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Thursday, March 20, 2014

This Just Handed to Me: Things Aren’t Getting Better in Eastern Europe -- By Jim Geraghty, National Review

I don't want to depress you. And I don't want to panic you. But I'm starting to think our guy in the Oval Office is getting seriously outmatched by the former KGB agent.
A senior Russian diplomat says Moscow may change its stance in the Iranian nuclear talks amid tensions with the West.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted Wednesday as saying by the Interfax news agency that Russia didn't want to use the Iranian nuclear talks to "raise stakes," but may have to do so in response to the actions by the United States and the European Union.
"Do as we say, comrade, or Tehran gets a nuke."
Dammit, this is why so many of us hate multilateralism. You end up depending on somebody who can pull the rug out from under you when you need it most. 
Russia signaled concern on Wednesday at Estonia's treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority, comparing language policy in the Baltic state with what it said was a call in Ukraine to prevent the use of Russian.
Russia has defended its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula by arguing it has the right to protect Russian-speakers outside its borders, so the reference to linguistic tensions in another former Soviet republic comes at a highly sensitive moment.
Russia fully supported the protection of the rights of linguistic minorities, a Moscow diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, according to a summary of the session issued by the U.N.'s information department.
"Language should not be used to segregate and isolate groups," the diplomat was reported as saying. Russia was "concerned by steps taken in this regard in Estonia as well as in Ukraine," the Moscow envoy was said to have added.
Lest you miss why that is so ominous, Estonia is a member of NATO. They're right next door to Russia:
Estonia's military: "The average size of the Estonian Regular Armed Forces in peacetime is about 3800 (Army 3300, Navy 300, Air Force 200) persons, of whom about 1500 are conscripts. Voluntary Defence League has also about 8000 members. The planned size of the operational (wartime) structure is 16 000 personnel."
For perspective, the typical Nimitz-class U.S. aircraft carrier has about 3,200 crew and 2,480 assigned to the air wing.
Russia's military is much larger than Estonia's, of course, and they just happen to be practicing air maneuvers near the border:
Russia's military started large-scale aviation exercises in the northwest on Wednesday, officials said, close to Baltic ex-Soviet republics that are members of NATO and wary of Russia after its annexation of Crimea.
The exercises involving jet fighters and bombers were being conducted in regions that do not border Ukraine. A senior Russian military source said they had been planned in December and had no political significance.
Interfax reported that the drills would involve more than 40 Sukhoi and MiG warplanes and were being held in regions including Leningrad, which borders NATO-member Estonia and Finland, and Karelia, which shares a long border with Finland.
Exhibit C: Their guy:
Macintosh HD:Users:jimgeraghty:Pictures:Putin in Darkness.jpg
Our guy:
Macintosh HD:Users:jimgeraghty:Pictures:Obama on Resolute.jpg
Why Is This Our Problem?
I'm going to take the isolationists and noninterventionists seriously. They ask, why is this our problem? Over at the Washington Post, Georgetown's Erik Voeten writes:
There is no reason to think that existing borders are somehow morally the right ones or that they are socially or economically efficient…
Who is to say that the people of a small Central American country are necessarily better off with the United States constantly mingling in their affairs than they would have been if the United States had annexed the territory?  Or indeed, if the people of Crimea are worse off if they join Russia than they would be with their powerful neighbor constantly prying into their affairs? (Although we would certainly prefer if they could express this themselves in a fair way). It is not right to pretend that an absence of annexation equals an absence of great power interference.
We don't actually care about borders of foreign states. We're perfectly fine with two states redrawing the lines of their borders, provided they do it in a manner acceptable to both parties. Russia and Estonia actually recently worked out some disputes about their border at the negotiating table. Nobody in the American government really cared. We don't care about where the borders are, but we sure as heck care about how the disputes get resolved.
There's an argument to be made that America has no national interest in whose flag flies over the Crimean Peninsula. There's also an argument to be made that because Ukranian's government since the end of the Cold War has alternated between corrupt, incompetent pro-Western leaders and corrupt, incompetent pro-Russian leaders, we don't have a terribly compelling interest about who's running the show in Kiev.
But we sure as heck have a compelling interest in the behavior of Russia. And when somebody sends over a whole bunch of troops and weapons, with or without masks, claims that territory for themselves and then more or less dares the opposing country to do something about it, that interest ratchets up dramatically. This is how wars start.
In an ideal world, governments might be more open to negotiating border changes along more rational lines, but in the actually existing world, such changes more often than not involve creating disenfranchised minorities (the Ukrainians and Tatars who woke up in a foreign country today) or in the worst cases, war and ethnic cleansing.
Defending the territorial integrity of states as they currently exist may involve a good deal of hypocrisy, but for the most part, governments and international institutions embrace that hypocrisy because the alternative is seen as far worse.
This morning, Senator Marco Rubio pens an op-ed in the Washington Post:
Some have suggested that Crimea is not worth triggering tensions with Russia, given other interests that are more important. While it is best to avoid conflict whenever possible, history shows that illegitimate aggressions that go unchallenged are a virtual guarantee of even more dangerous conflict in the future.
I welcome the fact that Vice President Biden is in the region this week to bring a message of reassurance to our allies and partners. I hope those assurances include a specific and clear response to requests by Georgia and Ukraine for lethal military support from the United States. It is shameful that even as Russia attempts to carve up Ukrainian territory, Ukraine's request for weapons, intelligence sharing and other assistance has been turned down by the Obama administration.
Of course, most of our serious options remain unused -- dramatically expanding our natural gas and oil exports to Europe, deploying more U.S. naval assets, rescinding the announced Pentagon cuts, shutting down the Russian mission to NATO in Brussels, commencing military exercises with all of our NATO allies, redeploying missile-defense interceptors in Europe, etc.
What kind of weapons would be most useful to the Ukranians and our unnerved Eastern European allies? Anti-tank weapons? Sniper rifles? (Sure would be nice to have some landmines right about now, don't you think?)
Right now the Air Force's entire fleet of 350 A-10s is slated be retired in order to save $3.5 billion over five years (some argue the F-35 isn't an adequate replacement). The Canadians are already talking about buying some of ours. Why not offer them to our Eastern European allies at fire-sale prices?
Any plane that's good enough against SkyNet is good enough to deter the Red Army.
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