Back in March, President Obama told outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he hoped Russia would give him “space” until after the election – at which point Obama and the United States would provide Russia with “flexibility.” So much for waiting; the Obama administration is already providing flexibility, with Russian quasi-dictator Vladimir Putin presiding over Russia’s latest nuclear arsenal tests. Thus far, the Obama administration has been completely silent.
But the Obama administration does speak up when it comes to regional leaders who could fall into either the Russian camp or the American camp. Obama alienates them.
Ukraine, which had been growing closer to the West, is now flirting with Russia. President Viktor Yanukovych has met repeatedly with Putin; he wants to ensure greater economic cooperation with Russia, especially since the West seems unfriendly to his regime, particularly in the aftermath of his controversial accession to power over imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Yanukovych’s original imprisonment of Tymoshenko was over Tymoshenko’s signing of a pro-Russian gas contract; Yanukovych is not the pro-Putin stooge many make him out to be, and Tymoshenko is not the pro-Western ally many make her out to be. Putin was very much on Tymoshenko’s side originally, declaring her corruption verdict unfair – even though it now seems clearer and clearer that the corruption verdict was largely justified. Now Putin wants her released – to Russia, where he can provide her “medical care.” Even Victor Yushchenko, the leader of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, has condemned Tymoshenko.
President Obama has correctly asked Yanukovych for more democratic reforms, and met with representatives of Tymoshenko – but he has provided no assurances that democratic reforms will guarantee a closer relationship with the United States. And he continues to pressure Yanukovych over the Tymoshenko jailing, despite the growing consensus that she was jailed on well-founded charges.
Yanukovych seems to be pursuing the only course available: drawing closer to Putin. Putin is a perfectly self-interested leader; he doesn’t care about Tymoshenko or Yanukovych. All he cares about is Russian territorial and resource ambitions in Ukraine. And President Obama’s flip-flopping on the Yanukovych administration is accomplishing nothing but driving Yanukovych closer to Moscow. No wonder Ukraine is falling back into the Russian sphere of influence.
America has moderated her influence and now appears to be kowtowing to the Russians on foreign policy. It’s no wonder that so many American allies and potential allies are looking to Russia as the strong horse in the region.