By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Weekly Commentary | Chicago Sun-Times
Suddenly the crisis in Ukraine engulfs the US. As Russian troops move into Crimea, the White House goes into crisis management. Secretary of State Kerry takes off to the Ukrainian capital. Our media is barraged with 24/7 instant analyses. Republican Senators and retired generals call for moving American troops to the Polish-Russian border, placing missiles into the Czech Republic, dispatching a fleet to the black sea. Threats are issued and rhetoric escalates.
The Russian dispatch of armed forces to occupy Crimea is a direct and clear violation of basic international law. The moral force of America’s objection is weakened since we trampled international law ourselves in our unprovoked invasion of Iraq, but that does not justify the Russian invasion. The international community should speak clearly to condemn the invasion and to demand that the Putin regime remove Russian troops from the Crimea.
At the same time, the administration, increasingly bellicose Republican Senators and the legions of macho strategists should take a good look at reality.
Crimea is ethnically Russian speaking, and historically part of Russia itself. The Ukraine only became independent 22 years ago when the Soviet Union broke apart. It borders on Russia, and is intertwined economically, politically, and culturally with Russia. Crimea houses the Russian fleet on the Black Sea. Russia considers the Ukraine vital to its security, and is willing to pay a high price to keep it secure.
The Ukraine itself is divided, with the Western part looking towards Europe and the Eastern and Southern parts looking to Russia. The country is bankrupt and in a state of virtual collapse. The deposed government of Viktor Yanukovich was democratically elected. However unpopular or corrupt that government was, the demonstrators that ousted him overturned a democratically elected government. The current provisional government has neither popular mandate nor legal legitimacy.
The demonstrations, clearly encouraged by the US and the EU, began when Yanukovich abruptly turned away from negotiations to join the European Union. When Russian President Putin offered a tripartite arrangement, the EU insisted that the Ukraine choose between Russia and Europe. Putin put up $15 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine. The Europeans didn’t come close to matching that, and were insisting on an austerity regime that will wreck further misery on the country. That’s when Yanukovich pulled out of the negotiations.
Neither the US nor the EU is going to offer Ukraine the kind of resources that Putin has put on the table. The Republicans calling for massive aid will have a hard time rounding up a majority of their own members in Congress to vote for it. Nor should they. The US should not pretend to be the policeman of the world. We cannot afford to police every region or bail out every bankrupt country bordering a powerful neighbor.
Instead of escalating tensions and issuing threats, the US and its European allies should be engaged in trying to avoid war or the breakup the Ukraine. We should condemn the Russian violation of international law, and seek to organize international pressure on the Russians to get their troops out. At the same time, we should engage Putin, and seek to create the conditions for an easing of tensions: new democratic elections in the Ukraine, a revival of the Putin offer for a tripartite economic arrangement with Ukraine, the EU and Russia, and commitment not to integrate Ukraine into NATO or EU military planning in exchange for Russia reaffirming the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Dispatching troops, threatening economic sanctions, deploying missiles all feels muscular. But the US and our allies should be careful not to threaten nor promise more than we are prepared to do. A Mexican adage bemoans “Poor Mexico, so close to the US and so far from God.” That applies even more to the Ukrainians, far too close to Russia and too far from God. Neither this country nor the EU has the will, the resources or the desire to alter that reality. And before we end up in a war we don’t want or a new Cold War we don’t need, we ought to recognize that fact.
This column replaces an earlier version which was the draft of another writer published by mistake due to administrative error.