The Realist Prism: For U.S., Keeping Ukraine on Side No Longer a Vital Interest

The Realist Prism: For U.S., Keeping Ukraine on Side No Longer a Vital Interest

A concerted effort to portray the protests in Ukraine as a pivotal moment pitting the Euro-Atlantic community against a resurgent Russia has not gained much traction among the American public in general or the Obama administration in particular. Washington apparently has little interest in matching the Russian “bid” for Ukraine, despite dire warnings that a failure to do so will imperil the security of the Western world.

Some of this may be due to “revolution fatigue” engendered after a decade of watching the promise of popular uprisings to usher in new eras of freedom, democracy and pro-American governments fade away. There is also a version of Colin Powell’s famous “Pottery Barn” rule at work—the belief that if the U.S. encourages revolutionary change, it bears some responsibility for the aftermath.

From Washington’s perspective, in an ideal world, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych would heed American warnings not to use force against the EuroMaidan protesters, perhaps even resigning as president and allowing new elections to be held, which would return more pro-Western parties to power. Then Russia would stand aside and acquiesce to Ukraine’s signature on the association agreement with the European Union, refraining from imposing any retaliatory economic penalties in the process, and the EU would pick up any bills that accrued. Russian President Vladimir Putin would be a good sport and accept a major setback to his dream of developing a Russian-led Eurasian Union—a signature policy initiative, which, if we believe his 2012 campaign rhetoric, is the equivalent of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act—leading to no real interruption in other areas of U.S.-Russia relations. This scenario, if it came to pass, would satisfy the parameters of the emerging Obama doctrine that seeks, whenever possible, to engage in “low-cost intervention that could promote U.S. values . . . without sacrificing U.S. security interests.”

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