Russians take international monitors hostage in Ukraine

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.

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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.

Screen-Shot-2014-04-27-at-10.55.48-AM Screen-Shot-2014-04-27-at-10.55.28-AM

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.


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  • Badgerite

    I think loose nukes might be more of the problem in the US eyes than having a super villain to contend against. And loose republics. I used to think Russia could transform itself. These days, I wonder if it can. There are tolerant and forward looking people in all societies, but you get the sense that they are being marginalized now in Russia. I also think Angela Merkel may be right about Putin going off the deep end.

  • Badgerite

    I think maybe the hard right conservatives in Russia know this and that may be the reason for the nuclear saber rattling about turning the US into ash. If the US weighs in at some point with conventional forces, they could probably clean the Russian military’s clock. Though not without cost.

  • FreeSpeech101

    Western powers only allow zionist nationalism. Period. if any country become nationalistic like now russia doing , any country with pride is a threat to Western powers controlled by zionists. The people in west are in a controlled prison with laws favor zionists. Its like parasite that took control of all nerves of western society. if HOST wakes up , parasite will kill the host. Zionists wants to create gewish empire and no one can stop them. No one have power to stop them. Putin can only if he is not afraid to use nukes. I think he won’t and there by he will be catalyst for destruction of russia as a country. If putin use preemptive nuke strategy russia has 1% chance of winning this ZIonists vs rest of Humanity, But my bet on zionsits win. Because you have to do unthinkable to win war. Any man with conscience like putin won’t do it. Putin is just a russian patriot. If putin bow down to zionists , they will praise him. Even nytimes will call him greatest russian ever. But i think its over for putin. Once they call you hitler then never take you back. example saddham , gadafi. I really think putin and russia’s only option is employ pre emptive nukes strategy to cut off 70% of zionist power. Zionist will win but they will be weaker at end of the war.

  • MyrddinWilt

    I just discovered folk round here in New England speak English. So according to Putin’s logic they will be itching to rejoin England and the British crown.

    Also Brazil to rejoin Portugal and the rest of South and Central America to Spain.

  • Sean

    What gets me is that in cases where you have an expansionist power, built on fascist appeal, the earlier you respond strongly, the less likely you’ll have a full on war. Feeding the monster only makes it hungrier, and it’s frustrating that people don’t see that.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    And both countries would benefit by ending sanctions, which should’ve been repealed decades ago.

  • FLL

    Here in South Florida, Cuban Americans travel back and forth between Cuba and Miami on a regular basis. There are almost informal ties between the economies of Miami-Dade County and Cuba at this point because of the infusion of money from Cuban-American relatives. In other words, it’s unofficial, but it’s almost a fait accompli.

  • Indigo

    Good point! Cuba’s a natural US ally historically (organized crime included).

  • MyrddinWilt

    Actually it was bloodless because about 10% of the population of the peninsular is Russian troops.

    Also it makes sense for Ukraine to play a waiting game because even though Putin has annexed the peninsular, the water and power have to come from Ukraine. And they have already cut back on both.

    If there was an actual invasion of Ukraine, I would imagine that the canal would be destroyed early on and the power lines brought down. And any soldier in a Russian uniform would be fair game for snipers.

  • MyrddinWilt

    The EU was founded to stop a third war between France and Germany. It has succeeded in that objective and in managing the collapse of the Warsaw pact integrating the majority of the Warsaw pact countries into the EU.

    There is a major difference in outlook between the EU and the US. The US wants to keep Russia intact as a superpower with its own sphere of influence. Hence Bush’s ‘promise’ to Gorbachev not to colonize the former Warsaw pact. The EU does not give a flying monkeys for any promise made by the US to Russia or to the Soviet Union and we are completely OK with an endgame in which Russia itself begins collapse.

    The US wants to maintain a world in which it still has a special role. And the policymakers understand that there can’t be super-heros without super-villains. So the US needs Russia but the EU is more than happy to say bye-bye.

    At the rate we are going, Europe to the Urals is starting to look less fanciful. All that it would take is for Putin to invade Ukraine. The invasion would be easy but the occupation would be unsustainable and force Putin to divert troops from Chechnya and the parts of Georgia he has invaded. There would be no reserve left.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Merely threatening to cut off the supplies has forced Europeans to look for alternatives.

    What Putin does not seem to understand is that European reliance on Russian gas breaks two ways: Russia is also dependent on Europe as a market. And now the Europeans are looking at ways to reduce imports from Russia and increase stockpiles. That is forcing them to buy into long term contracts so that countries such as Libya can invest in building out their infrastructure to meet demand.

    Now that everyone is starting to understand that Russia is the real threat to world stability and peace, the US can take a second look at a lot of other issues. For example, do we really want Cuba to join Putin’s side when we can get Cuba on our side simply by dropping sanctions? It is worth making a play for Iran as well.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Funny, I just read this, I had already quoted the same thing.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Correct, NATO is a self-defense pact, first and foremost. That’s why Estonia has taken the lead in going after the Russians on all of this. Russian can’t touch them. Now, Putin may think he can start playing games domesticaly in other NATO countries like he’s doing in Ukraine, fomenting trouble with “separatists.” If that happens, I think far more than “sanctions” needs to come down on them. As for fragile economies, it gets interesting, because Russia’s economy is just as fragile. Oil and gas is all they have going for them – as John McCain, somewhat nastily but accurately, it’s a “gas station mascarading as a country.” Russia can’t afford to cut off oil and gas to europe. Now, Putin may go crazy and do it anyway, but boy he’s going to be in trouble domestically for that one.

