Remember the Peanuts cartoon where Lucy promises to hold the football for Charlie Brown then pulls it away at the last moment? Something similar happened between the U.S. and Russia this week. From the Russian soldiers now stationed in Crimea you can probably guess which side is flat on it’s back and which side is holding the ball.
Last Friday President Obama and President Putin had a one hour phone conversation focused on events in Ukraine. Several news outlets reported on the call in general terms. Politico quoted a senior State Department official who described the call as “constructive.”
Wednesday, as Putin announced military exercises along the Ukrainian border, Secretary of State Kerry gave an interview to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. In the course of the interview, Kerry revealed an additional detail about what transpired during the call between the two presidents. “President Putin, in a telephone conversation with President Obama just the other day, committed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Kerry said. In other words, Putin will definitely not send troops across the border.
Whether this was a slip by Kerry or an attempt to box Putin in with his own promise is not clear. In either case, Putin did not keep his word. Friday, Russian helicopters, armored troop carriers, and soldiers entered Crimea and took over two airports.
In response President Obama gave a “hastily arranged” statement on the new developments which mentioned his call with President Putin but did not mention Putin’s promise. The core of Obama’s speech adopted a grammatical construction which suggested events that had already happened had yet to occur. “Any
violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be
deeply destabilizing,” Obama said. “It would represent a profound interference in matters that
must be determined by the Ukrainian people,” he added.
In keeping with this apparent desire to avoid acknowledging what had already happened, the administration labeled the situation an “uncontested arrival” rather than an “invasion.” As Charlie Brown might say: Good grief! Ukraine’s Interior Minister was more blunt, calling it a “military invasion and occupation.”
Only Samantha Power, our representative at the United Nations, spoke clearly Friday. She told Russia to “pull back” and “stand down.” The next time Putin wants to talk maybe she should take the call.