Gloomy but determined
That was a gloomy but determined President Obama who spoke today in Talinn, Estonia about hope for the future of human dignity, liberty and respect for human rights. He said everything the most frightened Baltic citizen would want to hear: the NATO Alliance is all for one, one for all, America will preposition equipment and rotate its forces through more than in the past, Russian aggression against any NATO member will trigger an Alliance-wide response. He was also clear that the United States would not accept changing borders by force, in Ukraine or elsewhere.
He explicitly invoked the Baltic example: the United States never accepted their incorporation into the Soviet Union. When I was growing up, we were taught that Lativa, Lithuania and Estonia were “captive nations” that would one day be free. Most of us thought this was laughable, since it was impossible to imagine that the Soviet Union would one day evaporate. But that is precisely what happened.
What this means for Ukraine is not cheering. The Alliance has no obligation to defend Ukraine against Russia and will not do so. The best Ukraine can hope for is a refusal by NATO members to accept the annexation of Ukraine, the independence of Luhansk or Donetsk, or incorporation of any part of the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine into Russia.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Poroshenko seems to think Russian President Putin has agreed to a ceasefire, while the Russians are still claiming they are not a party to the conflict so any ceasefire has to be with the rebels. That is not a good sign, since it is clear Moscow is not only sending in its own army and equipment but also financing, arming and training rebel forces. It is high time that Putin accept responsibility for the mess he has created. It is hard to picture any ceasefire holding for long that does not stop the flow of Russians, arms and financing across the border into Ukraine.
Moldova and Georgia, both of which have unwelcome Russian troops on part of their territory, got a bit of cheer from the President. He promised them support for their democratic aspirations, though not for removing the Russian troops. That leaves them more or less where they were before the speech, but failure to mention them would have been interpreted as abandonment.
There was also some small comfort for Montenegro, Macedonia and other Balkan candidates for NATO membership. The President said the door would remain open for those who want to enter and meet the requirements. Both Montenegro and Macedonia meet them already. They won’t be admitted at the NATO Summit tomorrow and and Friday in Cardiff, Wales. Montenegro was too small an addition to the Alliance to risk irritating the Russians over. Greece is blocking Macedonia because of its name, over which Athens claims exclusive rights. Both Montenegro and Macedonia should get invitations to join the Alliance at the next opportunity if the President does what he promised.
There are times in diplomacy when reiterating policy is as important as making it. This was one of those times. Gloomy but determined is the right approach.