April 16, 2014

Ukraine Takes Action Against Russian Subversion

The situation in Ukraine may have reached the boiling point.

The situation in Ukraine may have reached the boiling point. Reuters reports, “Ukrainian armed forces on Tuesday launched a ‘special operation’ against militiamen in the country’s Russian speaking east, authorities said, recapturing a military airfield from pro-Moscow separatists.” Pro-Russian factions have been working to destabilize eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, staging protests and taking over government buildings. This past weekend saw these actions escalated by local crime bosses acting at the Kremlin’s behest. It’s an invasion without soldiers.

Ukraine’s goal is to flush this pro-Russian element out of several cities in the eastern portion of the country. “We won’t allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in the eastern regions of the country,” said acting President Oleksandr Turchynov. The trouble is that some security forces are showing sympathy for the pro-Russian factions and even reportedly switching sides.

Many fear that the uprising is part of a larger plan to provoke Ukrainian response, thereby providing an excuse for Vladimir Putin to swoop in and “defend” Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority. As Reuters notes, “Moscow accuses Kiev of provoking the crisis by ignoring the rights of citizens who use Russian as their first language, and has promised to protect them from attack.” The news service then adds this humorous line: “Russia also stresses the presence of far-right nationalists among Kiev’s new rulers.” Of course, when you’re practically communist, everyone else is “far-right.”

Ukraine’s ex-prime minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko didn’t mince words saying, “We have to tell the Ukrainians the truth: the Russian Federation is waging a real war against Ukraine in the east.” She urged the West to “recognize Russia’s aggression against eastern Ukraine as a war.” Russia insists that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war.

Thursday in Geneva, diplomats from Ukraine, Russia, the European Union and the U.S. will meet for talks. But Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Ukraine’s action jeopardizes that meeting. “You can’t send in tanks and at the same time hold talks, and the use of force would sabotage the opportunity offered by the four-party negotiations in Geneva,” he said. That claim takes some chutzpah given that Russia is fomenting all this unrest and then pretending to be acting in good faith in any talks. Not that they’re admitting anything. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Kremlin still denies playing a role in destabilizing Ukraine, insisting, “Such speculations are based on inaccurate information.”

Meanwhile, Barack Obama spoke on the phone with Vladimir Putin Monday, though reports are that their chat accomplished little. Big surprise. Obama has had months now to formulate a coherent response, but the best Jay Carney could explain this week is that the White House is “actively evaluating” the situation and “assessing for ourselves what response we may choose.” One thing Obama is doing is holding further sanctions in reserve in case of further escalation from Russia. He has also refused most aid to Ukraine – granting 300,000 meals-ready-to-eat but withholding arms or intelligence. (Then again, if there really are defections among Ukrainian military personnel, withholding such aid may be prudent.) And of the phone conversation, the White House said, “The president expressed grave concern,” so there’s that.

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