Ignoring your own red lines isn’t a game just for American presidents:
Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov had given pro-Russian protesters in other eastern Ukrainian cities until 2 a.m. ET to disarm or face a “full-scale anti-terrorist operation” by Ukraine’s armed forces. But the deadline passed with no sign that it was heeded, including in the eastern city of Donetsk, where protesters have held the regional government building for more than a week.
Similar deadlines in the past have come and gone with no consequences.
The game Vladimir Putin is playing goes back to (Godwin alert!) Hitler in Austria and Czechoslovakia. Hire agitators, wait for the inevitable crackdown by local forces, then cry for “justice!” for your oppressed agitators. What makes Putin’s approach unique, or at least modern, is the addition of electronic media and un-uniformed special forces acting in concert.
This puts Turchynov in a tough bind. He can go by the historical playbook and give Putin the pretext he needs to send the Russian Army marching west as liberators. Or he can do nothing, and encourage more lawlessness by the Russians, while dispiriting his own people.
There’s no right answer. There’s no proper course of action — or in Turchynov’s case, no proper corse of inaction. The initiative lies with Putin for two simple reasons. The first is, he took the initiative. The second is, nobody has figured out a way to counter him.
Well, nobody has figured out a way to counter him that the leaders of Western Europe wouldn’t find too politically expensive, or that the White House finds politically palatable. We could lift energy export rules and pt more BMD forces in Poland and the Czech Republic, but that would annoy certain vocal Democratic pressure groups. Besides, Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom just doesn’t like that stuff.
So Putin will keep the initiative. And he’ll likely take what he wants of Ukraine.