Monday, March 31, 2014

What Crisis in Ukraine?

"[Mr. Obama informed Vladimir Putin that a diplomatic solution] remains possible only if Russia pulls back its troops and does not take any steps to further violate Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty."
White House statement
President Vladimir Putin spoke during a ceremony with newly appointed high-ranking military and interior officers at the Kremlin on Friday. Credit Pool photo by Alexey Druzhinin
Western governments are convinced of the belief that Moscow is gathering a fully equipped army on the border with Ukraine, in preparation for an invasion of eastern Ukraine. President Obama warned on Friday that Russian troops were "massing along that border", making it plain enough that there are suspicions of what is yet to come that an hour-long telephone conversation which President Putin had initiated between the two, did not dissipate.

"It may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine -- or it may be that they've got additional plans", theorized President Obama. Intelligence analysts conclude that Russia is focused on the three elements required for a sustained offensive in eastern Ukraine; artillery, supplies and communications -- under the screen of military exercises. Satellite images have provided U.S. assessments of between 40,000 to 50,000 troops within striking distance of Ukraine.

That's a swiftly impressive increase from the 30,000 that had marched to the border a mere week earlier. But then, events have moved on a whirlwind of decisions and implementation of those decisions. Mr. Putin decides, the Kremlin rubber-stamps, and the orders are issued and followed with exemplary speed. It is as though all of Russia is focused on restoring itself to its former glory in the belief that Ukraine is Russian.

The diplomatic channels opened after the telephone conference between the two presidents has resulted in nothing other than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meeting in France with Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to "discuss next steps". Discussing next steps may have taken place, as both men agreed between themselves that it would be far preferable to find a 'diplomatic solution' to the current crisis than for the tension to continue at the current level.

But President Putin, while assuring President Obama that heavens, no, Moscow has no intention of marching further into Ukraine, nor for that matter anywhere else outside of the Russian Federation, has made similar sincere declarations on previous occasions, only to abruptly surrender to a change of mind, soon afterward. So the concerns of a trip-wire tension remain unabated. 'Will he or won't he' appears to absorb the minds of eastern Europe and NATO countries.

Russia, emphasized the Russian president, is extremely alarmed at "a continued rampage of extremists" intimidating authorities and residents "in various regions and in Kyiv". Odd, that, since Ukrainian authorities and residents are quite, quite upset at the prospect of Russia's continued threats to the integrity of their borders and their population and on fairly good grounds, given the recent yank-back of Crimea, its territory, assets and citizens.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove (good thing he wasn't named Breedwar), NATO's supreme commander in Europe, offers another possibility. The contemplation of a Russian plan to move from Ukraine's eastern border past Crimea to Odessa and Transnistria, to leave Ukraine landlocked. What was that speech last week in Moscow on the annexation of Crimea, by a smoulderingly triumphant Putin?

Pain at the Russian collapse of empire, and even before that: "After the revolution, the Bolsheviks ... may God judge them, added large sections of the historical south of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine." In obvious reference to Kharkiv and Donetsk and the remainder of southeastern Ukraine.

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