A reporter asked President Obama on Tuesday if ratcheted sanctions placed on Russia by America and the EU marked “a new Cold War.” The United Kingdom’s Common Defense Committee said Thursday that NATO is unprepared for further aggression from Russia. Roger Cohen of the New York Times has explained in the Atlantic why World War III is not so unimaginable after all. It has become apparent that Eastern Europe is unstable, and in a world knit tightly together by technology and treaties, that instability may prove for everyone inescapable.
President Obama affirmed his belief, in a press conference this afternoon, that Russia holds the keys to future peace in Eastern Ukraine. He announced plans to follow through on promises of further sanctions against Russia, saying that he and the EU were coordinating an attack on key sectors of the Russian economy, particularly in energy and investing.
“We are united in our view that the situation in Ukraine ought to be resolved diplomatically,” he said. “We’ve also made it clear…that if Russia continues on its path the cost on Russia will continue to grow.” He went on to describe this latest move as, “The most significant and wide-ranging sanctions to date.”
The president described the attack on Flight MH17 as senseless, and promised that America would ensure that justice was done, explicitly assigning responsibility to pro-Russian separatists. He was, however, quick to show that he had the support and agreement of many of the world’s leaders. Throughout his speech, he walked a balance between speaking in terms of strong American leadership and international consonance.
It was Soviet civilization, but it was still civilization. Eastern Ukraine does not even have that anymore as the civil war between the Kiev-based government and pro-Russian separatists has caused the remnants of law and order to crumble. The government has gained a foothold in the separatist-controlled territory, and now has control over the crash site of MH17. Only time will tell if that brings answers.
Great piece by former colleague Alyssa Mastromonaco who defines smart, savvy and fashionable.
Thus began a tweet on Thursday by Jen Psaki, the execrable State Department spokeswoman who thought it would be a good idea to depart from that day’s shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 over the Ukraine by Russian separatists, if not actual Russian military operators, using a SA-11 missile system.
It was the second Psaki gaffe of the day, as she had already opened her daily briefing not with reaction to the downing of the plane, but rather a series of minutiae so insignificant that Fox News’s Shepard Smith angrily denounced her as “highly inappropriate” for wasting airtime.
As politicians across the country continue to fight amongst themselves over wedge issues that the average voter does not care about—specifically birth control—Ukraine, Iraq, Israel, and several other countries are on fire. As foreign policy continues to come to the forefront, a debate is raging over what involvement the United States should have in helping settle these crises. One thing, however, is clear: the McCains and Grahams of the Senate are losing popularity.
According to a poll done by Politico, while Republicans have a seven-point advantage on foreign policy, the hawks are losing their edge by a wide margin:
In the big picture, two-thirds of respondents agreed with the statement that U.S. military actions should be “limited to direct threats to our national security.” Only 22 percent agreed with the statement that as a “moral leader,” the United States “has a responsibility to use its military to protect democracy around the globe."
President Obama called out Russian President Vladimir Putin for escalating the conflict in eastern Ukraine during an address to the White House press corps on the downed Malaysia Airlines passenger jet late Friday morning. He described the event as “an outrage of unspeakable proportions,” though he said at this time only one American citizen is known to have been aboard the aircraft.
He confirmed that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 “was shot down over Ukraine near the Russian border,” adding that American intelligence found that “evidence indicates the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists.” The president was careful to not assign direct blame for the shooting, but did enumerate the recent spate of aircraft downed by militia-launched missiles. He pointed out, however, that the separatists were supported by Russia and could not engage in the level of military action they had achieved without Russian weapons and training.
Malaysia Airlines lost a plane in Ukrainian airspace near the Ukraine-Russia border Thursday. The company’s official Twitter page posted at 11:36 a.m. EST that it had “lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam." Reuters reported that all 295 people aboard are dead. The jet came down over Donetsk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian separatist stronghold, crashing some twenty-five miles from the Russian border. The Russian news source Interfax reportedly broke the story citing Russian aviation officials. Its website was inaccessible as the story broke. The Associated Press reports that Anton Gerashenko, Ukraine’s interior minister, wrote on his Facebook profile that it was shot down by a Buk missile system.
Ukrainian separatists have withdrawn from a number of their strongholds in recent days, retreating to, and fortifying, the regional capital of Donetsk and a few other cities, in what is being described as a tactical decision. After Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave up on a cease-fire with the pro-Russian rebels, a Ukrainian offensive, facilitated by an apparently revamped military and American aid, has effectively cornered the separatists in what has been called the People’s Republic of Donetsk.
The Associated Press reports that Ukrainian lawmakers will sign the European Union agreement that sparked February’s revolution on Friday. The trade deal requires a number of modernization and reform efforts with regards to Ukrainian economic policy, and Ukrainians hope it will spur growth and bring the country to economic par with other former Soviet bloc nations. Risks abound, however. While the Russian parliament has revoked Vladimir Putin’s right to intervene militarily on behalf of Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine, many remain concerned by the potential Russian backlash over Friday’s deal signing. Russia has repeatedly threatened to slap tariffs on Ukrainian goods.
Today Vladimir Putin announced he will pull back Russian troops from the Ukrainian border. However, The White House stated that it has yet to see these words produce any meaningful action:
A White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, told reporters traveling with President Obama aboard Air Force One that while the United States would welcome a Russian military pullback from the Ukraine border region, “there has been no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place.”
Regardless, this message from Putin has to be a relief for the Obama administration, as the options to respond to Russia's aggressive maneuvers were limited at best. Narrow sanctions against high-profile individuals close to Putin had already been levied, and any wider sanctions would have risked economic damage not only to Russia, but all nations dependent on Gazprom exports. Any military options are fraught with peril at best.