In July 1945, just months after becoming president upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman met Soviet leader Josef Stalin at the Potsdam Conference outside Berlin. Truman found the man feisty and direct. While he knew that he and Stalin were opposed on many aspects of post-WWII Europe, Truman still thought he could work with him.
By 1948 -- after the Greek military crisis, the Truman Doctrine, and the Berlin Airlift -- Truman was quite confident he couldn't work with Stalin.
Now, you can't take this parallel too far, but maybe President Barack Obama has had something of a "Truman moment" in his expectations with Russia. At the start of his administration, he wanted to "reset" US relations with Russia. Thursday, as word came from Geneva of a deal to diffuse the dangerous political situation in Ukraine, Obama seemed skeptical that Russia would live up to its end of the bargain.
Funny how the friction of diplomacy can turn anyone into a pessimist. Read more here.
When Iran appointed Hamid Aboutalebi as its new ambassador to the UN, the US cried foul, alleging that Aboutalebi was involved in the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis in which Islamic fundamentalist students kept 52 Americans captive for 444 days.
On Friday, President Barack Obama signed a bill affirming US intentions to deny visas to anyone with ties to terrorism. Since the UN is in New York, that effectively keeps them from sitting as UN ambassadors.
Iran is protesting the American move, as expected. And Obama had some additional words to say about the bill. Read more about it here.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power fears escalating tension in eastern Ukraine will lead to another Russian invasion of the country. So do NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen, UN chief Ban Ki-moon, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. See their comments here.
Russia denies further plans to annex any part of Ukraine. Are all those top officials worrying for nothing? Stand by.
Western countries have repeatedly mentioned the Budapest Memorandum as they've protested the Russian annexation of Crimea over the last month.
Other than sounding like a terrific title for a spy novel, what exactly is the Budapest Memorandum, and how does it affect the 2014 Ukraine Crisis? Check it out here.
The image is a Winslow Homer illustration from Harper's Weekly depicting a lavish ball New Yorkers threw for Russian sailors in November 1863. Russian Czar Alexander II sent his two major fleets to the U.S. to protect them in case of war with England and France. Abraham Lincoln used the Russians' presence as proof the Czar backed Union goals in the Civil War. Check out the full story here.
Since March 2014 has been so tense between the U.S. and Russia over the Ukraine/Crimea Crisis, it's good to note that the two have been effective diplomatic allies in the past, and no doubt will continue to be.
Image courtesy Library of Congress
In his tour of Europe this week, President Barack Obama several times reaffirmed American commitment to Article 5 of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) charter. He mentioned in connection with Russia's takeover and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Article 5 is an integral part of NATO, which, of course, was established in 1949 as a counter to Soviet aggression. But what exactly is Article 5? Find out here.
Back in the 1950s, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles coined a scary phrase -- brinkmanship. It meant going to the very brink of war without actually going to war. And, of course, that carried nuclear implications then.
In the Ukraine Crisis and Crimean Takeover, is Russian President Vladimir Putin practicing old-fashioned brinkmanship?
In short, yes. The "brink" today may not be thermonuclear, but Putin is feeling around the perimeter of Western tolerance. He's seeing just when the West will have had enough and threaten to respond with something other than sanctions. And in case you hadn't noticed, he's been playing at brinkmanship since 2008 in places called South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Read here for more.
Photo: Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Paralympics in March 2014.
Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images
At the Brussels Forum this week, NATO leaders made it clear that it is no longer business as usual with Russia. Not since the Russian takeover of Crimea, that is, regardless of the referendum that lent the action an air of validity.
And, NATO's top general warned that Russian troops amassed on Ukraine's eastern border are more than strong enough to punch across Ukraine's southern region to Transdniestria in Moldova. Such a move could link that pro-Russian region to South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- which Russia backed in secession from Georgia -- in an arc running through Crimea and potentially chipping more territory away from Ukraine.
Complicated? Yeah; read here for more.
Russia today vetoed a UN resolution that would have invalidated the upcoming Crimean referendum on whether to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The U.S. and the West expected the veto, but no matter. They also knew the 13-1 vote (with Russian-ally China abstaining) would show mounting diplomatic isolation of Russia.
Meanwhile, the Crimean referendum looms, with citizens of the Black Sea peninsula set to vote tomorrow, March 16. Can the outcome really be in doubt, with Russian troops milling about? (Recall Hitler's plebiscite in 1934?)
And as vote nears, the U.S. and EU continue to maintain that the vote, plus Russia's invasion of Crimea, violate international law. Read more about it here.
A friend of mine commented the other day that the Ukraine Crisis is so complicated any conservative sitting in the Oval Office would be doing about what President Obama is doing.
He was right. Short of going in guns blazing -- which no one wants -- immediate U.S. responses are rather limited to economic isolation, sanctions, and old-fashioned negotiations. Other options, such as leveraging natural gas exports, are at best a year off.
That doesn't mean conservatives aren't going to politicize the crisis and use it to position themselves for the 2016 presidential season. Indeed, Rand Paul used it to fire an opening salvo earlier this week. Check it out here.