As the Obama administration prepares to issue its latest defense budget and strategy review this week, Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a powerful reminder that the world is a dangerous place — even Europe.
By deploying troops to Crimea in the wake of Ukraine’s ouster of its Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow risks igniting a far wider conflict with global implications.
Russia never stopped meddling in the affairs of its former territories, and it has been fully engaged trying to halt Ukraine’s move toward both Europe and greater democracy. Russia’s military power play in Ukraine follows a familiar pattern: intimidating smaller neighbors that look westward, as it did in Georgia in 2008.
Moscow is still Ukraine’s leading trading partner, financial supporter and energy supplier. But Ukraine is no less critical to Russia. Ukraine is a buffer with Poland, its western neighbor, which transformed from a Soviet satellite to a key NATO member.
Complicating matters is a 1994 agreement signed by Britain, France, the US, Ukraine — and Russia — promising the country’s borders would be respected.
President Obama said he was “deeply concerned” by Moscow’s actions and promised unspecified “consequences.” Having first drawn a “red line” on chemical weapons use in Syria, only to back down from employing force at the last moment, Obama is still getting an earful from allies who wonder whether the America they depend on for their security is more talk than action. That said, options are limited to sanctions against Russia and financial and moral support for Kiev. And Russia is key to dealing with Syria, Iran’s nuclear program and even North Korea.
It is against this backdrop that the administration submits a congressionally driven budget that deeply cuts programs and capabilities. Still, the plan faces criticism for ignoring mandatory spending caps.
Deeper cuts would be reckless, however. The time has long since come to scrap sequestration and the mindless spending cuts it imposes. It’s one thing for America to choose not to respond militarily to a crisis; it is still another to have no other choice.