Tense Ukraine: Russia should pull back; the U.S. should talk

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The roots of the evolving problem triggered by Russia’s dispatch of troops into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula lie in the realities and history of the region but are increasingly becoming a global issue.

The issue of what President Barack Obama does now is also of world interest. Regardless of the U.S. response, Russian President Vladimir Putin should pull back his forces as quickly as possible.

Since this is happening in a mid-term election year, Mr. Obama’s actions will occur in that domestic political context, which comes with its own pressures. President Jimmy Carter’s using the futile gesture of a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to punish the Soviet Union for intervening in Afghanistan arguably was instrumental in his and his party’s loss of that year’s elections.

Mr. Obama should bear in mind other important facts in determining America’s course. 

One is that 59 percent of the people in Crimea speak Russian and the peninsula is also where the Russians lease a naval base. It is safe to assume that a significant number of people in that region welcome the Russian troop presence.

Another reality is that China and Russia, both veto-bearing permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, will block any U.S. action to organize a U.N. response to the affair. China has said already that it understands Russia’s action.

As to possible NATO action in response to Russia’s incursion, Ukraine is not a member of NATO. The European Union countries also might be reluctant to take more than symbolic action, such as economic sanctions, against Russia because they depend on it for a third of their natural gas imports.

A final point to ponder, particularly since financial aid to Ukraine could be part of the international response, is that its recent governments, whether pro-Western or pro-Russian, have been consistently corrupt, with their leaders prone to siphoning off aid to the poverty-ridden country into their personal accounts.

All of that said, Mr. Putin’s sending of Russian forces into the Crimea, which further disturbed Ukraine’s already troubled internal affairs, has to be reversed as quickly as possible, given not only what it means for the country’s sovereignty, but also the terrible precedent it sets for respect of sovereignty across the globe.

Western leaders should meet with him as soon as possible to urge him to leave the Crimea before things get worse there and in general world relations.

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