The White House today announced a tough new set of economic sanctions on Russia, in response for its actions in Ukraine. The Obama administration has had some trouble articulating its Russia policy, though, maybe in part because doing so would require acknowledging some truths that are a little too true. Here, then, is the speech that President Obama might give if he popped a couple of truth pills and addressed the nation tonight.
My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about the crisis in Ukraine, Russia's role in it, and where we go from here.
This March, Russia exploited the political turmoil in Ukraine by sending troops to occupy and annex the semi-autonomous region of Crimea. Now, unmarked Russian soldiers are again bolstering violent separatist forces, this time in eastern Ukraine. Thousands of Russian troops have massed just across the border and Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested he may invade.
Russia's aggression in Ukraine is a gross violation of the most basic principles of sovereignty, an affront to Ukrainians' right to determine their own fate, and a threat to the basic safety and security of Europe.
The question now is what the United States of America is prepared to do about it. The answer is this: boy, we would sure like to help, but there's probably just not much we can do.
It's not that we're unwilling to get tough on Russia. We've imposed two sets of sanctions targeting high-level Russian individuals and corporations with links to Putin, and on Monday we threatened to sanction the broader Russian energy and financial sectors if Putin invades eastern Ukraine. We're isolating Russia internationally. My administration is the toughest on Russia since Ronald Reagan's. That's the truth.
No, the problem is with my weeny allies in Europe. Because Russia's trade is mostly with Europe and not with the US, really putting the hurt on Moscow requires America's NATO allies to step up. My European partners agree wholeheartedly thats someone somewhere should do something to stop Putin and to punish his aggression, and they believe strongly that it should not be them.
Chancellor Merkel, United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, by refusing to bear the burden of tougher Russia sanctions, are taking a bold stand for economic self-interest. Even if Europe does come through, the hard truth is that Putin will probably never give back Crimea. We can't make him. And, no one wants to admit it, but the fact of the matter is that Crimea is sort of Russian anyway.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. In an effort to rally the world against Russia's aggression, my State Department has taken the bold step of circulating a Twitter hashtag, #UnitedforUkraine. The campaign is widely mocked, including by Russia's own foreign ministry, and has become a symbol of our ineffectiveness. Still, this is a substantial improvement for Secretary of State John Kerry, who has at least not gaffed us into any international agreements, as he did with Syria in September.
I have previously dismissed Russia as a "regional power" acting "not out of strength but out of weakness." Russia is so weak that it invaded and annexed part of a neighboring country four weeks ago and has basically gotten away with it. Russia is so weak that even the US cannot deter it militarily because the risk of global destruction by Russia's thousands of nuclear warheads would be too high.
Let me be clear: I loathe Vladimir Putin personally. He is surly, disrespectful, and likes to make a show of keeping me waiting. He slouches in meetings and often brings his pet labradors to meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is afraid of dogs. I find his style of leadership and foreign policy to be personally offensive. He humiliated my administration in Syria. He messed with my buddy and former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. And he is just generally a jerk who causes me lots of problems that I don't want to deal with.
After careful deliberation, I have determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to bluff crippling sanctions that would only succeed with European support that I'll never get, in order to deter Putin from invading Ukraine again, even though his first invasion was a wild success for him that we will probably never overturn. Even if the Europeans miraculously come through, ordinary Russians will suffer more than Putin ever would, and his authoritarian government will continue its crackdown on free speech and civil liberties basically unimpeded.
If our plan succeeds, Russia will still maintain control of Crimea, and Ukrainians will continue living under the same threat of Russia invasion that has haunted them for centuries, but at least we will have prevented Russia from annexing eastern Ukraine as well. If it fails, America will return to the sidelines of this conflict, which is probably what most Americans want.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.