Friday, March 7, 2014

Poking The Bear

As the week ends, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in DC is going on - or as Jonathan Chait called it this year, "the Republican 'Hunger Games'."

We did think for half a second about covering that insane event today, but we realized we'd already discussed clowns and cowards yesterday. We also don't think anyone needs more hate in their lives. We'll let you read the news accounts of media folks who had to be there in our expanded edition later today, if that's something you feel you absolutely must do.

What might actually help you today is a bit more clarity, especially on the fast moving story surrounding Ukraine, the Crimean region of Ukraine, and Russia.

On Thursday, President Obama and Russian President Putin spent another hour on the phone, continuing to discuss diplomatic solutions. Both the United States and the European Union have begun leveling sanctions on Russia for their invasion. For what it's worth, those sanctions seem to be primarily leveled at some of the wealthier, more powerful members of the Russian oligarchy. If anyone can have influence over Vladimir Putin, they may be able to.

The fact is, however, any sanctions the West makes towards Russia can't really be all that effective. Anyone who says otherwise -  as the right-wing media has been doing for much of this week - is ill-informed and doesn't really know what they're talking about.

As professional oil trader Dan Dicker noted Thursday, the idea being bandied about by the right-wing, of drilling for oil and natural gas and shipping it to Europe from America is absurd. Not only is the cost astronomical, but the sheer amount of Russian-generated natural gas that Europe uses, that currently goes through the pipeline system in Ukraine, can't possibly be replaced long-term by anyone who doesn't have a direct pipeline system to Europe.

As we noted on Monday, the cold truth about this entire conflict is what the people of Ukraine - including the people in the Crimea - really want to do.

For their part, the legislators in the Crimea did pass a call for a referendum next week, on whether they should stay as citizens of Ukraine or become citizens of Russia. As President Obama reminded Putin and the rest of the world, however, that referendum vote by just the Crimean populace would not be legal, either under Ukrainian law or international law.

That said, President Obama and Western leaders may want to pay close attention to a recent survey, reported in the Washington Post yesterday by political scientists Grigore Pop-Eleches and Graeme Robertson.

In short, when asked what the people of Ukraine and Crimea considered their homeland, the answers were stark and revealing. Most Ukrainians are proud of their young nation, regardless of where they're from. The glaring exception was the people of Crimea, who thought of themselves as Crimeans first. They didn't really even consider themselves Russians.

We still think sanctions from the U.S. and EU are the right thing to do, at this point, as is the continued push for diplomatic efforts by Sec. of State Kerry and President Obama. That said, anyone looking at the facts can clearly see - those sanctions are like swatting the nose of a bear with a newspaper.

Meanwhile, what we said on Monday remains true: Regardless of what any other nation does, the people of Ukraine, including those in Crimea, will be the ones who ultimately must make the final decisions about their own futures.