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Geneva talks offer Band-Aid on Ukraine

Kerry and Lavrov
Kerry and Lavrov
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Agreeing to give amnesty to pro-Russian separatists that seized facilities in Eastern Ukraine, 70-year-old Secretary of State John Kerry and 64-year-old Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shook hands to deescalate tensions in Ukraine while resolving nothing about basic issues of Ukrainian sovereignty. Kerry and Lavrov papered over the big issue related to legitimate rule of Ukraine. United States and European Union jumped at the chance of backing the Feb. 22 anti-Russian coup that toppled the government of 64-year-old Viktor Yanukovich. Putin categorically rejects Ukraine’s post-revolutionary government led by 49-year-old pro-EU President Oleksandr Turchinov and 39-year-old Prime Minister Arseniy Katsenyuk. Meeting in Geneva today to defuse tensions, Kerry and Lavrov avoided the most basic issues related to resolving the Ukrainian crisis.

Whatever events led to Ukraine’s Feb. 22 coup, the Kremilin doesn’t recognize Kiev’s post-revolutionary government. Agreeing on amnesty for Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine doesn’t begin to address the failure of Kiev’s government to command the Ukrainian military in Eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian soldiers have refused to move against their Ukrainian brothers in the Southeast. Putin sees Crimea and Eastern Ukraine as “New Russia,” the same name given to it when it was conquered by the Russian Empire in the 1700s. Seizing Crimea March 1 and annexing the territory March 16, Putin views Eastern Ukraine in the same light. With over 40,000 troops on the border, Russia reserves its right to protect the Russian-speaking population. Putin sees nothing wrong with seizing more Ukrainian territory, justifying actions to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens.

Putin’s real issue with Ukraine’s post-revolutionary government involves the EU and U.S.-backed coup that encroached on Russian interests and national security. “I remind you that the Federation Council has give the president the right to used armed forces in Ukraine,” said Putin, raising more concerns in the Eastern provinces the Russian army would soon seize more territory. “I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that by political and diplomatic means we well be able solve all of the sharp problems,” said Putin, telling Kerry and EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton that the current situation is untenable. Putin’s use of the term “Novprossiya” or “New Russia” shows that he sees Crimea and Eastern Ukraine as a part of Russia. Putin sees the Feb. 22 coup in Kiev as proof of Western interference in the Southern flank of the Russian Federation

Doing nothing substantive to change situation in Ukraine, Kerry and Lavrov avoided painful steps toward reconciliation: Forcing Turchinov and Katsenyuk’s resignations. Ukraine’s post-revolutionary government remains unacceptable to the Kremlin. While Putn’s savvy enough to know he can’t return Yanukovich to Kiev, Kerry and Lavrov avoided any discussion of filling the leadership void. With the Ukrainian military refusing to follow Kiev’s orders in reclaiming parts of Eastern Ukraine, it’s obvious that Turchivov and Yatsenyuk don’t represent a majority of Ukrainians, certainly not residents of the country’s Southwest. U.S.-Russian relations go beyond today’s squabbles in Ukraine. Finding a mutually beneficial fix is in everyone’s best interests, not just Russia. Asking Turchinov and Yatsenyuk to step down would be a positive first step.

Kerry and Lavrov must do better than gloss over the real issues for resolving the Ukrainian crisis. If the U.S. and EU really want change, they need to recognize that the current regime doesn’t represent the Ukrainian people. If you ask what happened to leader pro-EU demonstrator former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitshkho, you’ll see how the anti-Russian protests fizzled out. Yanukovich’s Nov. 29, 2013 economic decision to scrap an agreement with the EU in favor of one with Moscow couldn’t possibly have led to the Feb. 22 coup. Whether or not the EU or Russia retires Ukrainian debt should be an internal matter not one of a coup d’etat. Klitshkho’s disappearance speaks volumes about how he vanished when the stakes got too high. How Ukraine’s current leaders came to powers is anyone’s guess? It’s obvious they don’t represent the Ukrainian people.

Hitting a low-point since the Cold War, U.S. officials should look at the big picture of improving U.S.-Russian relations. Slapping Russia with more sanctions turns back the clock on U.S.-Russian relations but, more importantly, fails to see how the Feb. 22 coup encroached on Russian national security. If Putin feels strongly that he can’t do business with Ukraine’s post-revolutionary leaders, then the time has come to stop battling the Kremlin and find new leaders. It’s obvious that Turchinov and Yatsesyuk don’t command the Ukrainian military. “The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian Southeast. It’s New Russia, Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Tsarist times, they were transferred in 1920 . . .” said Putin, disputing Ukrainian sovereignty. If new leaders were in place representing all Ukrainians, the current crisis would end.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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