As I write, the next step in the Ukraine crisis is unknown. The new authorities in Kiev have sent forces to try to recover the official buildings taken over by pro-Russian forces in the East of Ukraine.
John Brennan of the CIA was in Kiev last weekend, and the Russians claim that the United States is demanding force. There have been rumors of U.S. mercenaries to back up the Ukrainians, whose own forces seem divided and may be incapable of dealing with the uprising — certainly so, if it turns into a conflict with already-infiltrated Russian special troops, or brings a border crossing by Russian regular forces. The last I would doubt will happen because it could so easily spin out of control. The commitment of American mercenaries would be disastrous.
The American people don’t want to fight the Russians, and the Russians would be mad to attack NATO forces or the Baltic States. But I am sure there are people in Moscow just like the people in Washington who say “if we don’t follow through — if we don’t ‘stand our ground’ — we’ll lose our credibility.”
You can hear that already from the Neo-Conservatives in Washington. How much credibility does the United States have left to lose after defeats in Vietnam, Iraq, Libya and — now impending — in Afghanistan? Even in dealing with Israel, the U.S. is now treated by the Netanyahu government and its right-wing cabinet ministers and political allies with studied insolence and defiance.
Neither in Washington nor Moscow does it seem understood that any intervention into another county’s ethnic or civil struggle invites disaster. It is easy to intervene — you have allies already there. But you also have a built-in resistance force which soon will make itself known. The Russians have automatic allies in the eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine, Russian-speaking people who have deep cultural and historical attachments to Russia.