In case you missed it with all the Ferguson, Missouri news coverage, Russia is invading the Ukraine and we are witnessing what happens when the United States announces to the world that she will not fight, she will not send in her military, she will not lead. One of the problems with President Obama’s declarations is that the United States gave its word to defend Ukraine.
After the fall of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine (Kiev) had the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. Concerned the weapons would either fall into the wrong hands or be further sold off to Iran, the West convinced Kiev to surrender its weapons to Moscow in exchange for an agreement that the United States, UK, and Russia would guarantee Ukraine’s security. On February 5, 1994, Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, John Major and Leonid Kuchma entered into the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, a diplomatic memorandum of understanding and not a treaty, that left Ukraine utterly defenseless against the nuclear-armed Moscow and reliant on the US and London to come to her aid.
The terms of the agreement could not have been clearer. “Russia, the U.S. and U.K. agreed "to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine...reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine."” Further highlighting Russia’s recalcitrance, in 1975 Russia signed the Helsinki Accords binding the leading players of the Cold War to respect one another’s international boundaries.
Earlier this year, Putin invaded and annexed Crimea, formerly a part of the Ukraine and Ukraine’s biggest fears have come home to roost. Yesterday, the Ukrainian government said Russian soldiers, tanks, and artillery rolled into southeastern Ukraine in what the U.S. considers an invasion, reported the Washington Post. President Obama’s response, along with other UN members, to Putin’s aggression and annexation of Crimea and his current invasion in southeastern Ukraine has been – economic sanctions alone. The president said yesterday that a military response is not even an option.
While this may seem to be a squabble on the other side of the world to Americans and not as interesting as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Putin’s aggression, and more importantly his success, has far reaching implications for the United States and the world. By Putin’s actions and President Obama’s inaction, the United States has signaled to the world, and to threshold nuclear countries like Iran, that treaties will not be enforced and the ability to seize power by force is only limited by imagination. An unchecked imagination became the nightmare the world defeated in World War II.
Ukraine now regrets trusting the US and London. “Everyone believed that for good or bad the United States would be the world's policeman," says Ukrainian parliamentarian Pavlo Rizanenko. "Now that function is being abandoned by President Obama, and because of that Russia invaded Crimea, he added."
Sadly, a senior diplomat interviewed by the Washington Post framed the problem perfectly. He said, "The Americans say, give up your nuclear program and we will guarantee your security. But the Iranians can say—you already told the Ukrainians that, and look where it got them."
If the United States’ promise to guarantee a nation’s security cannot be trusted as it has proven not to be, then we are witnessing the return to the Cold War (nuclear proliferation with Iran not bowing to US demands to end its nuclear program) and a fight that certainly President Obama is unskilled or unwilling to wage.