On Monday Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Ukrainians on their weekend presidential election, in which chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko won an overwhelming victory. Though he offered general statements of support for the Ukraine, and reiterated U.S. opposition to Russian claims in the Crimea, he repeated the old commitment to “peaceful resolution” that has been Barack Obama’s mainstay since the 2008 crisis in Georgia.
The U.S. “remains committed to working with Ukraine and other partners to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” Kerry said. The statement implies that there are two coequal sides to the story–that there is some sense in which blame for Russia’s invasion and purported annexation of the Crimea, and continued provocation in Ukraine, is to be apportioned to Ukraine as well. It also takes any military response effectively off the table.
No, the U.S. should not go to war in Ukraine–but we need not sit on our hands, either. The fact that the Obama administration has taken no serious military steps to undercut Russia’s position or strengthen our regional NATO allies has only encouraged the Russian advance. Sometimes Russia’s interventions are so blatant as to be comical–as in its projection that a far-right politician would win the Ukrainian elections (he won only 1%).
Yet the absence of American leadership is itself becoming a joke. The recent European Parliament elections saw anti-EU parties surge across Europe, emphasizing that the EU’s power on the international stage is rapidly on the wane. Only the U.S. can fill the vacuum–but under Obama, it will not. Kerry’s commitment to help “resolve” a “conflict,” rather than to help an ally push back against further aggression, is more of the same weakness.