Russia at Bay

No nation in world history has destroyed its relationships with the outside world as rapidly or decisively as Vladimir Putin’s Russia has done in 2014. Yet the Obama administration has failed to galvanize world opposition in defense of Ukraine and American values in post-Soviet space, and its failure is particularly odious where Eastern Europe is concerned.

For instance, Greece is one of only four nations other than Russia out of 44 surveyed by the Pew Foundation to have a majority-positive view of Russia. Greek empathy for Russia stems, of course, from the fact that both nations practice the Eastern Orthodox faith. This led Russia to actively support Greece in its war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, and even today Greece is a substantial consumer of Russian weapons as well as a substantial recipient of Russian investment.

In bizarre fashion, however, Russia has not exempted Greece from its tit-for-tat boycott on EU goods coming into Russia, a response that most believe will do far more to harm Russians than to harm the EU. The Greeks are already complaining that their feeble economy has suffered a devastating blow in being denied the ability to export fruit to Russia. But where is the Obama administration’s policy designed to soften the blow for Greece and help it wake up to the menace that is Putin’s Russia? Nowhere to be seen.

Before 2014, Netherlands was the No. 1 export destination for Russia in 2013, including 29 billion Euros worth of oil and gas sold on to other countries. Fuel imports from Russia to the Netherlands soared from a mere $974 million in 1995 to a whopping $26 billion last year. But Russian complicity in the downing of the civilian passenger airliner MH17 has changed all that, to say the least. Louise van Schaik of Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, a leading think tank, states: “The idea that we could do business with Putin even though he was a Machiavellian politician, is gone.”

And that‘s to say nothing of Ukraine itself, a nation once literally joined at the hip with Russia as part of the USSR that Russia has now permanently poisoned against it and transformed into a hardened enemy eager to embrace NATO and the EU.

Indeed, the Pew Foundation data stunningly shows that Russia in 2014 is as isolated as it has ever been in its history. Only five of the 44 nations surveyed had majority-positive views of Russia, and one of those five was Russia itself. And it would be a mistake to think that it is only Russia’s barbaric aggression in Ukraine and Georgia that has poisoned world opinion: Russia’s behavior has been just as barbaric in flouting its obligations under nuclear arms limitations treaties and in persecuting opponents of Putin (including lengthy jail terms and outright killings).

One of the nations Russia is hoping will help it fight back against NATO and EU sanctions relating to Ukraine is NATO member Turkey. Unfortunately for Russia, only two nations on the list of 44 have more harshly negative view of Russia than Turkey. Those two nations are Poland and Pakistan. Just 16% of Turks said they had a positive attitude towards Russia, while 73% said their attitude was negative. So Russians may have less luck with the Turks than they imagine.

Another nation Russia is looking to as a potential sanctions-buster is Argentina. Only six world nations have a harsher anti-Russian view than Argentina does (besides Turkey, Poland and Pakistan the others are Germany, the U.S.A. and Spain). So Russia had better look elsewhere.

And Russians (to say nothing of the French government) had better be careful if they think they can count on France to stab its NATO allies in the back. France is creating controversy by threatening to sell two dangerous warships, used for precisely the type of invasion activity that Russia may be planning in Ukraine, to Russia. Only 26% of Frenchmen have a positive attitude towards Russia while 73% see it in a negative light.

The French government knows this, of course, and doesn’t want to sell warships to the hated Russians. Clearly, their threat is designed to prompt NATO to purchase the warships itself and help France avoid a large economic loss, yet Obama has not responded in any way to this overture. The US, EU or NATO could easily purchase the ships from France and resolve the issue, yet Obama only dithers.

Who are Russia’s bosom buddies, those four nations it has the best chance of being able to turn to for assistance in beating Western sanctions? They are Vietnam, China, Greece, and Bangladesh. Kenya, Tanzania, and Thailand are just outside the majority threshold. In such circles to the “mighty” Russians move these days.

China’s sympathy for Russia is just as easy to understand as Greece’s, since Russia and China share another kind of religion, one that is far more prevalent and powerful in Russia than Eastern Orthodoxy, namely hatred of America and all she stands for. Working to split Russia and China ought to be a major focus of Obama’s foreign policy, yet one wonders if he even understands the issue.

But if Russia thinks it can blithely count on China because of Obama‘s incompetence, it will need to think again.

China has not recognized either Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine or its partition of Ossetia from Georgia. Doing so would contradict China’s pathological obsession with maintaining sway over Taiwan and Mongolia. The last thing in the world China supports is parts of countries breaking off and going their own way. Moreover, China and Russia are not allies in the Far East but competitors and rivals. Russia has vast swaths of unpopulated land in the region, and China has hoards of people looking for elbow room. China want to control the raw materials available in this area, and Russia knows it.

In short, it should be easy for the Obama administration to organize a concerted effort to block Russian aggression in Ukraine, yet once again the American president has shown himself woefully unable to carry out his basic duties.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights how economic blowback on Eastern Europe from Obama’s one feeble gesture of support for Ukraine, economic sanctions, is being felt in places like Poland, Hungary, and the Baltics and being ignored by Obama. The Journal reveals that, predictably, these nations have taken hits in their equities market as skittish investors have run for cover. The small size of the economies at issue mean that NATO and EU assistance could be readily provided, yet Obama is taking no leadership stance on this issue. Just as he did on ballistic missile defense, Obama is throwing the nations of Eastern Europe under the bus.

The U.S. should be sending military and financial aid directly to Kiev, and its failure to do so is shameful. But even worse is allowing NATO allies like Poland to suffer disproportionate economic harm as a result of Obama’s sanctions. It will be a permanent stain on America’s international reputation if the U.S. does not step up to the plate and help offset these impacts.

Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.

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