John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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As Ovechkin Scores Goals, Putin Conquers and Divides

Posted on March 3, 2014
AlexOvechkin-Warmup

Alexander Ovechkin


I wonder what Alexander Ovechkin thinks.


The star of the Washington Capitols is perhaps Russia’s most famous and most successful athlete currently working primarily in America.

Ovechkin’s team didn’t win the gold in Sochi, but he hightailed it back to the Verizon  Center to score a few goals for the NHL Team.

The star goal scorer had the opportunity (at his own peril) to watch the Academy Awards because his country’s leader blocked the broadcast.

In America, you can make your own decision if you want to watch bad television.  In Russia, that decision is made for you.

The United States and Russia seem to be heading back to the Cold War, although as John Kerry said, this has much more of a 19th Century feel to it.

Crimea has always been a problematic area for Russia and the Europeans.

The Crimean War was sparked over a disagreement over who had the authority to run the Holy Land.  The Russians wanted the Orthodox Church to run things, while the French wanted the Catholic Church.

The Ottoman Empire was dying, nationalism was running rampant in both Russia and in Europe, and Czar Nicholas and Napoleon III were trying to prove their worth as Emperors.

In normal circumstances, the problems that sparked the war could have been resolved and war could have been avoided.

But like August, 1914, when dunces ruined diplomacy, in the Crimean War, resolvable problems became irreconcilable differences, with the result being a painful war.

That Crimean War was painful.  On that point there is little doubt.  It is that war that made Florence Nightingale and the Charge of the Light Brigade famous to English Speakers.  When a nurse and a failed frontal assault are best memories from a conflict, you know if wasn’t pretty.

Of course, most war on painful.

Looking at the current Ukranian-Russian conflict, you see some of the same factors that helped engulf Europe into the original Crimean conflict.

Vladimir Putin, like Nicholas I, wants to regain Russian glory.   They both wanted to protect their warm weather port on the Black Sea, too.

The Russians that live in Crimea are remnants of the Russian expansion into the Ukraine stretching back hundreds of years.  In Eastern Ukraine, which incorporates Crimea, the predominant language is Russian.  In Western Ukraine, the predominant language spoken is Ukranian.

The tangled history of Ukraine and Russia is not easy to read.  The Russians under Stalin basically starved the Ukrainian people in the Great Famine, which today is recognized as a genocide by many historians and by the Ukrainian Government.

During World War II, millions of Ukrainians died alongside the Russians fighting the Nazis, but some Ukrainians joined with the Germans to try to get rid of the Russians.

Ukraine’s military heritage was formed early by Ukrainian Cossacks who at times battled the Russians but at other times joined with them to fight the Turks.

Ukraine has been called the break-basket of Europe and of Russia, because in normal times, it produces as much agricultural products as any place in the world.  But the Ukrainian people live in a tough neighborhood and have seen their ravenous neighbors invade them at several points in their history.

Ukraine straddles the East and West and any political settlement will have to recognize that it has lean in both directions simultaneously to keep the peace.

It is hard to say what exactly America’s role in this conflict really is.

Putin’s Russia does have some legitimate interests in the Crimea, and in protecting the Russians who live in the country.  But in typical Putin fashion, he exploits those legitimate interests to try to expand Russia’s power and influence, just Nicholas the First or Ivan the Terrible would do.

Putin might be wanted to change the subject from the boondoggle in Sochi, which cost his country 60 billion dollars.  But judging from the collapse of the Russian stock market today, it doesn’t look like he is making the right bet to restore his credibility with his people.

President Obama warned Putin not to invade the Ukraine, a warning that fell on largely deaf ears.    What should Mr. Obama do now?

I guess he could lend the Ukrainians some money, since their former President just left the country in desperate economic shape.    He could also sell it some military hardware, which would send a strong message to Putin that further incursions into the region will cost him a lot of Russian lives.

He could refuse to send our Paralympic athletes into Sochi for the Paralympic Games.   I am not a big fan of using our athletes to deliver our political message, mostly because our athletes want to compete, and boycotting the games hurts our athletes more than it hurts Putin.

Or he could leave John Kerry in Kiev for a while.  I am sure that will scare the Russian dictator.

Most likely, Putin is attempting to replay what he did to Georgia in 2008.   There, he used a pretext to invade South Ossetia, and he has taken over the most Russian portions of that country and he probably won’t give them back any time soon.

Instead of divide and conquer, Putin’s play is to conquer and divide.  It is unclear if we have the stomach to stop the Russian Czar in his tracks or if it is even in our national interest to do so.

I don’t know if any of this makes Ovechkin proud or not.   He probably just wants to focus on scoring more goals.