On the eve of the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia warned the U.S. about backing Ukrainian rebels currently challenging the Kremlin-backed government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. Led by Ukranian-born world heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, the U.S. has shown sympathy to pro-Democracy rebels seeking to oust Moscow-leaning Yanukovich. Russian President Vladimir Putin, under the gun from Chechen terror threats in Sochi, whose prestige rests on a safe-and-secure Winter Olympics, sees U.S. backing of anti-Moscow rebels as a breach of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum joint-security and sovereignty agreement with the Ukraine. Putin’s Ukraine advisor Sergei Glazyev, said U.S. “interference” backing Ukranian rebels violated the Russian-U.S. security agreement. Glazyev hinted that if the security situation deteriorates Moscow might intervene.
Ending the Iraq War Dec. 15, 2011 and now the Afghan War in 2014, President Barack Obama has no stomach to getting into another confrontation, certainly not with Moscow. Russia might “actively intervene,” Glazyev told the Kommersant-Ukraine newspaper, putting the White House on notice to stop backing Klitschko’s pro-European Union rebels. “Under the document, Russia and the USA are guarantors of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine . . . and obliged to intervene when conflict situation of this nature . . “ said Glazyev. U.S. officials remember well when Putin sent the Red Army Aug. 7-13, 2008 into South Ossetia and Abkhasia, in what’s known as the Russian-Georgian War. U.S.-backed Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili found out the hard way defying Moscow and losing some 20% of Georgia, where Russia still occupies South Ossetia and Abkhasia.
Putin won’t hesitate to use the Russian Army again to assure the Kremlin’s stake in the Ukraine, a former Soviet satellite. “And what the Americans are getting up to now, unilaterally and crudely interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, is a clear breach of that treaty. The agreement is for collective guarantees and collective action,” said Glazyev. Since turning away Dec. 1, 2013 from the European Union and toward Moscow, Ukrainian rebels have turned out in full force. Ukrainians don’t want to return to Soviet Days where Ukrainian sovereignty was usurped by Moscow. “The United State is committed to working with both the Ukrainian government and the opposition to help de-escalate this crisis,” said White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson, trying to defuse more tensions with Moscow. Yanukovich got a much better deal with Moscow on Ukrainian debt.
Owed millions from Russia’s Gasprom utility, Yanukovich had no choice but to work with the Kremlin to restructure its debt, when the EU signaled it would not retire Ukrainian debt. White House officials continue to push Putin to defend Kremilin interests in the Ukraine. “We condemn the use of violence by any party in the Ukraine. Russian officials should be doing the same,” said Magnuson, missing the point about U.S.-paramilitary support for Ukranian rebels. Moscow accuses the U.S. of giving some $20 million a month to back the insurgency against Yanukovich’s Russian-backed government. “There is information that within the grounds of the American embassy, there is training for fighters, that they’re arming them,” said Glazyev, raising the stake for possible Kremlin action. White House officials must decide what kind of relationship it wants with Moscow.
Under Obama, U.S.-Russian relations have hit the lowest point since the Cold War. In the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, U.S. officials waited too long to provide some joint-security or at least intel assistance to combat almost daily terrorist threats. Only recently has U.S. helped alert Russian authorities to questionable intel about possible explosives smuggled in toothpaste tubes. U.S. officials insist that the Ukrainian people should determine their own form of government yet, like Syria, no rebel group should upend a U.N.-recognized sovereign state. Lending economic or military help to rebel groups undermines a government’s sovereignty. “The authorities are not fulfilling their duty to defend the state, negotiating with putschists as if they are law-abiding citizens,” said Glazyev, hinting that Moscow could get involved militarily if rebels threaten Yanukovich’s rule.
Before the Ukraine heads to the brink, the U.S. should rethink the geopolitical consequences of alienating Moscow to back opposition forces that seek closer ties to the European Union. While Klitschko backs pro-EU rebels, the Ukraine has bills to pay and order to maintain. “As for starting to use force, in a situation where the authorities face an attempted coup d’etat, they simply have no other course of action,” said Glazyev, giving Putin’s bottom line if pushed to the wall. If the shoe were on the other foot and the U.S. faced an insurgency, would the White House think kindly of Moscow-backed rebels? Instead of replaying the Cold War, the White House and State Department should get on the same page as Moscow to combat global terrorists and promote regional stability. Backing Ukrainian rebels or toppling Yanukovich because he’s doesn’t back a relationship the EU makes no sense.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.