Sure, Lavrov would drop his pants and sit on a block of ice if Putin ordered him to do so, but this performance should be a lesson to us:
In the span of 45 minutes today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rewrote the history of the Cold War, accused the West of fomenting a coup in Ukraine and declared himself a champion of the United Nations Charter. The crowd here in Germany laughed at and then booed him, but he didn’t seem to care.
We keep telling ourselves that we are showing restraint in not arming Ukraine to fill in their capability gaps.
But Russia tells a tale of long-standing and ongoing Western aggression against Russia, which is as pure as the driven snow.
So what exactly is our restraint achieving? The Russians still think we are aggressively acting against them.
As for this challenge to the West?
Talking about the possibility of the U.S. giving lethal aid to the Ukrainian military, Lavrov leveled a thinly veiled threat that the Russians might invade Ukraine outright, as they did Georgia seven years ago after what they saw as provocation from President Mikheil Saakashvili.
If Russia could invade all of Ukraine, they'd have done it already. Their military just isn't up to the job of carrying out that threat and then pacifying a resisting Ukraine that draws support from Poland and others who don't want to see Russia advance that close.
And they promise more:
Quoting a member of the Russian Defense Ministry's public advisory board who requested anonymity, The Moscow Times reported Monday that if the U.S. supplied arms to Ukraine, it would be viewed as an act of war. That action would not only increase the tension in the region, it would also force the Kremlin to “respond asymmetrically against Washington or its allies on other fronts,” the publication reported.
Really? Maybe they score one in Greece or Cyprus--for a price.
But if they act elsewhere, they risk pushing even President Obama too far. Or push the West so far that even President Obama can't be as flexible as he'd like with the Russians.
That's the problem with retreating and earning a reputation for retreating. Not only do our foes disregard our ability to resist them, but our president may resist more forcefully than is prudent in an effort to restore our reputation and ability to deter foes and reassure friends.
And foes may not read that sudden reappearance of resolve as anything but more of the same old empty talk.
And even our allies may make decisions we don't like. Remember, if we want to lead from behind but don't lead, our allies may simply lead themselves. Which can drag us into a conflict, too.
Already, the mockery of his resolve is hitting home, courtesy of a German reporter:
The query that drew the presidential sigh first went for blood with a pointed reminder of one of Obama's more embarrassing foreign policy stumbles. "What would be the red line" on Ukraine," the reporter asked, stoking bad memories of the chemical-weapons red line in Syria that wasn't really a line. Then, with more snark than schadenfreude, he reminded Obama that the world had crowned him a peacemaker only eight months into his term, sarcastically asking, "What can the Nobel laureate Obama do more to defuse this conflict?"
Yeah, it's been a long time since Germans figuratively threw their panties at Barack Obama as a presidential candidate at the Berlin Victory Column. There, and then, he lionized our efforts to resist the Soviets by carrying out the Berlin Airlift:
The size of our forces was no match for the much larger Soviet Army. And yet retreat would have allowed Communism to march across Europe. Where the last war had ended, another World War could have easily begun. All that stood in the way was Berlin.
Now, resistance is futile he says. He doesn't worry about retreat and that a red line in Ukraine now just means the limits of advance of Putin's armed forces,
And our president certainly doesn't wonder if all that stands in the way of renewed Russian conquests to restore the old Soviet borders is Donetsk.
We're not dealing with crazy people in Moscow. That's too easy an excuse.
And they aren't funny.
We're dealing with people who are not rational as we define it. The only thing to do is work to see they lose their war--or, if the Russians win this war, pay such a high cost that they don't try to start another one.