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Defending Freedom
The Ukraine-Russia Crisis and the Western Response

The West needs to expand the scope of its sanctions against Russia, not just to respond to what the Kremlin has already done in Ukraine but also to make it think twice about what it might do elsewhere.

Published on: May 13, 2014
David J. Kramer is president of Freedom House. This article is adapted from testimony the author provided before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 6, 2014.
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  • Arkeygeezer

    “This is about Ukrainians’ aspirations to be free, ”

    I think you should tell the Ukrainians that. The Ukrainians are voting in large numbers to be free of the corrupt government in Kiev.

  • Pete

    Kramer sounds daft. He thinks that it our responsibility to make a decent country out of the corrupt Ukraine, a fools errant if there ever was one.

    And get this. He does not want to give upon the Crimea…. but I suppose he has given up on returning the illegitimate Kosovo to Serbia.

    Amusingly, the puffed up Kramer pounds his chest and brazenly calls for more sanctions on Russia without the slightest regard of what those sanctions would cost the average American. Oh brother, is this guy clueless.

  • wigwag

    Don’t you love a farce? My fault, I fear
    I thought that you’d want what I want, sorry my dear
    But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns
    Don’t bother they’re here (Stephen Sondheim, 1973)

    The editors of the American Interest have apparently decided to entertain their loyal readers by regaling us with a parade of clowns anxious to bloviate about the imbroglio between Russia and the West over Ukraine. Just when you think that the site has descended to new lows of idiocy with essays by the likes of Andrew Wood and Lila Shevtsova, a new clown emerges whose comedic talents put the others to shame. I guess it proves that that things can always get worse. The clown sent up to bat this time is David J. Kramer.

    I suppose its to Kramer’s credit that he doesn’t beat around the bush; he gets it wrong from the very first sentence of his preternaturally dimwitted essay. Kramer suggests,

    “Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, his brazen disregard for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and his threats to defend Russian-speakers beyond Crimea, in other parts of Ukraine and in other neighboring states, represent an assault on the very concept of freedom and the ability of people to choose their own political destiny.”

    Either Kramer thinks that the Crimeans aren’t entitled to chose their own destiny or he thinks that a majority of Crimeans would prefer to remain a part of Ukraine rather than be incorporated into Russia. If its the first, he’s a hypocrite who believes that the right of self-determination can only be granted to those who grovel to a Western arbiter. If its the second, he’s merely an idiot . Nikita Khrushchev didn’t hold a plebiscite before he annexed Crimea to Ukraine in the 1950s, at least Putin did before he gave the Crimeans what most of them wanted; Russian citizenship.

    It’s usually at this point in the argument when knaves like Kramer begin squealing “the Tatars, the Tatars,” with all the vehemence of a stuck pig. Yes the Tatars got a raw deal from Stalin in the aftermath of World War II; they were brutally sent packing to Central Asia with barely enough time to gather their belongings. But the Tatar experience was recapitulated all over the world by numerous ethnic groups with the full approval of the victorious Americans, British and French. Stalin’s view about all of this wasn’t any different from the view of Churchill.

    How many ethnic Germans were forced to leave Central Europe and return to Germany, a land most of them had never visited? How many Poles and Ukrainians were displaced? How many of Europe’s surviving Jews and the Jews from Arab lands were forcibly displaced and moved to Israel? How many Hindus left what would become Pakistan for what would become India? How many Muslims left what would become India to move to what would become Pakistan?
    The numbers were in the tens of millions. The Tatar experience may have been brutal, but it was unexceptional. The Tatars have been returning to Crimea since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Given their fecundity, they threaten the demographic stability of Crimea. Putin doesn’t want a non-Russian majority living in proximity to one of his few warm-water ports and home to his Black Sea Fleet. No leader in the world would act differently given the same circumstances.

    Kramer goes on to say,

    “Not since World War II has one European country seen its territory forcibly annexed by another, as Putin did with Crimea and may be trying to do with parts of eastern Ukraine.”
    With this comment Kramer is just playing dumb, something that for him is obviously an effortless endeavor. While it may be technically true that Kosovo was not forcibly annexed to another country, he knows perfectly well that Kosovo was forcibly ripped from Serbia with no regard for international law, by the U.S. Air Force. Perhaps Kramer can explain why the Kosovars are entitled to self-determination but the Crimeans aren’t. While he’s at it, perhaps he can explain why NATO gets to decide the borders of the former Yugoslavia while Putin is demonized for doing the same with Crimea and the rest of Ukraine.

    • LivingRock

      “Either Kramer thinks that the Crimeans aren’t entitled to chose their own destiny or he thinks that a majority of Crimeans would prefer to remain a part of Ukraine rather than be incorporated into Russia.”

      You act as if some sort free will of the Crimean people or democratic transition of Crimea to Russia occurred. Given Putin’s brazen actions in the region, it think that’s highly questionable. Perhaps the people (a majority) of Crimea do want to be annexed by Russia, and perhaps not. Given the instability and chaos, it’s hard tell what Crimeans really want or if they were given any real opportunity to exercise any organized free will. And who can blame them for wanting to join Russia if their other most viable option is staying with Ukraine? But that doesn’t excuse Putin’s actions in the region.

  • gabrielsyme

    For decades, the United States never recognized the absorption of the
    Baltic states into the USSR, and now those countries are members of the
    European Union and NATO. We must take a similarly principled stand on
    Crimea even while currently focused on the eastern and southern parts of
    the country.

    I’m extremely sceptical of any recommendation that suggests the way forward is a return to Cold War-style tactics of containment and a refusal to negotiate or regularise relations. Put simply, the West simply doesn’t have the same long-term interests in constraining Russia as we did in constraining and ultimately defeating the Soviet Union. The long-term interests of Russia and the West largely coincide: Russia wants to combat Islamic terrorism, it needs to ensure China does not seek “breathing room”, and it is invested in the same kind of demographic problems that face much of the developed world.

    While the kind of bad conduct we’ve seen from Russia in Georgia and now in Ukraine merits official sanction, we need to recognise that the West has been substantially to blame for this sorry pass. Russia has legitimate interests in its “near abroad” and the decision to attempt to expand EU and NATO membership and hegemony to the borders of Russia was bound to result in a Russian response. There were two acceptable policies for the West: the first would have provided a framework and plan for Russia (as well as Ukraine, etc) to join an expanded NATO and European Union (or at least membership in the EFTA). The second option would have been to recognise that Belarus and Ukraine needed to remain outside the western orbit. It is hard to see the United States being blase if Canada were to strategically align itself with China. Neither of these routes was chosen – instead, the West chose a passive-aggressive policy which has, predictably, resulted in confrontation and instability.

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