcome invalid. As prospects for restoring Crimea to its rightful sovereign under international law fade, the world is waiting to see if Putin will step up his aggression with a deeper push into Ukrainian territory. Other Russian neighbors, meanwhile, anxiously wonder if their nations might be next. The New Republic's Julia Ioffe has been an incisive and prescient observer of Putin's regime. Shortly after Putin took Crimea -- which apparently caught the US government by surprise -- she applied her 'pessimism principle' by predicting that the Russians would not stop at just Crimea. In a follow-up piece over the weekend, Ioffe reiterates her expectation, suggesting that the Kremlin's sunsequent maneuvers all point in the same direction:


Putin has also shown that he was serious about using force not just in Crimea, but in Ukraine proper. So far, he has kept it just to busing in hooligans into eastern Ukraine to act as grassroots pro-Russian protesters. But make no mistake, Putin is about to take eastern Ukraine, too. To wit: On Saturday, the two-week anniversary of the authorization, the Russian foreign ministry was already laying the foundations for such a seizure, saying that it was being flooded with requests from citizens across eastern Ukraine, asking the Russians for protection against the western Ukrainian fascists. But that’s just the pretext, not the reason. When Putin asked for and got his authorization, I wrote that, in predicting Russia’s actions these days, pessimism always wins. But, in this case, it isn’t just simple nastiness that’s going to drive this. For the first time in this manufactured crisis, Putin is going to be acting out of sheer pragmatism and necessity.


Ioffe argues that infrastructure needs could serve as a handy and practical pretext for Russia to burrow deeper into Ukrainian territory:


Take what else happened on Saturday. About 80 soldiers wearing uniforms without insignia took over a gas plant just across the Crimean border...What happens next? And what happens if, as is quite likely, Kiev cuts newly-Russian Crimea off from gas, electricity, and water, which Crimea has none of on its own? How will Moscow, the new owner, supply its latest acquisition with the necessities? If you’re Russia, do you really want to ferry the necessities across the bay, or build an expensive bridge, or lay down expensive new pipelines? Wouldn’t you rather use pre-existing land routes (and pipelines)? Wouldn’t it just be easier to take the land just north and east of Perekop and the Swiss cheese area, now that you’ve already put in the effort to massively destabilize it? And while you’re there, wouldn’t you want to just take the entire Ukrainian east, the parts with the coal and the pipe-making plants and the industry?


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insists that his government has "no plans" to invade additional regions of Ukraine. And who wouldn't take him at his word -- especially with thousands of Russian troops and military vehicles massed along several stretches of the Russia/Ukraine border?


Editor's Note: Many thanks to the great Ben Howe for his help with the video.

Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography