President Obama’s major slip at the G7 summit in the Alps yesterday was his admission that he still doesn’t have a “complete strategy” for confronting ISIS in Iraq, but that gaffe shouldn’t overshadow another unfortunate comment the president made, about the situation in Ukraine.
When a reporter asked what the next steps should be taken if Russia persists with its flagrant violations of the February “Minsk” ceasefire, the president pointed to a “strong consensus that we need to keep pushing Russia to abide by the terms of the Minsk agreement, [that] we need to continue to support and encourage Ukraine to meet its obligations under Minsk – that until that’s completed, sanctions remain in place.”
#related#Leave aside, for the moment, the peculiar moral equivalence of admonishing Ukraine to be cognizant of its obligations when, for a victim of wholesale aggression, it has been remarkably well-behaved. The more problematic suggestion is that sanctions on Russia can be lifted if and when it complies with Minsk.
Three weeks ago, John Kerry said the same thing in Sochi. As I noted then here on the Corner, Kerry’s statement was a direct contradiction of U.S. policy, which calls for a complete restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty including the return of Crimea. (The invasion and annexation of Crimea was the original provocation for the entire U.S.-E.U. sanctions regime.)
I wondered after Kerry’s comments whether they revealed more concessions to Russia are on the way — and it seems that Obama has now answered that question in the affirmative.
This sort of fecklessness should hardly be surprising, but since Obama continues to talk tough about Putin, it’s worth noting the contrast between his words and his actions.
Obama reported at the G7 that “the Russian economy has seriously weakened” and ”Russia’s actions in Ukraine are hurting Russia and hurting the Russian people.” One problem here: He attributes this to the middling sanctions regime he’s organized, ignoring the dramatic drop in oil prices.
The deeper problem is that Obama is intent on getting Putin to abide by a deeply flawed agreement for which the Russian strongman has nothing but contempt. As Obama himself noted, Russian troops continue to operate on Ukrainian soil while Putin refuses to admit any such thing.
By pretending that Minsk is a reasonable agreement and that there is hope of Russian compliance, Obama only encourages complacency, both here and in Europe. It’s uncertain whether Putin will launch a major offensive this summer, but Obama should be laying the foundation for a strong response by every member of NATO. Instead, we seem to be watching a rerun of an old routine: Obama professes shock at Russian misbehavior, pledges solidarity with Ukraine, then says that if Russia misbehaves again, he’ll consider some really serious measures.
The old show does pull in good ratings, however: The Europeans find it soothing and Putin always has a good laugh.