Russia: Keep Ukraine Off UN Radar 09/22 06:36
As world leaders gather at the U.N. this week, the U.S. and its European
allies are consumed by efforts to blunt the savage advance of the Islamic State
group, to end the raging Ebola epidemic and to make progress in nuclear
negotiations with Iran. That's likely just fine with Vladimir Putin, since
these issues distract from Russia's presence in neighboring Ukraine.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- As world leaders gather at the U.N. this week, the
U.S. and its European allies are consumed by efforts to blunt the savage
advance of the Islamic State group, to end the raging Ebola epidemic and to
make progress in nuclear negotiations with Iran. That's likely just fine with
Vladimir Putin, since these issues distract from Russia's presence in
While attention focuses elsewhere, the Russians are consolidating their
annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. They are also deeply involved in turmoil
in Ukraine's east and south, hoping to prevent the country from moving out of
the Kremlin's orbit. Europe and the United States insist the independent nation
must be free to choose its own course.
Russia is already enraged over NATO's having brought former Soviet satellite
nations in Eastern Europe and some Baltic nations, once Soviet republics, into
the alliance over the past two decades. The Kremlin insists it was promised,
after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that that would not happen. It's
doing its best to prevent Ukraine from making the same move.
What's more, says American University professor Keith Darden: "Their
strategy all along has been to argue that what they did in Crimea is not
abnormal. Intervention in Ukraine is not unusual for great powers. The U.S. has
intervened in Latin America consistently. Ukraine, they say, is their sphere of
And given the chaos in other areas of the world, says Andrew Weiss, of the
Carnegie Endowment, "I can't say I see the Russian challenges and issues as
being front and center. Ukraine, to a degree, already has been pushed out of
the public eye by the Middle East crisis and the Ebola epidemic. I don't think
Ukraine will have the same centrality."
The Russians will likely raise objections to U.S. threats to bomb Syria to
take out Islamic State group fighters and facilities. But, since the focus in
Syria has shifted from the counter-revolutionary brutality of President Bashar
Assad, Russia's obstinate backing for him likely will not come to the fore.
Putin, the Russian president, won't be in New York for the U.N. General
Assembly. The Kremlin will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,
who, Weiss says, will be on the defensive and unpersuasive as he argues that
"Russia is behaving in a normal way in Ukraine." But Russia's actions in
Ukraine aren't likely to take center stage at the world gathering.
While the United States has delivered aid to Ukraine, the White House has so
far refused to send lethal military equipment that would beef up Kiev's forces
in the battle against eastern rebels who are fighting to break away and join
Moscow, no doubt, is happy about Washington's military restraint in Ukraine,
but is feeling the effects of heavy sanctions levied against Russia by the
United States and the European Union. And it's no doubt heard the rumblings in
Washington of serious divisions in the White House over increased lethal aid to
So far, Putin has voiced determination not to be diverted from his course in
Ukraine regardless of Western actions. He has also been able to use the
punitive measures in a propaganda drive to build support at home --- creating
anger against the U.S. and Europe as a distraction from the pain his citizens
absorb from the economic sanctions.
Beyond that, key Putin advisers are promoting his desires to protect and
perhaps reabsorb regions with predominantly Russian speakers. They are not only
in Ukraine's east but in former republics like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia
--- the Baltic nations on Russia's northwest border. U.S. President Barack
Obama recently visited the region and promised that NATO would indeed fight to
protect those new alliance members if attacked by Russia.
"It is a miscalculation because Russia is far stronger, and the West far
weaker, than many imagine," writes Putin foreign policy adviser Sergey
Karaganov. "The West that Russia now faces is not the self-confident alliance
that proclaimed itself victor of the cold war. It is a directionless gaggle,
beset with economic insecurities and losing sight of its moral convictions.
America and its allies once held the future in their hands, but at the
beginning of this Asian century they have let it slip through their fingers.
Their crowning accomplishment was globalization - and they are destroying it
with economic sanctions they incoherently describe as instruments of
That is a message that plays well with Putin and the Russian people. There
is a latent xenophobia and fundamental distrust of the West abroad in the
sprawling country, where Putin grows more and more popular as he stands up to
Washington and its European allies.