Putin’s pique

In his Kremlin speech last week Vladimir Putin revealed the motivations for his aggressive actions in Crimea. Speaking before hundreds of leaders and dignitaries in a nationally televised address, Putin was cheered wildly as he claimed to be restoring Russia’s glory and righting the wrongs of the past.

Putin is clearly using the seizure of Crimea as means of solidifying his domestic political base, diverting attention from his increased authoritarianism and his government’s inability to resolve the country’s underlying economic and social problems.

The speech also reflected the pent-up frustration and resentment he and other Russian nationalists have felt at their perceived humiliation by the West, and the negative consequences of the U.S. policy of isolating rather than partnering with Russia at the end of the Cold War.

Putin railed against U.S. policies of “exclusivity and exceptionalism,” especially the expansion of NATO and the deployment of missile defenses in eastern Europe. “We were cheated,” he exclaimed. Decisions affecting Russian interests were made without Moscow’s input.

Putin’s complaints do not justify what Russia has done in Crimea, but there is no doubt that the United States unnecessarily antagonized Russia and wasted an historic opportunity at the end of the Cold War to build a more cooperative relationship.

The decisive mistake in my view was to expand NATO without gaining Russia’s partnership. In 1997 I helped organize a delegation visit to Europe to evaluate the proposed expansion of NATO. We found concern among researchers in Brussels, support among government leaders in Warsaw, and alarm among legislators in Moscow. I argued at the time that it would be preferable to re-shape the alliance as a cooperative security structure with Russia included, rather than to expand a Cold War alliance of containment. Better to bring Moscow into the fold than to leave her standing in the cold.

The consequences of that fateful blunder are evident in Moscow’s increasingly truculent policies. As The Nation editorialized,“We are reaping the bitter fruit of a deeply flawed post–Cold War settlement that looks more like Versailles than Bretton Woods.”

Evidence again that our security is better served by attempting to reach out to former adversaries than by reinforcing their isolation.

Sanctions, diplomacy and the crisis in Crimea

President Obama’s announcement yesterday of targeted sanctions against Russia is an appropriate response to Moscow’s aggressive military and political actions in Crimea. So is the European Union’s decision to adopt parallel sanctions. These actions send a message condemning Sunday’s referendum in Crimea as without standing in international law. They indicate that Russia will pay a price if it continues along its current provocative path.

The U.S. and EU measures adopted so far are limited. They leave open the option for stronger sanctions if Russia takes further actions to destabilize Ukraine, while signaling a desire to reach a negotiated political solution to the crisis.

Along with sanctions must come financial assistance to address Ukraine’s economic needs, and diplomatic and political support for its territorial integrity. The United States and the EU should follow up on their financial pledges and work with Ukrainian authorities to ensure accountability for the support provided.

The initial sanctions will not have much immediate impact in Russia, but if more robust measures are adopted over time they could impose costs on Russia’s elite and the tycoons who have stood behind Putin’s power. This could begin to erode the support Putin now enjoys in Russian opinion polls and raise questions about what his aggressive policies have achieved.

Putin’s motives are not clear. He is apparently seeking to prevent Ukraine from aligning with the West, but his heavy-handed actions will only make that outcome more likely. Officials in Kiev are more eager than ever to join the EU and NATO, and European and U.S. leaders may be more willing to oblige. If Crimea joins Russia, lawmakers in Kiev will have fewer pro-Russian voters to accommodate and Ukraine’s delicate political balance will shift slightly to the Westernizers. Ukrainian nationalists from all regions will be less likely to trust and rely upon Moscow.

Hopefully Russia will soon realize its blunder and seek a way out of the crisis. Until then the United States and Europe should apply steady but measured pressure, while actively seeking a diplomatic solution that preserves Ukrainian sovereignty while granting greater autonomy to Crimea.

The most important priority is to avoid armed action. If fighting breaks out it will be very difficult to contain and would have devastating consequences. The U.S. and the EU should work together to prevent and restrain any form of military response.

Dick Boone

One of the giants in the struggle for social justice and peace in the United States has passed away. Dick Boone was a central figure in creating the War on Poverty in the 1960s. He headed the Citizen Action Program in the White House Office of Economic Opportunity and helped to create Head Start, Upward Bound and other major social programs. Influenced by Saul Alinsky, he believed passionately in the value of grass roots citizen action. After leaving government he dedicated his life to organizing and supporting citizen movements for economic justice and peace. In 1965 he co-founded the Citizens’ Crusade Against Poverty, cooperating with Senator Robert Kennedy to create the Food Stamp program, which continues to help tens of millions of Americans today.

I first met Boone in 1974 when he was director of the RFK Memorial, of which I was a fellow. A few years later he became head of the Field Foundation as I became director of SANE, and we worked together for more than a decade to help build the movement against nuclear weapons.

Boone was more than a colleague. He was a friend and mentor who profoundly shaped my life.  We remained in touch after he closed the Field Foundation, and I made a point of visiting him at his home in Santa Barbara when traveling in the area. His wise counsel and personal warmth were a constant inspiration over the years.

Dick Boone will be sorely missed, but his life work continues in the programs and institutions he helped to build, and in the ongoing struggles for justice and peace of the many thousands of people he encouraged and supported. Presente.