Best of In The Fray 2014.
Last year I visited Saur-Mogila, a burial mound in eastern Ukraine that commemorates the Soviet soldiers who died driving back the Nazis during World War II. Today it is a battleground for a new war, as separatists fight for independence and Russia moves its troops into the lands it once liberated.
Speaking at West Point on Wednesday, President Obama touted his administration’s response to Russia’s recent belligerence in Ukraine. “Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away,” he said. The public outcry and the pressure exerted by international institutions, he added, have served as an effective “counterweight” to “Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.” In spite of the crisis Ukraine has gone on to hold elections—“without us firing a shot.”
Unfortunately, Obama is mistaken. The momentum is still on Russia’s side. It has forcibly seized and annexed the strategically valuable peninsula of Crimea. It has succeeded in destabilizing eastern Ukraine through a proxy war—secretively supporting ethnic Russian rebellions against the Ukrainian government there. It is quite possible Ukraine will end up losing more of its territory.
Russia's actions in Ukraine show that for Vladimir Putin, the Cold War never ended. Now the US and its allies must prepare for another lengthy power struggle. But no international coalition can be effective while Russian energy reserves supply a quarter of Europe's natural gas. A long-term US energy strategy is the best way to counter Russian power.
ITF speaks with Andrew Blackwell about his new book, Visit Sunny Chernobyl, a travel guide to the most polluted places on the planet. Even sites ravaged by radiation and industrial waste, he argues, can still be places of “nature, wildness, and beauty.”