Speak out on Ukraine, Mr. Obama!
So much for the hopelessly stupid and dishonest claim of Kremlin stooge Vladimir Frolov that Russia “won” its confrontation over gas supplies with Ukraine. His latest opus in the Moscow Times actually, in so many words, calls upon the Kremlin to ignore Ukraine’s legal government and “reach out to a new generation of Ukrainian leaders.” That’s the surest sign of Ukraine’s victory one could imagine — and here’s an idea: Maybe Obama should try that with Garry Kasparov?
Once again, Vladimir Putin has led his nation to humiliating defeat abroad. First the world condemned Putin’s invasion of Georgia and prevented him from ousting that nation’s government, and now Putin has been forced to back down in his outrageous provocation of Ukraine over gas exports. The New York Times reports that Russia has been forced by international pressure to allow Ukriane to “pay a price substantially similar to what authorities in Kiev had offered before the dispute escalated into a 12-day cutoff of heating fuel to large parts of Europe.”
But just as disgrace and failure in Georgia wasn’t sufficient to stop Russia from attempting another attack on Ukraine, Putin’s humiliation in Ukraine won’t stop him from further imperialistic adventures. After all, Putin did manage to achieve a temporary spike in gas prices and to lop off two bits of Georgian territory — for all the good those things will do him in the long run. Only the concerted efforts of the world’s democratic leaders can accomplish that, starting with U.S. President Obama. We call upon him to end his silence on Russia’s barbaric behavior in Ukraine and demand an end to neo-Soviet aggression against its neighbors. Russia has been in the wrong from the beginning, and it’s time for Mr. Obama to say so. It’s not leadership to simply wait for the Russians to destroy themselves, likely a prospect as that may be.
There is a scene in Francis Ford Coppolla’s film The Godfather, Part II in which mafia don Michael Corleone, offended by an extreme demand for bribery made by a U.S. Senator in exchange for helping Corleone win a gambling license, tells the Senator that not only will he not pay any bribe at all, he will demand that the Senator pay the application fee for the license on his behalf. When the Senator does not comply, Corleone then murders a hooker and frames the Senator for the killing.
One can’t help but be reminded of such incidents from the annals of La Cosa Nostra when one reads David Satter’s commentary in Forbes on the gas war between Ukraine and Russia:
Ukraine was paying $179.50 for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas, well below the market price, but was charging Russia a transit fee of only $1.60 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers, which is half what is charged elsewhere. Gazprom offered to sell gas to Ukraine for $250 per 1,000 cubic meters without changing the transit fee, and Ukraine countered by offering to pay $201 with the transit fee raised to at least $2. The difference, obviously, was not very great. When Ukraine refused Gazprom’s offer, however, Alexei Miller, the CEO of Gazprom, said that since Ukraine had rejected a “reasonable” offer, the price was now $418. This was later raised, without any economic justification, to $450, a price described by Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, as “blackmail.”
In other words, the Kremlin’s behavior is not really different from that of organized criminals involved in a protection racket.
Scholar and former Kremlin insider Andrei Illarionov has provided charts on his Live Journal blog showing the price of gas and transit fees paid by various European consumer nations. According to his data, Ukraine paid a higher price for gas than either Armenia or Belarus, Russia’s two closest friends in the former Soviet world, in 2008. And in 2009, neither Belarus nor Armenia nor Slovakia are being asked to pay the $250 pricetag that Russia has demanded from Ukraine, nor is any nation being asked to pay more than $300 much less anything like $450. Conversely, the transit fees paid to Ukraine are by far the lowest received by any nation, and three times below the average fee paid to all nations.
Writing in the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor, analyst Roman Kupchinsky calls Russia’s behavior a “shell game.” He writes:
How does Russia’s Gazprom set the price for the gas it sells its customers in the former Soviet republics and the EU? Few, if any, managers in Gazprom can answer this question with any measure of certainty. The formula for calculating this seemingly capricious price, if there is such a formula, remains a highly confidential “commercial secret” closely guarded by Gazprom and its customers. For years, opacity, secrecy, and backroom deals seem to have been the main factors used to establish the price for Russian gas.
The mafia sets prices through similar methods.
Valdas Adamkus, President of Lithuania, is playing the role of Elliot Ness in this crisis. In an interview with the Financial Times last week, he “urged the west to respond to Russia’s heavy-handed tactics in the ongoing gas dispute by throwing open the door to Ukrainian membership in the European Union, Nato and the trans-Atlantic alliance.” He stated:
Russia wants to send a signal to Ukrainians that they are not at liberty to decide their own political future, including the questions of joining the EU, the trans-Atlantic alliance or Nato … and show it can interfere in their internal affairs. The question is whether Ukraine is free to make its own political decisions … If the people of Ukraine want to become members of the EU, the EU should facilitate it and make this loud and clear.
Is the West going to wait around until it actually sees Russian tanks rolling into Crimea (or throughout the country, to seize the gas lines) before it takes any action to resist this naked, imperalistic aggression? Vladimir Putin apparently thinks this will be the case in regard to President Barack Obama. Putin claimed last week while in Germany that he has seen “positive signals” from Obama and stated: “We will wait for the practical realization of what we saw during the election campaign. Obama looks like an open, sincere person. Time will tell.”
It’s understandable that Putin would be hopeful. Obama has stood mute while Russia has sought to bludgeon Ukraine with energy warfare, apparently seeking to provoke Ukraine exactly the way it sought to provokie Georgia several months ago, perhaps with the hope of lopping off a piece of Ukrainian territory (the Crimea for instance, with its Russian Black Sea naval port) just as it seized Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Mr. Obama must speak, loudly and soon. His shameful silence serves only to embolden Russian imperialistic fantasies and may doom his presidency before it even begins.