Editorial: Tensions grow over situation in Ukraine

Jul. 23, 2014 @ 04:31 PM

With the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, killing 298, and two Ukrainian military jets being shot down just six days later, things are amping up in deep in the heart of the former Soviet Union.

Some politicians, on both sides of the aisle, are insinuating we are closing in on a second Cold War.

Asked by CNN's Candy Crowley whether U.S./Russia relations were at Cold War levels, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein answered with one word: "Yes."

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who's the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, told CNN that he agreed with Feinstein. "I believe, as you asked Sen. Feinstein, that Mr. Putin is returning to a Cold War mentality," he said. "When I was over there, you could see this nationalistic pride, a sort of resurgence to regain the glory of the old days of the Soviet Empire, and so we're seeing that happen with Crimea being annexed."

For those of us who lived through the Cold War, we can only hope the trend will reverse, but that looks unlikely.

A spokesman from Ukraine said his country's military planes were hit with fire from across the Russian border.

Though The New York Times could not independently verify the claim, the paper said the situation "carries potentially serious diplomatic consequences, given the accusations by Ukraine and the United States that Russia supplied insurgents with the SA-11 surface-to-air missile system that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17."

Even more disconcerting is the fact that this news comes just two days after President Obama took to the airwaves to compel Russia to urge cooperation from Ukrainian separatist forces in recovery of the downed Malaysian plane. 

"Russia has extraordinary influence over these separatists," Obama said. "No one denies that. Russia has urged them on. Russia has trained them. We know that Russia has armed them with military equipment and weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons. Key separatist leaders are Russian citizens. So given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia and President Putin, in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation. That is the least that they can do."

And now this. Two more planes, military this time, shot down. 

As the situation between Ukraine, Crimea and Russia came to the forefront back in February, many recalled the October 2012 debate between Mitt Romney and the president in which Romney was chided for having called Russia a geopolitical threat.

"The 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years," Obama quipped.

After crosstalk between the candidates, it seemed the president had won the point.

Some in the media hailed the great zinger.

What's been lost in the time since, and perhaps in the moment, as Romney appeared to be scrambling after the uppercut landed, was his response. 

"Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again," Romney said. "I have clear eyes on this. I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin. And I'm certainly not going to say to him, I'll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election, he'll get more backbone."

On the surface, it appears Romney may have been right after all.

Even David Weigel, a political writer for liberal-leaning Slate.com, said as much in a recent article.

"Obama saw Russia as a declining power that he could do business with, as he did with the New START treaty," Weigel wrote. "Romney, as he laid out in his pre-campaign book 'No Apology,' saw Russia as a recovering power."

The world will be watching where that power, and that Russian backbone, goes from here.