Softly, Softly on Ukraine

For some time now, observers and political analysts watching the developing crisis in Ukraine have been wondering why the United States government has taken such a passive and secondary role in supporting the Ukrainian opposition, and why it has so far failed to put much pressure on President Yanukovych. On Monday, commenting on a Evropeiska Pravda report, Ukraine expert Taras Kuzio tweeted:

Why is current US administration so pathetically weak? US State Dept. asks Russia to go easy on Ukraine. http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2013/12/9/7005750/ …

In an article for Up Front, Brooking Institution Senior Fellow Steven Pifer sees the situation like this:

[The U.S.] Congress, a traditionally pro-Ukrainian institution that used to mandate huge sums of assistance funds for Ukraine, now shows considerably less enthusiasm for the country. Notably, some on Capitol Hill have even begun talking about applying sanctions, which would have been unheard of in Congress just a couple of years ago.

The upshot is that the United States devotes less time and attention to Ukraine than was the case in the past. As a result, the European Union—the institution and individual EU member-states, such as Poland, Lithuania and Sweden—have taken the Western lead during the past several years.

Not having the United States on the frontline is, on balance, not a bad thing. As noted, the foreign policy agenda in Washington is jammed. Moreover, were the United States leading the Western charge, Moscow would regard it is a particularly dangerous geopolitical challenge. That would introduce to the complicated politics that are now playing out in Kyiv a U.S.-Russia competitive dynamic that would hardly be helpful to—and might well complicate—efforts to find a peaceful political solution to the current crisis

This can, however, be seen as a hollow excuse, an attempt to offload the burden of support for Ukraine from the U.S. onto Europe. As one U.S. commenter writes:

I hope our administration does not follow your advice but rather rises to the occasion of meaningfully supporting 46 million people and a nation being robbed of their national wealth. Over a 100,000 people in the US sent in petitions to have the administration take action against the thugs running Ukraine. There are 300,000 people in the streets in just Kiev – the position advocated above has to be a joke.

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