August 11, 2017

Lethal weapons, new Cold War, myths about change

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“A Trump card in Ukraine,” editorial, The Wall Street Journal, August 1: Vladimir Putin has assumed he can seize territory without endangering his grip on power at home, and he’s been right. But what if the U.S. changed that calculus by raising the cost of Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine?

President Trump will soon have a chance to test that question when he receives an imminent recommendation from the State Department and Pentagon to sell Ukraine lethal, defensive weapons such as anti-tank Javelin missiles. These weapons would help Ukrainians defeat Russian armor and make it harder for Mr. Putin’s proxy forces to advance further into Ukraine’s eastern provinces, which the Russians invaded in 2014.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has sought this kind of help for years. But Barack Obama refused on grounds that lethal aid would merely escalate the conflict; he shipped only such non-lethal aid as short-range radar and night-vision goggles. Mr. Putin escalated anyway, violating the Minsk ceasefire accords…

Mr. Trump now has a chance to show he’s no Obama echo and make Mr. Putin pay attention by helping Ukraine, which has shown it is willing to fight for independence. Russia’s invasion has cost 10,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million civilians. Mr. Poroshenko has plowed money into upgrading Ukraine’s armed forces, embraced U.S. military training, and quietly forged good relations with countries like Poland and Lithuania.

… Mr. Putin took advantage of Mr. Obama after concluding the American was weak and would never push back. Selling lethal weapons to Ukraine would show the Kremlin those days are over.

“We’re on the road to a new Cold War,” editorial, The Washington Post, July 31 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/were-on-the-road-to-a-new-cold-war/2017/07/31/213af6be-7617-11e7-8839 -ec48ec4cae25_story.html?tid=ss_fb&utm_term=.299425a77735):

The United States and Russia have descended to a new low point in relations, with waves of sanctions and escalating retaliation. …What happened?

The current tension did not come about because the United States suddenly wanted its old adversary back. What happened is a response to bad choices taken by President Vladimir Putin of Russia. These choices were made deliberately in Moscow, perhaps for Mr. Putin’s own reasons of domestic politics and foreign policy. …

Mr. Putin chose to seize Crimea from Ukraine, annex it and then instigate an armed insurrection in southeastern Ukraine in 2014, violating all post-World War II norms of national sovereignty. The war in the Donbas region was a tactic by Mr. Putin to inject further instability into Ukraine after Ukraine’s president, Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych, fled his palace in the face of mass protest. Mr. Putin was aggrieved at Ukraine’s decision to sign a pact with the European Union, but Ukraine is not a vassal of Russia, and Mr. Putin’s claims to a sphere of influence are untenable. …

Another poor and deliberate choice was to interfere with the U.S. election campaign. Mr. Putin cannot escape responsibility for Russian attempts to damage the candidacy of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and, perhaps, tilt the election to Donald Trump. …

Mr. Putin should not expect the West to suddenly forgive or forget his bad choices. He would be wiser to deal with the underlying source of tension than to sit around plotting new ways to escalate it.

“Twelve myths about change in Ukraine,” by Alexander J. Motyl, Atlantic Council, July 17 (http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/twelve-myths-about-change-in-ukraine):

Most Ukrainians will tell you that “nothing has changed” since the Euro-Maidan Revolution. Meanwhile, most Ukrainian analysts bemoan that Ukraine’s elites are resisting change and that, unless Ukraine changes more quickly, the country will backtrack and be lost. And everyone seems to agree that no change is possible unless corruption is fully eliminated.

These views rest on simplifications, distortions and misunderstandings. Here are a few:

Ukraine hasn’t changed since 2014. Nonsense. Change has been enormous, as a walk through any Ukrainian city reveals. Obviously, Ukraine needs to change more – as do a score of its neighbors and friends, including Russia, Belarus, the European Union and the United States. …

Change is linear. Wrong. All countries at all times take two steps forward and one step backward, followed by three steps forward and four steps backward, and so on. Despite, or because, of these zigzags, systems do change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. …

Nationalism is always bad for reform. It depends. Yugoslavia suggests that ethnic hatreds can cause bloody wars, but the separation of Slovenia and Croatia from the Yugoslav federation quite possibly hastened their abandonment of the communist past. As it probably did in Czechoslovakia, when Czech and Slovak elites mutually agreed to pursue their own nation states – to great success. And who doubts that Poles’ intense sense of identity enabled them to oppose communism? …

Corruption makes change impossible or less likely. Where’s the evidence? All of today’s successful market economies and democracies were at one time deeply corrupt. Many, like Greece and Italy, still are. Most, like France, Germany, and the United States, are periodically rocked by fantastic corruption scandals. Obviously, corruption doesn’t promote positive change, but neither is it an insurmountable obstacle. …

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