NORMAN — What’s most important about the Ukraine military standoff is that it hasn’t resulted in direct, armed confrontation. Given the high stakes and potential for superpower conflict, a shooting war must remain off the table as a way to resolve this crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin seems adamant that he will not back away from the military occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula nor withdraw support for what he terms Crimea’s ‚Äúself-defense forces.‚Äù There is little question that if Ukrainian military forces attempted to challenge Russia’s occupation, a slaughter would ensue.
Ukrainian forces corralled in their bases and on naval ships in Crimea are refusing to renounce their loyalty to Kiev, and their valiant stand is sufficient to make the political point that Russia’s aggression will not stand. The hard part is devising a Western response that gets the point across to Putin while leaving him a dignified way to reverse course and leave.
Putin might have a point about the unconstitutional nature of the massive protest movement that prompted a parliamentary vote for President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster. Even though his administration was rife with corruption, less than a year remained before voters could choose his successor at the polls.
A face-saving option would be for the West to work with Putin to organize internationally certified elections ‚Äî provided Crimea votes as part of a sovereign, united Ukraine. (Let’s set aside, for a moment, the obvious contradiction that Putin feels so strongly about preserving democracy that he would invade Crimea, yet he stands firmly in defense of Bashar Assad, the unelected, anti-democratic, brutal dictator of Syria.)
To bring Putin around, he needs to feel some discomfort. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel correctly took the initial steps Wednesday by announcing beefed-up NATO air patrols in the Baltics, military training with Poland and a cancellation of Russian-U.S. exercises.