Russian President Vladimir Putin is strengthening his military control over the majority-Russian Crimean isthmus, while President Barack Obama is still trying — but failing — to rally international opposition in advance of a March 16 Crimean secession vote.
Obama’s outreach to Chinese president Xi Jinping yielded nothing useful.
“Xi reportedly said China ‘hoped that all parties concerned would tackle their differences through communication and coordination,’” said a March 10 statement from China’s official news agency.
“The Chinese president added that his country maintains an objective and fair stance on the Ukrainian situation, Xinhua reported, citing information from China’s Foreign Ministry,” said the statement.
The White House’s description of the conversation, however, painted a rosy picture.
The two presidents “affirmed their shared interest in reducing tensions and identifying a peaceful resolution to the dispute between Russia and Ukraine… [and] agreed on the importance of upholding principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, both in the context of Ukraine and also for the broader functioning of the international system,” said the White House’s March 10 summary of the conversation.
China’s role is complicated by its hope to absorb the independent island of Taiwan, and its determination keep hold of the once-independent country of TIbet.
European leaders, including in the United Kingdom and Germany, have issued supportive statements.
But they have not punished Russia, for example, by curbing the movement of Russian funds through London, or the purchase of Russian gas used by Germans and other Europeans.
On Sunday, Robert Gates, Obama’s former secretary of defense concluded that Obama won’t be able to evict Russia from the Crimea. ”I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hands,” Gates said on Fox News Sunday.
The foreign crisis is a domestic problem for Obama, partly because it threatens to make him look ineffective. That appearance would increase criticism of his policies, and may lower the turnout of his supporters in the November mid-term election.
Putin, so far, has not shown any willingness to help Obama.
Putin is a Russian nationalist, and he is supported by many Russians who mourn the post-1989 breakup of the huge Soviet Union and the various perceived insults to Russia’s former greatness.
For example, many Russian leaders have denounced Obama’s support for American-style gay rights in Russian politics.
“Nobody’s more offended than me about some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia,” Obama said prior to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Obama’s statement came after the Russia parliament passed a law barring public advocacy of rights for gays. The law was passed as part of a wide-ranging Russian effort to boost the Russian birthrate, which is reducing the Russian population in eastern territories near China and in southern territories alongside Muslim countries.
Obama’s Crimean problem will soon be worsened by the impending referendum in the Crimea.
The March 16 ballot is expected to show overwhelming support among Crimean voters for secession from Ukraine, whose government in Kyiv is dominated by ethnic Ukrainians.
The referendum is likely to solidify public support in neighboring Russia for the ethnic Russian separatists in the Crimea, and make it harder for Obama to win even a symbolic victory in his challenge of Putin’s takeover.
The referendum “will not be viewed by the US as legitimate because it is inconsistent with the Ukraine constitution,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.
“These actions certainly don’t serve the cause of trying to resolve this crisis diplomatically and peacefully, but our goal is not just to avert a referendum, but not resolve this for a long-term,” Carney said.