It might be hard to come to terms with, but there are times when muscle heads assert themselves and there’s no real way to back them down because 1. it’s not worth the loss of blood and treasure, and 2. descending to their moral level is not worth it. It’s not a satisfying reality, but there it is.
It’s possible that Putin may well come out of this with Crimea annexed to Russia. It’s one of those places that harken back to pre-WWI Europe where skirmishes and land grabs made map making a very lucrative 19th century profession because borders were fluid little suckers. Sometimes the bully grabs the territory and because they really REALLY want it, nobody can make them give it back. In this instance the population is already fairly split in their loyalties between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians so there’s already a constituency for what Putin did. In short order Putin just needs to move a bunch more Russian settlers in there to make incontrovertible facts on the ground of Crimea being a Russian settlement much as Israel has done in the their captured territories in the West Bank, Golan, etc.
The arguments are flying about “moral equivalency” in regard to citing the U.S.’s inherent pot calling the kettle black problem. Our moral outrage about Putin’s dickishness is blunted by our own long and very robust history of pushing in where we had no legal or moral right to be. Iraq comes to mind. Putin himself cited our Iraq fiasco in his condemnation of our condemnation. It didn’t occur to him, single minded dictator that he is, that saying that the U.S. has no standing to complain about Ukraine because of Iraq, you yourself have equated the two and condemned your own actions.
But you will have conservatives and people who call themselves centrists like Jon Avlon (who epitomizes the reality that centrists are just conservatives that don’t adhere to the extremism of right-wing cultural conservatism) fall back on the old patriotic trope that you can’t compare our actions in Iraq to Putin’s in Ukraine. To which the left says, right, you can’t, what we did is FAR WORSE. And the centrist/conservative shakes his head disbelievingly and asserts that you can’t compare us to Putin’s Russia. See what he did there? Started off comparing the action, fell into comparing the actors. If you just compare the actions themselves, Putin can make arguments to justify his violation of sovereign borders – citing his protection of the Russian ethnic population and their desire to be closer to Russia and the chaos/anarchy of the Ukraine government. These are not great arguments if you respect the right of law and all that moral stuff. But they are arguments. Our oh so flimsy argument for the moral right to invade Iraq crumbled with the lack of weapons of mass destruction. And then we stayed for 10 years under the Pottery Barn Doctrine (you broke it you bought it). But yeah, if your silly argument is going to be that it’s false moral equivalency to cite Iraq to shut up the U.S. because the U.S. is a real democracy and Russia is not, then yes, you can’t compare the U.S. to Russia. But that is a great way of justifying all of America’s misbehavior because hell, we’re America dammit!
What is missed in that argument is that the misbehavior that is pretty much universally decried now – all the incursions into the Middle East, Central America, the use of our military, CIA or State Dept. to change governments – was done in the name of the American people, but did not serve the American people. These actions only served the interests of multi-national businesses that co-opted our American institutions to work for them through the legal corruption of our democratic system. Every adult who has grown out of believing fairy tales knows that we invaded Iraq because of oil and all else was false pretext. You did not have a large segment of the Iraqi population identifying as American and rooting for America to invade.
Of course, Putin may be no better motivated than us and really want Crimea for its warm weather port. That would be a shock (no it wouldn’t).
Even my Russian ancestors would admit that Russians is crazy – that’s why they escaped. They didn’t “emigrate,” they “escaped”. They didn’t think of it as moving, making an economic choice of where to live. They thought of it as escaping a crazy prison country! This whole rigamarole started because of the debate of Ukraine seemingly having to choose to align closer economically to the EU or Russia. You can clearly trade with both – it’s a false choice. But for the ethnic Russians there’s more to it than that. There’s a subcurrent of old Soviet pride that Putin has unequivocally stoked in recent years. His efforts to bring former Soviet aligned nations back into the satellite, by military, if not economic force has been a very poorly disguised effort to get the band back together. That the ethnic Russian Ukrainians think that the Russian oligarchic mafia economy offers more for their future than the EU and the West is the evidence of something truly bent in the crazy Russian soul.