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July 7, 2014

Ukraine Cease-Fire Ends With Little Change

While the West dithers, Ukraine is taking control of its own destiny.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called for a cease-fire with Russian-backed separatist militants in the eastern part of his nation on June 20. In the ensuing 10-day interregnum, the rebels were expected to release Ukrainian hostages, close their recruitment centers and cede control of border checkpoints. Instead, what Poroshenko received was more bloodshed as 27 Ukrainian troops were killed and nearly 70 wounded. One military analyst said the cease-fire “strengthened the position of the terrorists from a military perspective.” But all is not lost. Poroshenko called off the cease-fire and Ukraine’s military is making gains.

The Western answer to the Russians was supposed to come “without delay,” but the reality is that dithering and finger-pointing between the United States and our European allies – who would bear the brunt of any Russian response – has enabled Vladimir Putin’s government to back the separatists at will. “Mr. Putin would like nothing better than to drive a wedge between the allies over Ukraine,” wrote The Washington Post editorial board. “But the worst outcome would be inaction.”

Meanwhile, Putin accused the United States of “blackmail” as the talk of further “surgical” sanctions is in the air. But his greatest gripe is that Poroshenko signed a deal his predecessor Viktor Yanukovych would not accept – one which significantly increases Ukraine’s ties to the West at the expense of Russian interests. A Westernized Ukraine, particularly one accepted into NATO, would deal a blow to Putin’s ambitions of recreating Russia’s historic domination of the region. He complained, “Everything that Russia has been fighting for since the time of Peter the Great … was at risk.”

Fortunately for the Russians, the U.S. has Barack Obama and John Kerry at the helm. Kerry said last week that Russia had “hours, literally” to rein in the rebel forces they were backing – but days later, no action has been forthcoming. Instead, Ukraine is taking it upon itself to “free our land,” regaining control of all its cities except Donetsk, which will be difficult to retake. Ukraine Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey boasted Saturday that government forces killed dozens of rebels and destroyed much of their equipment as they fled Slovyansk. He promised Ukraine would “continue the active phase until the moment when on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk region there is not a single terrorist left.” Closing the border to further Russian-inspired incursions is next.

Ukraine may yet preserve itself in the face of Russian aggression and Western indifference. But it’s a shame Obama left it virtually hanging in the wind.

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