What a receding tide reveals

Ukraine’s parliament voted yesterday to remove a legal impediment to joining the NATO defense alliance. The vote ends Ukraine’s “non-aligned” status which it had adopted to assure Russia it would not join NATO. 303 members out of a possible 450 voted for the change.

They did so knowing that NATO will not accept Ukraine as a member in the foreseeable future. Membership would carry with it security guarantees. And, as the Washington Post observes, “many Western leaders have been cautious about extending security guarantees to Ukraine if that could mean a war with Russia.”

Meanwhile, also yesterday, four leaders of other former Soviet states met in Moscow to discuss arrangements for an economic alliance. Putin described the discussions as “stormy.”

According to the Washington Post, the alliance “was to have been Vladimir Putin’s top foreign policy triumph: A grand alliance to rival the European Union, stretching from Ukraine to the Pacific.”

However, without Ukraine, which was to have been “its jewel,” the pact — which will include Belarus, Kazakhstan, and probably Kyrgyzstan — is looking like a dud. Indeed, according to the Post, Russia’s partners in the pact are balking at giving up sovereignty to the extent Putin would like. Moreover, the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan have visited Kiev in recent days, and have announced programs to support Ukraine, which is in economic crisis.

In sum, Ukraine has made a strong symbolic stand against Russia at great military and economic risk. Belarus and Kazakhstan are offering some support to Ukraine and pushing back against Russian demands. But NATO, to again quote the Post, has “offered little support for Ukraine.” And President Obama offers pre-packaged meals, rather than arms, to Ukrainian troops.

Writing recently about Putin, Thomas Friedman applied Warren Buffett’s quote that “only when the tide goes out do you find out who is not wearing a bathing suit.” His point? Now that oil prices have plunged, Putin has been exposed.

By the same token, though, when the tide goes out you find out who has balls. Ukraine has them. So does Putin. NATO does not. Without them, what purpose can it serve?

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