Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Russia understandably wants to keep Crimea

Despite all the rhetoric over Russia's seizure of Crimea, the situation is not simple or all black-and-white. Crimea has a complex history that is not fairly compared to other international power plays.

So far, at least, Russia has not played military bully, as it did in Georgia a few years ago, or as the Soviet Union did in Czechoslovakia in 1968, when the "Prague Spring" was nipped in the bud.

For President Obama to say "this cannot stand," echoing the words of President George H.W. Bush about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, implies an exaggerated view of Russia's intentions. Russia has a history with Crimea, where many Russian-speaking people live. It also has a key naval base in Crimea that it worries might be threatened by a Ukrainian revolution. Russia's assertion that it was sending troops to protect Russian lives and property was little different from the United States' rationale for invading Grenada, Panama and Lebanon. And America's disproven rationale for invading Iraq in 2003 was more mendacious than Russia's motives in Crimea.

Vladimir Putin was wrong to use military force to halt or slow down the revolution in Ukraine, but his worries about protecting Russian interests are understandable. Like Russian leaders before him, he was too quick to use the military option when diplomatic efforts might have been more productive and less disruptive.

Russia will not give up its naval base in Crimea, which is essential to asserting its influence and protecting its interests in the Mediterranean. Short of annexation by military force, however, there should be way of guaranteeing Russia's access to its port through treaties. The United States, which will not give up its naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, cannot act too self-righteous about Russia's self-interest in Crimea.

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