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Obama shows paradigm shift in Ukraine

Barack Obama
Barack ObamaGoogle Images

Pleading with Washington to help stop the violence spreading across Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asked the U.S. to exercise its leverage on Kiev’s pro-Western regime. Lavrov’s request put the West on notice that it bears responsibility for growing anarchy, driven by Kiev’s post-revolutionary leaders 49-year-old President Oleksandr Turchinov and 39-year-old Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Both leaders came to power after a Feb. 22 coup that toppled the duly elected government of Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich. Lavrov asked the U.S. to exert more influence on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE] to prevail on Kiev’s new leaders to stop the “terrorist purges” in Eastern Ukraine. Turchinov and Yatensyuk have branded unrest in Eastern Ukraine as “terrorist” operations, blaming Russia for the lion’s share of unrest.

Lavrov expressed his concerns about growing unrest in Eastern Ukraine to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir, concerned about Kiev’s threats to mobilize the Ukrainian army. Watching growing violence in Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa, Moscow has continued to warn Kiev that more violence could trigger the Russian army, now poised along the Ukrainian border to cross into Ukraine to stop growing violence. Calling pro-Russian separatists terrorists, Kiev justifies mobilizing the Ukrainian military, even re-upping the draft to regain control of areas now under pro-Russian separatist control. Concerned about an impending assault by the Ukrainian army on the city of Slavyansk, Lavrov wants Washington to prevail on Kiev to show the restraint demanded by the April 17 Geneva Accord, expecting all parties to refrain from unnecessary provocation.

Ukraine’s post-revolutionary leaders don’t enjoy much support in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, now controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Oleksandr and Yatsenyuk showed no signs of stepping down for the good of Ukraine so that U.S. allies could find better consensus leaders going forward. Threatening to re-institute the draft, Oleksandr senses his days are numbered, pushing for an all-out military assault on pro-Russian strongholds. Condemning the spreading violence as “unacceptable,” the White House nuanced its message, urging the Ukraine and Russia to work out their problems. Calls by conservative on Capitol Hill, largely from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for more U.S. involvement fell on deaf ears, as the White House starts to understand that Kiev’s post-revolutionary leaders aren’t backed by a majority of Ukrainians, certainly not in Eastern Ukraine.

Instead of blaming only Russia for unrest in Eastern Ukraine, the White House has finally got two sides of the story. Most Russian-speaking citizens in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine don’t back the Feb. 22 coup that drove Yanukovich from power. Watching 31 bystanders go up in smoke in Odessa shocked Washington into the very real possibility of civil war. Lavrov’s call to the U.S. to stop Kiev’s current march toward civil war offers what could be the last ditch attempt to avoid more bloodshed. Two more Ukrainian soldiers killed in Slovyansk attests to the bitter divisions among pro-Russian separatists that don’t accept Kiev’s authority. “Today the international community must stand together in support of the Ukrainian people as the cope with this tragedy,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, refraining from the kind of finger-pointing that irked Moscow.

Telling Ukraine and Russia to work out their problems is a pivot for Washington that took Kiev’s side until recently. When conservatives pushed for U.S. military intervention, the White House realized that there’s two sides of the story. When Russian President Vladimir Putin sat with his hands tied during the Sochi Olympics watching the anti-Russian coup Feb. 22, the U.S. automatically backed Kiev’s new pro-Western leaders. After over two months of blaming Moscow, the White House finally recognizes that Kiev’s current leaders don’t represent the vast majority of Ukrainians. “The violence and mayhem that led to so many senseless deaths and injuries is unacceptable,” said Harf, refusing, for the first time, to assign blame. Secretary of State John Kerry has refrained from his critical barrage against Putin and Lavrov, seeing a more balanced view of Ukraine’s crisis.

Resisting calls to escalate the conflict from Capitol Hill, the White House finally pivoted in the right direction, refraining from pointing fingers at Moscow. Lavrov’s call for White House help to restrain Kiev may be too late as Turchinov and Yatsenyuk look more desperate trying seize control over Eastern Ukraine. “We call on all sides to work together to restore calm and law and order, and we call on the Ukrainian authorities to launch a full investigation and bring all those responsible to justice,” said Harf, referring to recent deaths in Odessa. Calling on Kiev to do its part to halt the violence, the White House put Turchinov and Yatsenyuk on notice to stop the provocation or face a halt to U.S. support. Blaming only Moscow for current unrest denies the fact that Kiev’s post-revolutionary leaders don’t enjoy wide popular support. “The violence and efforts to destabilize the country must end,” said Harf, putting Kiev on notice.

About the Author

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