  • http://musephotos.wordpress.com/ GarySFBCN

    That natural gas cannot just be “shipped” to China. They have to sell to someone at the end of a pipeline or just sit on it.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Ouch. Funny…but ouch.

  • FLL

    :)

    I think the EU needs to set the bar just a little bit higher.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I think we’ve had ample evidence in the last few decades that laws and treaties mean whatever is convenient for the governments and powers who get to interpret them.

    Torture is illegal and banned by international treaty. So they found lawyers to say what they were doing wasn’t torture, even though it was. Same with invading a sovereign nation when there is no imminent danger.

    The NATO treaties speak of obligations, but carry no particular consequences — other than loss of credibility and reputation — if one or member nations say, “Y’know… never mind. We’ll give this one a pass.”

    There is no automatic triggering of a NATO response. If Russian troops go into Estonia, we’re not suddenly in World War III, not unless the Powers That Be say we are. There are NATO signatories who, in the face of certain events, get together and decide, “Do we intervene or not? And if so, how much?” Doesn’t matter what’s written on the pieces of paper. Or rather, it matters some, but not enough to make for an automatic obligation to intervene militarily.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    There was a joke going around when the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, that they were congratulating themselves for making it a whole decade without an ethnic cleansing.

  • FLL

    I cannot, in my wildest dreams, imagine Russian submarines invading the North Atlantic in order to fire on either military or commercial vessels from the U.S. or Britain.

  • Swami_Binkinanda

    Google “North Sea Oil Field Decline” for some information on that. The Norwegians claim to have found a new field, Fram, and it isn’t clear what they could do to stimulate production with acid flushing, hydrofracking and increased directional drilling.
    This is leaving aside the issue of a hot war with no nukes and Russian submarines lurking the North Atlantic like the Wolf Packs did in WWII, cutting off the UK from the US’ bulk loading support by sea.

  • FLL

    Your understanding is correct. Ukraine is not a NATO member, so NATO is not obliged to intervene militarily, even if Russia invaded all of Ukraine. I think that’s why the emphasis is on economic sanctions. As far as whose economies are more fragile, we may disagree. I think the Russian economy is more fragile than the more diversified Western economies. John McCain is not know for his wit or humor, but I must admit that he made a funny when he called Russia a gas station masquerading as a country.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Agreed 100%

  • AnonIdiot

    My understanding is that the US and NATO are not obliged to intervene militarily until the Russians attack a NATO member country. Even if they invaded and took the entirety of Ukraine, that would not trigger a NATO response.

    Putin knows that the western economies are fragile and they don’t want to risk further recession with heavy sanctions but at some point soon they become inevitable.

  • FLL

    Yes, I remember that maddening reply to one of your comments. I agree that there are trolls on the right who pretended not to understand how Muslims in former Yugoslavia were murdered en masse (in the case of Bosnia) or in danger of the same (in the case of Kosovo). I think the right-wing trolls were of the fundamentalist Christian variety, since they exhibited mostly anti-Muslim hate. I really don’t think we are that far removed from mass murder, since the most recent examples are from the 1990s: Rwanda and Bosnia. These are cautionary tales, and it’s a good idea to honor the victims rather than ignore them.

  • FLL

    I don’t think oil prices will go one way or the other because of Russia. It’s all part of an international market because you can put oil in a barrel, put the barrel on a ship and sail it anywhere in the world. Natural gas, which is what Europeans use for indoor heating in the winter, is a different story. It either has to be offshore, as with Britain and Norway, or shipped via a continuous pipeline. You can’t just import natural gas from anywhere in the world by putting it in a barrel and sailing it across the ocean. I think that’s why Europeans are more jittery about the prospect of natural gas prices rising.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    …as well as disingenuous trolls on the right who wander along and pretend not to understand how ethnic cleansing works nor recall when it actually happened. Including one troll the other day who demanded repeatedly that we explain how Russia removed ALL of the ethnic Crimeans in advance of their compelled vote to rejoin the Russian empire.

  • http://musephotos.wordpress.com/ GarySFBCN

    Nobody is discussing the obvious: If Russia doesn’t sell to German or the UK, they have to sell to another country. There are some countries that would welcome the oil, but as a replacement for existing oil purchases from other countries.

    it is not likely that oil prices will rise for any reason other than speculation.

  • FLL

    The Ukrainian people had already suffered the planned murder of anywhere between 4 million and 7.5 million people through starvation during 1932-1933. As any people anywhere would have, Ukrainians took the opportunity in WWII to fight against the Stalinist regime that had perpetrated this mass murder on Ukraine. There are pseudo-leftists sprinkled across the Internet (with a smattering on Americablog’s comment pages) who have decided that this makes the Ukrainians who resisted Stalin’s regime “bad people.” Ignore them.

