The Ukrainian Dilemma
The pregnant question is: “What do we do right now?” Right now the ball is in Putin’s court. What he “reasonably” wants is to keep his naval bases in Crimea. Those bases are Russia’s only warm water ports and thus their only access to the seas in the winter and much of the summer. Russia has wanted those bases since the reign of Peter The Great when he sought entry into the European community of nations, and you can be sure Putin will do whatever he must to keep them. Those navy bases are perhaps the most critical component of Russian security.
Beyond that, the Ukraine has been called Russia’s breadbasket for good reason; its agricultural and other resources are vital to Russian economy. For all of these reasons, Ukraine is very important to Russia. The question is how Russian interests can be satisfied by an independent, Western-leaning Ukraine. If Russian interests are denied by the Euro-leaning Ukrainian government, then Putin will use as much brutal power as necessary to secure its vital interests. That is the charitable description of what Putin will do.
The not-so-charitable description is based on Putin’s long known desire to reconstitute the Soviet empire of satellite countries. What has not been discussed is the possibility that Putin understands that Russia’s greatest period of cultural and national power and international respect was during the Tsarist era. The failing of Tsarist Russia was that the last remnant of feudalism not abolished until the early 20th century, and the poverty of the peasants was fodder for Marxist-Leninist ideology circa 1914-17, resulting in communism. Russia never recovered from communism, but now Putin may see an opportunity for a modern Tsarist-like Russia as an authoritarian nationalist state, which the Russians are historically disposed to understand.
In any case, back to the question: I think the best we can do is encourage Ukraine to reach an accommodation with Russia’s vital interests while satisfying its own interests to join the Western civilization of Europe. The problem is that neither Russia nor Ukraine have a historical understanding of freedom and liberty. Failing that accommodation, Putin will crush Ukraine because it cannot relinquish the Crimea. If that happens, our interests are involved as “leader” of the free world to be “America: the ideal of free nations”. A wholesale Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a showdown between Russian and Europe led by America by default, and Obama will likely lose. He will lose because Putin will be desperate and know that he too cannot lose lest he consign Russia to the dustbin of history, and Obama will not be desperate.
Obama should, but probably won’t, take the lead in representing Ukraine and Europe to secure a Ukrainian accommodation of Russia’s vital interests in the Crimea. The fundamental reason Obama probably won’t take the lead is that he and the WH staff are a cadre of political apparatchiks with no knowledge or appreciation of history and no appreciation of America as the ideal of free nations, nor has Obama has shown himself to be a resolute leader on the international stage.