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JESSE JACKSON: It's Time to Reduce Tensions and Create Possibility

Jesse L. Jackson Sr., Special to The Informer | 3/3/2014, 7:18 p.m.
Rev. Jesse Jackson (geneva.usmission.gov)

The escalating crisis in the Ukraine has set off unseemly missile-rattling and muscle-flexing in this country. Prominent neo-con Charles Krauthammer sees this as a Cold War faceoff, calling for the U.S. to ante up $15 billion for the Ukrainian rebels and send a fleet to the Black Sea. Sunday’s Washington Post headlined that the crisis “tests Obama’s focus on diplomacy over force,” quoting Andrew C. Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies decrying Obama for “taking the stick option off the table.” The right has been even more bellicose.

The Obama administration has responded to the crisis by flexing its own rhetorical muscles. When Putin ignored Obama’s warning that a “price would be paid” if he sent troops into the Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the “brazen act of aggression,” vowing that “Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose,” suggesting “asset freezes, isolation with respect to trade, investment…” the rubble going down…economic isolation of Russia” while promising economic assistance of a “major sort” for whatever government emerges in Kiev.

OK, folks, take a deep breath. Shelve the Cold War textbooks. Let’s take a sober look before we commit treasure and prestige to an unknown and still unsettled coup in a country on Russia’s border, harbor to its fleet, that has had a fragile independent existence for barely 20 years.

Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was an unpopular, corrupt, compromised, but democratically elected leader of Ukraine. He was leading the country toward membership in the European Union, when under enormous pressure from Putin, he reversed course. That led to street demonstrations, clearly spurred on by the United States, and eventually to the coup that sent him packing.

The nature of the new government is far from clear. The country itself is deeply divided. As David C. Speedie, director of U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council of Ethics in International Affairs says, “In simple terms, half of the people in Ukraine look to Russia and the other half look to the West.” The new leaders in Kiev include ultra-nationalists who have already banned the use of Russian language in some areas. Not surprisingly, the coup is very unpopular in semi-autonomous Crimea, populated largely by Russian speaking people.

Yanukovych’s decision to postpone consideration of joining the European Union wasn’t irrational. The EU was forcing Yanukovych to decide between Russia and the EU, flatly rejecting Putin’s offer of a tripartite arrangement that would allow Ukraine to sustain its ties with Russia. In December, Putin then offered to rescue the bankrupt Ukraine. The Ukraine is totally dependent on Russia economically. The EU and the U.S. are not about to replace that with Western aid and trade. Americans will be less than supportive of sending billions to Kiev on the other side of the world, while we are starving investment in education, Head Start and other vital investments here at home. The EU, dominated by Germany, has inflicted a brutal austerity on members like Greece, Spain and Portugal. The Ukraine might get promises of aid in the crisis, but any sober government would be worried about how much support would be sustained over the next years.