Monday, March 24, 2014 at 6:43 AM

Putin Took Crimea more out of Resentment and Fear than Imperial Ambition

Posted by Anthony L. Hall


President Vladimir Putin attempted to justify Russia’s annexation of Crimea in a rambling and defiant national address last week. This quote pretty much sums it up:

They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner… But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our Western partners have crossed the line, playing the bear and acting irresponsibly….

(, March 18, 2014)

But he benefited from having redoubtable Putin apologist Stephen Cohen, a professor at NYU and Princeton, as well as other liberal spin doctors make his case. Even I could be accused of doing so.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 12.14.31 PMExcept that I’m no Putin apologist. My commentaries on thePutinization of Russia,” in which I condemn him for everything from stealing gas companies and throwing their owners in prison to invading Georgia and retaining control over parts of it, will readily attest to this fact.

Equally relevant, though, are my commentaries onThe Ukrainians: My Favorite Ex-Soviets” in which I bemoan that the pro-Western democrats who ousted the pro-Russian communists in 2004 were proving not only every bit as incompetent, but also every bit as corrupt. This is why it’s hardly surprising that so many Ukrainians of Russian descent (in Crimea and elsewhere in the country) were/are pining for the good old Soviet days when they were at least guaranteed a pension … and imbued with national pride.

Yet I sympathize with Cohen’s assertion that Putin “had no choice but to react.” Indeed, Putin could have based the address he delivered last week on the commentary I published six years ago. For, in “Bush Digs His Spurs into Butt of Already Scorned Russian Bear,” April 2, 2008, I warned Western countries about pushing Russia into a corner, explaining that this would provoke, if not goad, Putin into flexing his Cold War muscles.

And, even though NATO did not strike the military alliance with Ukraine that I argued would be tantamount to provoking war with Russia, Putin could be forgiven for regarding the way the EU incited the overthrow of its pro-Russian president (to prevent Russia from striking an economic alliance with Ukraine) as no less provocative.

Which brings me back to the April 2008 commentary I referenced above. Because it not only telegraphed events unfolding in Ukraine today, but also delineated how President Obama and other Western leaders meeting in Europe this week might want to frame their strategic plans to counter Putin’s Anschluss.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 5.43.56 PMHere’s an instructive excerpt:

Unlike far too many political pundits in the West, I was equally cognizant of Bush’s cold-war flirtations, which clearly made Putin jealous and may have provoked him to act out…

After all, Bush has not only wooed Ukraine, Georgia, and other former Soviet republics politically; he has rubbed his charm offensive in Putin’s face by forging military alliances with them as well.

For example … I cited Bush’s scheme to enlist every former member of the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact into NATO. To appreciate how this could have turned Putin into a “soul mate” scorned, just imagine Bush’s reaction if Canada and Mexico were cooing at Putin’s overtures for them to join a Russian-led military alliance…

Then there’s his plan to deploy anti-ballistic missiles in Poland and Czech Republic, which, even though ostensibly defensive, Putin (with his Cold-War mentality) finds particularly offensive. Who can blame him? Indeed, does anyone remember how President John F. Kennedy reacted when Russian President Nikita Khrushchev deployed missiles in America’s sphere of influence; i.e., down in Cuba?


Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is on a media vindication tour these days proselytizing the political fiction that President Obama is “weak [and] naive” for not endorsing his view of Russia as “America’s number one geopolitical foe.” Of course, his message is belied by the fact that Obama was strong enough to get bin Laden and prudent enough to get out of Iraq – two things his predecessor failed to do. Not to mention that, in addition to still fighting losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a President Romney would have the United States now mired in equally misguided wars in Syria, Iran … and Crimea too?

That said, one point bears reinforcing: Russia striking a military alliance with Canada and Mexico is probably a little too farfetched; although, that is the equivalent of the United States striking one with Ukraine and Georgia. Instead, how do you think any American president would feel if Russia struck a military alliance with Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba? Especially if that alliance not only called for Russia to fortify them with all of the latest military hardware, including long-range missiles and missile defense systems, but also pledged that any act of aggression against any of them shall be deemed an act of aggression against Russia too.

Don’t you think that president would deem such a “strategic alliance” a military provocation, which warranted a military response?  This only hints at the double standard that undermines U.S. foreign policies across the globe (like supporting Kosovo’s violent breakaway from Serbia but opposing Crimea’s non-violent breakaway from Ukraine).

In any event, I submit that Putin is not entirely to blame for the flare-up of Cold War tensions in Ukraine. And the American president who Romney and neo-con warmongers should be blaming is not Barack Obama but George W. Bush.

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