An interview in The New Republic presents yet another perspective on the Ukrainian crisis. In it, Dmitri Simes warns that actions by the Obama administration could lead to “worse than anything we have witnessed during the Cold War. We would hear the echoes of 1914.” Simes brings considerable expertise to the table. He was the founding president of The Nixon Center, now known as The Center for the National Interest, and served as an unofficial policy adviser to President Nixon. He emigrated to the US from the Soviet Union in 1973. I’ve excerpted some key parts just below my signature line.
Begin excerpts from Simes’ interview
I think it [the Obama administration’s approach to the Ukraine] has contributed to the crisis. Because there was a legitimate government in Kiev, led by President Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych is a despicable character. He also is inept. He was the principal architect of his own demise. Yet he was legally elected. He commanded a clear majority in the Ukrainian parliament. And essentially the United States and the European Union have decided to side with the protesters. Let me say, too, if they were using that kind of force and those techniques against a friendly government we would not call them protesters, we would call them rebels. We have sided with these protesters slash rebels. We used them to pressure Yanukovych to negotiate a deal, which the European governments fully endorsed, and which had the support of the Obama administration.
When the rebels used the momentum from the deal essentially to remove Yanukovych and his whole government from power, we have accepted that as if it were normal to remove a legally elected government by force. More than 100 deputies from the Rada from the former ruling party, the Party of Regions, would not come to the Rada, and those from the Party of the Regions that voted with the opposition, some of them were clearly intimidated … So that’s what led to the new government coming to power in Kiev. You could not ignore this process if you wanted to know why the Russians decided to interfere. …
If you would look at the composition of this government, it’s not a coalition [as was promised], I mean it may be a coalition between the moderate opposition and the radical opposition. But that certainly is not a government that includes any politicians representing Ukraine’s Russian speakers. … [After more detail:] I repeat it does not mean that Russia had the right to interfere, but the [Obama] administration’s actions encouraged Moscow to go in this dangerous direction. …
[The Crimea] was conquered by the Russian empire centuries ago. Crimea was almost like San Diego – a major Russian naval base with a lot of very patriotic Russians. It became Ukrainian by default because Boris Yeltsin, when the Soviet Union was disintegrating, his first concern was to get rid of Gorbachev, to get rid of the central Soviet government, and in that struggle he considered other Soviet republics, and particularly Ukraine, his natural allies.
… there is no question in my mind that the United States has a responsibility to act. But what Obama is doing is exactly the opposite from what should be done in my view. … We are constantly talking about economic sanctions [but] … we have to ask ourselves not only what we can do to Russia … but also what Russia is likely to do in return. … [If we punish Russia,] then we should not be surprised if Russia … would sign a security agreement with Iran, and would supply Iran with S-300 or perhaps S-400 missiles [and] … do considerably more to support President Assad. And most obviously, you should not be surprised if Russia would introduce a new element of global instability by signing a security agreement with Beijing, and there is a considerable interest in Beijing in strengthening security ties to Russia. So far, Putin has not wanted to pull in that direction … But if you deprive him of the European-American connection, we may alter the geopolitical balance by putting Russia closer to China. … that would be a situation which may be in many respects worse than anything we have witnessed during the Cold War. We would hear the echoes of 1914.
I think that what we need to do is to tone down our rhetoric and to think seriously about what our objectives are. I do not see how more autonomy for Crimea would affect negatively fundamental American national interests. And I do not see how providing more autonomy to eastern Ukraine, giving them essentially what we allow states to have in the United States of America, would be such a terrible thing either, and it actually would promote stability in Ukraine. …
At the same time, I think we have to—without issuing empty threats to Putin—engage in troop movements to position some additional forces on NATO borders to deliver a sense of reality to the Kremlin, to demonstrate to them that if this situation is allowed to escalate they may find themselves in a very unfortunate predicament. So I would suggest more creativity, less talk, and more toughness—not only with Moscow, but also with our Ukrainian clients. … [Our current policy is] speaking very loudly [while] … carrying a small stick. … We are issuing pathetic declarations which nobody is taking seriously. … [My approach] means avoiding empty public threats, respecting Russia’s dignity and avoiding creating an impression that it’s our way or the highway.
Thanks for assembling and reporting this important and timely string of posts about events in Ukraine. We citizens don’t get this kind of perspective from the mainstream media, and it’s almost impossible for us to make our own objective evaluation without possessing knowledge of the material and relevant background information.
I was surprised that Simes made this statement “…I think we have to…engage in troop movements to position some additional forces on NATO borders to deliver a sense of reality to the Kremlin…” Doing so would be a provocative act that could lead to escalation.
Daisy Alliance: I don’t agree with all of the suggestions in the different perspectives I’ve posted – and that one in particular – but felt that I shouldn’t “cherry pick” parts that I agreed with and leave out those I don’t. Thanks for picking up on that one. It would be dangerous. This is not the time for threats, especially given Simes warning about “echoes of 1914.”