This happened a few days ago, but it’s still ongoing, and it has great import.
Separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, who are working on behalf of the Kremlin, have taken hostage a number of observers from the OSCE (the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe). The observers are from a smattering of European countries, including Germany and Poland.
While it’s still anyone guess whether Russian President Putin, who is behind the unrest in eastern Ukraine, will invade and annex, as he did in Crimea, Putin is increasingly playing a dangerous game.
The NYT has an excellent article detailing the risk for Putin of invading eastern Ukraine. Unlike Crimea, support for joining Russia is quite low in the east — at most one-third of the population — and Russia would likely face a strong guerrilla uprising that would necessitate it dedicating 140,000 troops to attempt to quell. Russia currently has around 40,000 troops saber-rattling in the region.
Initially, after taking over Crimea, Putin was content with destabilizing the rest of Ukraine, having “separatists” take over government buildings in the east. Now, he’s abducting journalists, and just as bad, if not worse, representatives of international bodies who are officials of foreign governments. Our representative to the OSCE, for example, is an ambassador.
While the US and Europe reportedly plan to announce new sanctions against Russia on Monday, including some targeting Russia’s defense industry, Putin is wading into some dangerous waters by taking foreign governments literally hostage.
The bigger issue here goes far beyond Ukraine. While one can haggle over whether the territory of Ukraine matters to the national interest of America or Europe, Russian revanchism does matter. We are witnessing history, quite literally. For those of you who have ever asked, how could X event in history have happened without the world getting involved to stop it, you have your answer in the current crisis. Things are slowly (well, rather quickly) getting worse, and the west appears to be somewhat-dawdling, which seems to be motivating the Russians to be all-the-more aggressive.
Remember, the Russians had their forces kidnap a UN special envoy in Crimea in early March of this year, and the Russians paid no price for this gross violation of international law. Is it any surprise that they’re doing the same in eastern Ukraine less two months later?
The concern, for Europe and America, is to what degree current policy is creating, or permitting to be created, a Russian that will next pose a direct threat to European and American interests, whether by trying to destabilize a NATO country, or cutting off energy supplies (which, some say, would cause the Russian economy even more harm than Europe’s, but Russia’s growing irrationalism might still make it so).
Some say that eastern Europe thinks the year is 1938, while western Europe thinks it’s 1914. What they mean is that eastern Europe sees a war coming that will gobble them all up, and they’re willing to do anything to stand up to the aggressor and stop him before he kills again.
Western Europe sees a devastating war that was thrust upon them by a seemingly minor serious of events. And they want to avoid that war at all costs.
The former wants to avert war by standing up to the bully. The latter by “de-escalating.” And the US is in the middle, seemingly trying to stand up and de-escalate all at the same time.