What US newspapers are saying about Obama, Putin and Ukraine situation

March 4, 2014 

Russia Putin's Challenge

Russian President Vladimir Putin


Excerpts from editorials around the country on the situation in Ukraine.

The Baltimore Sun: The seizure of the Crimea region of southern Ukraine by Russian troops over the weekend has created the most serious crisis in Europe since Moscow’s 2008 incursion into Georgia, which led to the effective dismemberment and annexation of parts of that former Soviet republic. President Barack Obama was right to warn Russian president Vladimir Putin that his country will pay a price for attempting a similar territorial grab in Ukraine, but in order to make that threat credible he must use all the diplomatic tools at his disposal to persuade America’s European allies to speak with one voice in condemning Russia’s dangerous military adventurism and flagrant violation of international norms while avoiding an escalation of the crisis that could lead to armed conflict.

Chicago Tribune: Putin knows that the West won’t respond militarily to a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO. Russia was busy laying the groundwork Monday for an argument that Ukrainians wanted Russian troops to come in to protect them. So how can the West respond? By recognizing that Russia has tanks to roll, but its economy is on the rocks. Bring a methodical economic squeeze. That won’t bring instant satisfaction. It could cause pain in the parts of Europe that rely heavily on Russia for energy supplies. But an economic squeeze is the best, probably the only, course to convince Putin this time that his recklessness carries too high a price.

The Miami Herald: Forget the exhortations of armchair strategists who would take American military forces to DEFCON 1 combat status immediately. Russian forces cannot be dislodged at this point without raising the stakes to the level of a possible showdown between nuclear powers. No one wants that.

The response from the United States and its allies should be twofold: Help Ukraine’s fragile new government create a stable economy and impose significant sanctions on Russia.

President Obama’s first task is to persuade European allies to present a united front, along with the United States, to get Russia’s attention. ... The economic and diplomatic sanctions should be quickly forthcoming, including targeting Putin’s friends in Russia’s new economic elite and refusing to do business as usual in international forums until a resolution to the Ukrainian crisis is found. ... Aggression unanswered is aggression encouraged. That’s reason enough to move swiftly.

The Washington Post: Moscow’s blatant violation of the European borders it pledged to respect following the Cold War raises especially pressing concerns for countries that used to be Soviet republics, such as Moldova and Georgia, which also has lost parts of its territory to separatist regimes backed by Russian troops. Three others – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – are members of NATO and have substantial Russian minority populations that the Kremlin has sought to manipulate in the past.

Whether Putin seeks to replicate his Ukrainian adventure in these nations will depend in part on how strongly the West responds to the Crimean invasion but also on whether it visibly strengthens other borders against Russia. That will mean moving forward on a broad menu of measures that have been inconclusively discussed in and outside NATO for years.

An obvious first step is to dedicate greater NATO resources to training, exercises and defense planning in members along the border with Russia, starting with the Baltic states and extending to Romania and other former Warsaw Pact countries. These governments’ requests for more NATO deployments of troops, missile defenses and other facilities have often been deferred on the grounds that no serious threat existed or that action would provoke Moscow. That logic no longer holds.

Trade restrictions could make it more difficult for Russia to obtain the capital, equipment and know-how it needs for the exploration and development of its untapped energy reserves. Travel restrictions could make it more difficult for Russia’s government and tycoons to do business abroad.

The risk is that Eastern Europe, Ukraine included, relies on Russia for practically all its gas. In Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, 35 percent of the gas comes from Russia. Retaliation by Russia against sanctions could cause an economic jolt.

The West has few other options. The United Nations can pass finger-wagging resolutions. Think Putin cares?

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: We were dismayed by the discordant criticism coming from those who simplistically blame Obama’s foreign policy approach for this crisis. It is a willful misreading of the unfolding drama to score political points. Obama’s response to the Syrian civil war kept the U.S. out of that quagmire and hardly can be seen as encouraging Putin’s aggression. Putin needed no such encouragement. The Obama administration has been urging the European Union to pay closer attention to the crisis in Ukraine for weeks. It is the Europeans who have dithered.

Obama finds himself in a similar position to former President George W. Bush in 2008 after Russia invaded neighboring Georgia. Bush ordered American ships into the area and transported Georgian troops on duty in Iraq back home. He sent humanitarian aid, suspended a pending civilian nuclear agreement and NATO suspended military contacts. But neither Bush’s reputation for toughness nor his relationship with Putin kept the Russians from invading.

Unfortunately, time may be on Putin’s side. He waited out Bush and probably has calculated that he can wait out Obama and the Europeans. Bush once claimed famously to have looked into Putin’s soul only to later learn that he saw less clearly than he had thought. Putin is a bully, as Bush learned, but even a bully can be made to respond to pressure. Obama must lead the effort to apply that pressure and try to make the best of a very bad situation.

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