At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Hurting Nation

The Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Newman are playing RISK on the subway? Remember that one? The one where Newman declares "I still have armies in the Ukraine!", which brought on a laugh from Kramer, who declared the Ukraine "is weak, it's feeble…I believe its time to put the hurt on the Ukraine."

Definitely not funny now.

When a nation is riven by the fighting and bloodshed of recent weeks on either side of and during the Winter Olympics, and now is facing an invasion from the largest nation in the world, it's definitely not funny.

Now Russian president Vladimir Putin has secured unanimous, rubber-stamp, yes-man, monkey-boy approval from his upper legislature in Moscow to invade the Crimean territory of the Ukraine, a brutal shot across the bow of world diplomacy. 

What does this mean? Here are my thoughts, some from my brain, but most with a huge assist from my friend Rich Smith, who lived in Moscow for awhile and formerly was an attorney for the Ukrainian Legal Group in Washington, D.C.

1. One of the big prizes has to be the natural gas and oil fields around Crimea. To say that hasn't entered Putin's mind would show the depths of ignorance.

2. According to Rich, the game plan for Putin is "pushing the envelope, and seeing how much he can get away with. So far…a lot. The plan is to destabilize the country, force the government to fall, and then complete the anschluss with minimal bloodshed."

3. Given those conditions, what should Ukraine's response be? Again, to Rich: "If Ukraine starts shooting too soon, he'll succeed…If Ukraine keeps doing what it's doing--mobilizing, getting its forces in good order, and not reacting too soon--they have a chance.

4. Geography and demographics are key here: The Crimea region appears to have generally welcomed pro-Russian military personnel taking things over so far. That's because just over 58 percent of Crimea is ethnic Russian (and Crimea has the highest Islamic concentration in the Ukraine…interesting given the religious skewering that launched the Crimean War in the mid-nineteenth century). Also, Rich notes there are military "bases on site…If Donetsk, Kharkov, and Dnepropetrovsk [to clarify for readers, those are in a swath of land in southeast Ukraine and are the second-, third-, and fifth-largest cities in the Ukraine] turn coat and invite Russia in, then the road to Kiev starts opening up."

5. Ukraine needs to think and act fast. Rich points out they do have 4000 tanks and a fully-mobilized army of 1 million (they had compulsory military service until 2013). However, he states "two-thirds of the tanks are in mothballs. And the standing army's only about 150,000 before mobilization." Vitaly Klitschko, a senior Ukrainian politician and a likely presidential candidate, has called for a general mobilization of the Ukrainian forces. It is a race against time.

6. President Obama has spoken about "standing with" the international community in "affirming" the "costs" of what Putin is doing. To be fair to Obama, no political leader would relish having to deal with responding to such matter. However, words mean things, and to merely yak about how we recognize this is a nasty maneuver (which is the essence of Obama's pleonasms) means little or nothing. There was a time when America led the way when it came to brokering solutions to grave international threats. Moments like these show those days to be long gone.

7. Finally, one piece of information few seem to notice is a covenant agreed to twenty years ago and signed by then-President Bill Clinton and then-British prime minister John Major. The Ukrainian parliament is now appealing to Great Britain and the United States to honor this promise to protect Ukraine's borders. As I said before, words mean things. Promises mean things. Threatening to not appear at a summit or deepen trade ties with Russia doesn't seem to be holding back the Moscow Menace. What will the next move be?

These are realities many of us can't fathom because we live in safe territory and sleep in beds that don't get crushed under the weight of a T-99 Armada tank.

That should sober us up a little bit.

Pray for Ukraine.

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