  • Elijah Shalis

    My Dad tell me stories of when he was a kid in Ukraine during WW2. His father would support the NAZIs by day against the USSR and at night guerrilla warfare against the NAZIs. He still has a photo of his father with a Polish resistance officer that was operating in Ukraine. It is hard to get details out of him because he worries his family could be targeted by the Russians to this day.

  • Indigo

    If McCain or Bush was in charge, we’d already have troops on the ground. I don’t expect this to simmer down but we’ll wait for the EU to act.

  • FLL

    Putin’s grab of Crimea was almost bloodless, in large part because about 60% of the Crimean population supported union with Russia. In eastern Ukraine, the numbers are reversed. John Aravosis is estimating that about two thirds in eastern Ukraine are against union with Russia; my guess is that at least 60% are against union with Russia, and it’s probably more like two thirds. That means that a Russian invasion and occupation of eastern Ukraine would be very bloody indeed. The specter of civilian deaths on a large scale is what inevitably draws in the rest of the world (not to mention the United Nations). NATO action prevented Milosevic from inflicting massive civilian casualties in Kosovo in 1999, and I think the dynamics are similar in eastern Ukraine.

  • MyrddinWilt

    The 1914 concern is the reason that the West isn’t blundering about trying to escalate at every turn. If McCain or Bush was in charge we could easily end up at war over Ukraine.

    Putin has grabbed Crimea. But not the water supply.

    Taking diplomats hostage is not a good idea.

  • FLL

    The sole motive of bankers and investors for investing in Russia is making money. The U.S. government could move things along with sanctions, i.e., making it illegal to make certain types of investments in Russia.

  • bkmn

    The only ones who have the power to stop Putin at this time is the bankers. Stop buying Russian rubles and see how fast Russia’s economy will collapse leading to widespread dislike of Putin. Stop investing in Russian corporations and see how fast the oligarchs of Russia start looking to the west for help.

    If the banks stop propping up Putin he will be out in less than a year.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Yes, I think that’s what that phrase means.

  • FLL

    …Britain might be entangled enough with European supplies, even if they
    don’t get much from Russia, that it cannot escape rising prices, should
    supplies from Russia be cut off or severely restricted.

    Maybe that’s what the author of the Guardian article that I linked to above was referring to by “a knock-on effect on British consumers.” In any case, natural gas, which is needed for indoor heating, is more of a bone of contention than oil, since it needs to be transported via pipeline.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Since oil is traded on an international market, the actual origins of a country’s oil supply many have only a small part to play in the pricing, although someplace like Germany might be hit quite hard because of local shortages. I would expect that if Russian oil was cut off from Europe, we’d see significant increases in oil and gasoline prices in the US, too. We might be quite insulated on the natural gas front, but Britain might be entangled enough with European supplies, even if they don’t get much from Russia, that it cannot escape rising prices, should supplies from Russia be cut off or severely restricted.

  • FLL

    I would prefer to think that you’re right rather than the author of the Guadian article. I wonder why she didn’t mention Britain’s oil reserves in the North Sea? Maybe the U.S. government needs to twist the arms of the oil industry companies, not just Putin. I agree that the EU needs to step up. Britain could lead the way, since the British are less dependent on Russian gas than others.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    The UK only gets about 8% of its oil from Russian sources, and almost none of its natural gas. The vast majority comes from Norway, and their own North Sea resources. If prices spike for them, it’s the oil industry screwing with them, not anything to do with Ukraine. Germany on the other hand, is about 25% of Russian oil exports. Eastern European countries are about another 25%. Turkey is also a large chunk. So if anyone is going to put significant economic pressure on Russia, at least from the oil and gas sector, it isn’t really going to be the US. And it probably shouldn’t be anyway. The EU needs to step up and prove that they’re not just a giant, flaccid bureaucracy imposing austerity on their poorest members, that they can actually act in the greater self interest of all their member states.

  • Indigo

    The 1938 story looks likely but I’m with the 1914 take on events, blundering into an inevitable conflict nobody wants and nobody can win. It’s the end of the world as we know it. In literary studies, professors like to sometimes assert that the early 20th century themes were continuations of 19th century issues. The 20th century concerns surfaced with the Great War when “the lights in Europe went out.” Here we go again . . . current events portend a cultural shift that none of us will like but nobody seems to know how to stop. So many transgressions, so many hurt feelings, so much distress . . . it’s easier for militarists to go to war and destroy cities than it is to apologize, back off, mend fences and restore global calm.

  • FLL

    Take a look at the article in today’s Guardian about how gas bills could spike for British households if Putin invades eastern Ukraine (link here). This is no doubt part of the reason for European reluctance to stand up to Putin. It’s a hard fact of human nature that everyday people are motivated by economic factors. Everyone remembers the campaign line, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Unfortunately, that leaves the only the North American members of NATO, the U.S. and Canada, which are not dependent on Russia for gas or oil. The long-term strategy is for Europeans to get more creative as far as energy. Europeans heat their buildings with gas during the winter. Any ideas?

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