Ukraine in the Shadow of the Caliphate

Observing the U.S. media might give the impression that the most important [feature] at the NATO summit held in Wales was establishing an international coalition against Muslim radicals who created the caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq. President Barack Obama managed to recruit nine allies to help with the fight, including Poland.

Expansion and brutality of the caliphate occupy and horrify the American public to a greater extent than the expansion and brutality of Vladimir Putin. (Indeed, the word “brutality” is accurate here, because the president of Russia gave rise to the civil war in eastern Ukraine in which 2,000 people have already died, including 298 innocent passengers of the Malaysia Airlines plane, the majority of whom were Dutch.)

In a way, this is understandable. After the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, and after the many years of occupation of Iraq, the Middle East has become significantly “closer” to America. The two recent executions of American journalists murdered by the caliphate fighters affected Americans directly, and [the acts] were much more publicized than the war in Ukraine. Besides, the caliphate is persecuting Christians, which is reverberating in America, where the majority of citizens are Christians, as opposed to Ukraine where there are no religious motifs.

The right-wing media are mostly concerned with the Russian threat. The most prestigious of them, The Wall Street Journal, wrote: “The most important week for European security since the end of the Cold War ended the way it began — badly. A Russian invasion force pressed its gains in Ukraine, while the U.S. and its European allies mustered few meaningful actions to stop Vladimir Putin’s assault on the international order … It also approved a new “spearhead” rapid-reaction force headquartered in Poland, though the 4,000 troops pledged to it will be based elsewhere. NATO would have done better to move the thousands of American troops sitting idly at German bases forward to Poland and the Baltic states … In Estonia this week, Mr. Obama gave one of his better speeches promising that an attack on a fellow NATO member is an attack on America. Having taken Mr. Obama’s measure for six years, and after this week of tough talk but soft actions, Mr. Putin is unlikely to believe it.”*

The Wall Street Journal laments the “treacherous” attitude of the West toward Kiev: President Obama again pledged “support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and its right to defend itself,”* but he again did nothing. He and the allies again demurred on Ukraine’s urgent requests for anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, intelligence and military training. Ukraine sent thousands of troops to NATO missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan, fought for its freedom in the streets, and deserves better than this abandonment. The West’s abdication explains Mr. Poroshenko’s decision to change course and agree to a cease-fire with Russia in Eastern Ukraine. “There’s no way to spin Friday’s deal as anything but a victory for Mr. Putin and a setback for independent Ukraine.”*

In reality, neither America nor anyone else in the West is going to send weapons, let alone soldiers, to fight for Donetsk. But it does not mean that the Russian threat is being neglected in Washington. It should be remembered that Ukraine is not a member of NATO nor is it particularly relevant for America. In fact, Ukraine was entirely meaningless until it became a victim of Putin’s aggression.

The allies of the U.S. are a completely different story, which is what Obama explicitly said last week. “In this NATO alliance, there are no old members or new members, no junior partners or senior partners … The defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London.”

The weight of these words grows because they were pronounced in Tallinn, and four months ago — in the version adapted for a Polish audience — in Warsaw. If, for example, “green humanoids” were to appear in Estonia to defend the human rights of the Russian national minorities that are allegedly violated and the West would react the same way it does now, it would be a complete humiliation for Obama and America. Thus, it should be assumed that the above words are not just an empty threat against Putin but an interpretation of American foreign politics.

What is more, the statement is supported by public opinion: In a recent survey of the German Marshall Fund, more than half of Americans claimed that the borders of American allies should be protected.

The other thing is that the American right wing has rightly raised its doubts regarding whether Putin is going to correctly understand the words of President Obama. We cannot guess at it, since we do not have full insight into the Russian leader’s line of thinking.

*Editor’s note: the original quotations, accurately translated, could not be verified because the online version of The Wall Street Journal requires a subscription to access the article.

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