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 ​CONDOLEEZZA RICE, BARACK OBAMA AND UKRAINE

Two great Americans who are also trailblazing African-Americans, and hence even greater sources of pride for citizens, revealed their thoughts on Ukraine this month.

Kyiv Posts Chief Editor Brian Bonner wrote in his Opinion article.

One got the situation -- and the message -- more right than wrong.

The other one got both more wrong than right.

U.S. President Barack Obama, the first black American president, got my support for two terms in office.

George W. Bush, the president that Condoleezza Rice served as America's second black and second female U.S. secretary of state, never got my vote.

But on the issue of Ukraine, Obama will go down in history as badly mistaken while Rice will be seen as largely correct.

It looks increasingly likely that this president will not even come to Ukraine during his time in office, which I find appalling given Ukraine's brave revolution against a tyrant and its even braver defense against Russia's war.

The last three presidents of America have made it to Ukraine in the last 25 years.

In 1991, George H.W. Bush delivered his "Chicken Kiev" speech in Kyiv, remarks written by Rice, just before the Soviet Union collapsed.

In 1995, Bill Clinton made it to Kyiv.

And, in 2008, George W. Bush also made the journey.

And Obama? He's going to Cuba this month. The closest he may get to Ukraine this year is Poland.

His disappointing policy was made public in the current issue of The Atlantic after a series of interviews with Jeffrey Goldberg.

"Putin acted in Ukraine in response to a client state that was about to slip out of his grasp. And he improvised in a way to hang on to his control there." Obama told Goldberg. "Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence. Russia was much more powerful when Ukraine looked like an independent country but was a kleptocracy that he could pull the strings on."

One need not go any further than the "client-state" reference to understand that Obama is reading Ukraine incorrectly.

Ukraine certainly suffered centuries of Russian domination under czarist and Soviet regimes, but the nation has been decisively moving for the last three years to reduce its military, political and economic dependence on Moscow. In fact, many Ukrainian historians would argue that national independence has been the aspiration of most Ukrainians during centuries of Kremlin repression.

As Goldberg writes: "Obama's theory here is simple: Ukraine is a core Russian interest but vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do."

And Obama delivers this straw-man argument, one of many that lead his critics to call him "Obummer" and to look forward to Jan. 20, 2017, telling The Atlantic: "Now, if there is somebody in this town that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it."

No one has suggested that the United States go to war with Russia over Ukraine.

What many credible voices have suggested -- Rice among them -- is that the United States should supply Ukraine with better weapons. Others also favor more generous financial aid and more extensive military training.

More support would enable this great nation of 45 million people to reduce its vulnerability in Russia's two-year war, during which nearly 10,000 people have been killed and 7 percent of Ukraine's territory lost while hundred of kilometers of eastern border are erased.

Obama will go down in history as the president who failed to defend American commitments to Ukrainian sovereignty. He should know better. As a junior senator from Illinois, he visited Ukraine in 2005 and pushed for legislation to destroy much of the nation's conventional weaponry stockpiles, coming after Ukraine surrendered nuclear weapons under the terms of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum for which Ukraine received guarantees of sovereignty from the United States, Great Britain and Russia.

This president has profoundly misjudged the situation, abdicating leadership to a Europe that he knows will not lead.

Ukraine needed weapons and a Marshall Plan, billions of dollars in financial aid that would get spent under the strictest controls, since Ukraine's political leaders cannot be trusted to spend money in the public interest on their own. Obama instead gave $500 million in aid and $2 billion in loan guarantees.

When Russia deserved Iran-style sanctions, Obama and Europe delivered up soft ones that looked stronger because of the collapse in oil and natural gas prices, Russia's main export.

When Ukraine needed the strong moral support that only a visit by a U.S. president can deliver, Obama sent U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, basically telling the world he doesn't care because Ukraine is part of Russia's sphere of influence. (Given the weak hand that Obama is dealing out on Ukraine, American diplomacy under U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt has been valiant.)

Rice returned to Kyiv on March 9 at the invitation of billionaire oligarch Victor Pinchuk who, based on estimates of the former secretary of state's speaking fees, paid her at least $150,000 for the day. (That's the amount she received from my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, for a speech in 2014 and I doubt that Pinchuk got a discount.)

Rice delivered a lecture and answered questions from students at the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine in Kyiv. She's a dynamic speaker who showed she's up to speed on the situation in Ukraine.

She has long favored supplying Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons as a way to contain Russian aggression. She also favors the continuation of economic sanctions against the Kremlin and the strengthening of NATO allies, particularly the three vulnerable Baltic states that were part of the Soviet Union.

She sees Obama's isolation, or passivity, as a natural reaction to Americans' weariness with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, waged during Bush's presidency. While Rice has admitted that the Bush administration made many mistakes, she remains proud of the administration's defense of freedom globally.

The next president, Rice predicts, will have to be more active on the international stage because, during the Obama years, Russia and China have become more assertive while no other democracy has stepped up to fill the void of America's retreat. "We understand why we have to lead," she said.

While the U.S. relationship with Russia is complicated, she said, America and the West cannot allow Russia to threaten other nations and erase borders like in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine. She believes that the return of Crimea is not a hopeless prospect if the free world stands firm, especially considering the arc of history since World War II.

But most of Rice's talk was a civics lesson aimed at encouraging Ukrainians to defend their independence, take control of their democracy and hold their leaders accountable. Ukrainians have to make Ukraine work if they hope to be taken seriously by the rest of the world, she said.

She scolded Ukraine's leaders, saying they need to deliver results and serve the public interest -- not corrupt self-interests. But she also put the onus on ordinary citizens.

"You have had three revolutions in 25 years," Rice said. "It's time to govern. Do this also for all of those who came before you, who fought for the day when Ukraine would become independent and democratic. You owe it to them. You owe it to yourselves. And you owe it to future generations to make sure that this democracy does not fail."

Brian Bonner, Kyiv Post
 
 
 
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