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Flapdoodle strikes again

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Sept. 12, 2012, 7:30 p.m. | Op-ed — by Boris Danik

President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko (L) welcomes senator John McCain who wears scarf of the "orange revolution", during his meeting with the US Congress delegation in Kyiv on Feb. 11, 2005.
© AFP

Boris Danik

Boris Danik is a retired Ukrainian-American living in North Caldwell, New Jersey.

 “Vote for McCain to save Ukraine” may sound like an ingenuous joke. But actually that line was taken seriously in the Ukrainian-American community during the 2008 presidential campaign in the United States, on behalf of defeated Republican candidate John McCain. It could be found in print (e.g. in The Ukrainian Weekly in New Jersey, Oct. 10, 2008).

This story comes to mind because similar compositions can be found now -- in Ukraine of all places -- concerning the upcoming election of the American president in November. Here it is:

“Electing Mitt Romney as president will ... ensure the independence of developing democracies like Ukraine and Georgia.”

It is part of the narrative that appeared recently on the Kyiv Post website, authored by Republicans Abroad for Ukraine. ("Rearm, restore and reinstate, but end reset," Aug. 29, Brian Mefford) Outrageously blatant or not, its intent can only be explained as a pitch to Ukrainian-American voters. It is laughable in Ukraine.

It can be seen as a distress signal to help ramp up the turnout of U.S. ethnic voters of East European descent -- traditionally pro-Republican since the Cold War days -- in a campaign that doesn’t look promising for the Republicans.

Flippant talk of U.S. guarantees of Ukraine’s independence can be irresponsible if not reckless, in which case it reflects poorly on its originating source.  

The same article blames U.S. President Barack Obama’s “reset” policy and accuses Obama of  “giving the Russians free hand to assert their grip on Ukraine, the Baltics and the Caucasuses, as well as abandoning missile defense for Poland and the Czech Republic that in return they would help America with the war on terrorism….”

In reality, what really looked like giving the Russians a “free hand” was not Obama’s “reset” – which essentially meant toning down the confrontational rhetoric between the two nations -- but the agreement between Russia and the George W. Bush administration, negotiated in 2008 and announced at NATO meeting in Istanbul by General David Petraeus on Jan. 20, 2009, to open a land supply route through Russia to Afghanistan for U.S. military.

As for “abandoning missile defense for Poland and the Czech Republic,” there never was or meant to be any such defense, except in the realm of posturing staged by the Bush and Cheney administration and resented by Russians as high-stakes political intimidation.

The entire concept of anti-ballistic missile defense was never shown to be feasible, and is technically flawed since the days of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative. It was a diplomatic triumph at the time and a technological fairytale, with billons subsequently spent in payments to contractors to build missile silos filled with dreams, as in The New York Times metaphor.

What advantage did Russia gain from supposedly having a free hand in her near abroad?

According to the same source, “Russia started first by tightening the screws on Ukraine by exorbitant energy prices.”  Anything else followed? Nothing that is observable.

Actually, Ukraine has been paying for Russian gas mostly below and sometimes at market prices -- depending on the politics of mutual engagement. Russia cannot be expected to discount the price unless it gets something in return. That’s how the world turns.

Russia has no need to tighten the screws. Ukraine is being torn apart by its own mafia. Ukraine’s main problem is the lack of backbone. No one elected Viktor Yanukovych as president and brought the Party of Regions to power but the Ukrainian citizens themselves.

It is not the fault of the Obama administration or anyone else that “Ukraine’s pro-European course was quickly thwarted and NATO aspirations dashed indefinitely.”

Ukraine’s NATO bid was “indefinitely” turned down at the alliance’s meeting in Bucharest in the spring 2008, and buried in December the same year, while George W. Bush was president.

This is not to say that the Bush administration was indifferent to Ukraine. Recall the de-marche of Collin Powell, the U.S. secretary of state, in support of the 2004 Orange Revolution. President Viktor Yushchenko initially received an enthusiastic welcome in Washington, only to lose ground because of his own shortcomings and because of the divide between the pro-Western and pro-Russian parts of Ukraine that undermined any chance of workable integration within NATO.

The Obama administration, no doubt, understands the same logic.

Republicans Abroad for Ukraine should consider taking a refresher course in the art of political gas, rather than resorting to transparently misleading sloganeering, such as: “While the Obama-Biden administration fiddles, Kyiv figuratively burns.”

Can anything be more pathetic?  The answer is yes, and it comes from the same Republicans Abroad. The story goes that a legislator in Ukraine’s parliament says that his reason for being unable to resist the pressure from Yanukovych to switch to the Regions Party was that Obama is unable to resist pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In other word, it is not bribery and spinelessness, rampant among Ukraine’s politicians, that explains the mess in Kyiv. The problem is Barack Obama.

Boris Danik is a retired Ukrainian-American living in North Caldwell, New Jersey.

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