The current Ukrainian crisis began in earnest nearly a year ago, when then-President Viktor Yanukovych sided with Russia and rejected an offer for stronger trade and political ties to the European Union. The result was mass protests, Yanukovych fleeing to Russia, and new Ukrainian elections – followed by a series of Russian steps onto Ukrainian soil, including the annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
The reverberations of the crisis have been felt around the globe, and tensions between Russia and the West have reached heights unseen since the Cold War.
Which is why today’s news seemed especially striking.
Ukraine’s parliament on Tuesday ratified a landmark agreement on political association and trade with the European Union, the rejection of which last November by then President Viktor Yanukovich led to his downfall. The agreement won unanimous support from the 355 deputies who took part in the vote.Referring to the deaths of anti-government protesters who came out against Yanukovich’s rejection of the pact with the EU and of soldiers killed in fighting separatists since, President Petro Poroshenko said: “No nation has ever paid such a high price to become Europeans.”
The Wall Street Journal report added, “Lawmakers broke into the national anthem and cried ‘Glory to Ukraine’ after approving the EU deal, which President Petro Poroshenko hailed as a first step toward eventual membership in the bloc.”
All of which leads me back to a question I’ve been pondering for a while: when Republicans hailed Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strategic mastermind, what in the world were they talking about?
Remember, as the Ukrainian crisis intensified, and the West rallied to oppose Russia, Republicans in the United States could hardly contain their gushing admiration for the autocratic former KGB official. American conservatives celebrated Putin as their kind of leader. The more reckless the Russian president became, the more Republicans lauded Putin as some kind of heroic genius.
More to the point, as the international crisis grew more serious, Republicans in the United States not only praised Putin, they used their affection for Putin as a way to condemn President Obama at the same time. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) gushed, “Putin is playing chess and I think we are playing marbles.” Sen. Ted Cruz recently added, “Sadly, the state of the world is the Russian bear is encountering the Obama kitty cat.”
A Fox News personality went so far as to say she wanted Putin to be “head of the United States,” at least temporarily.
And yet, revisiting a piece from last month, let’s pause to take stock of what’s transpired. In case the right has lost sight of this, the Russian president has made a series of bold moves this year, and all of them were fairly disastrous for his country. Russia’s international standing (outside of conservative circles) is in shambles; Putin’s policies have led to an economic recession; and the conflict with Ukraine hasn’t advanced Russia’s interests at all.
As Thomas Friedman recently put it, “Let’s add it up: Putin’s seizure of Crimea has weakened the Russian economy, led to China getting a bargain gas deal, revived NATO, spurred Europe to start ending its addiction to Russian gas and begun a debate across Europe about increasing defense spending. Nice work, Vladimir. That’s why I say the country Putin threatens most today is Russia.”
And today, the one thing Putin hoped to avoid most – a Ukrainian political/trade pact with the EU – is exactly what’s happened.
So, are American conservatives prepared to rethink their admiration? At a minimum, maybe they can stop celebrating Putin in such an embarrassing way?