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Ukraine pushes military confrontation with Russia

Vladimir Putin
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Talking tough after Ukraine’s military killed five Russian separatists in Slaviansk, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytisa ripped Russian President Vladimir Putin for staging military exercise along the Eastern Ukrainian border. Killing five pro-Russian separatists in Slaviansk, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Ukraine to stop the violence or face Russia’s military, much the same as it did moving the Russian Army into South Ossetia and Abkasia in 2008. “We will now fight with Russian troops . . . if they invade Ukraine,” said Deshchytisa, sending the exact wrong message to Moscow. When Putin seized Crimea March 1, he used unmarked Russian troops, something Ukraine insists repeated itself in Eastern Ukraine. “The Ukrainian people and Ukrainian Army are ready to do this. Ukraine will confront Russia. We will defend our land. We will defend our territory,” throwing down the gauntlet to the Kremlin.

Killing five pro-Russian separatists gives Putin the perfect excuse to defend Russian interests moving the army over the border. Deshchytisa acts pumped up from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s April 22-23 visit bringing only $50 million in cash to help Ukraine with energy development. Biden equivocated when 39-year-old Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatenyuk asked Biden to rebuild the Ukrainian military, a whopping commitment of U.S. resources. When 49-year-old acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchinov ordered the military to take back occupied Ukrainian facilities from pro-Russian separatists last week, the Ukrainian Army refused to fight their Russian-speaking comrades. Killing five pro-Russian Ukrainians proves that some of the military are up for a fight. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was very clear in his warnings to Kiev that violence would trigger the military to defend Russian interests in Eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s current leaders claim legitimacy but aren’t recognized by Moscow which views the Feb. 22 coup that drove elected Ukrainian President Vitkor Yanukovich into exile as a U.S. and European Union-backed operation. No one knows what happened to 42-year-old former heavyweight champion Vitale Kliskhko who drove much of the uprising by bullhorn to rid Kiev of Yanukovich. It’s also unclear why pro-Western demonstrators drove Yanukovich from power for accepting a $16 billion Russian bailout package that restructured Ukrainian debt and lowered energy prices. Since driving Yanukovich from power, Ukraine’s post-revolutionary leaders haven’t gotten a better deal from the EU or International Monetary Fund. Turchivov and Yatsenyuk are now begging the U.S. government for more “foreign aid,” not the kind of debt that would strap Ukrainians for decades. Ukraine’s leaders believe that war is somehow cheaper for the economy.

Deshchytisa now begs the question after Ukraine’s military has begun killing Russian-speaking separatists seeking closer ties to Moscow. “What are the Russian plans,” asked Deshchytisa, pushing Putin to invade Ukraine. “Will they invade Ukraine or not?” hoping the U.S. would ratchet up the sanctions or send in troops. While President Barack Obama talks of more sanctions, he’s been reluctant to promise anything more than token amounts of foreign aid. Even hawks on Capitol Hill like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have said the military option is not on the table for the U.S. “I think it would be a very big mistake for the Russian government to send troops to Ukrainian territory to protect Russians,” said Deshchytisa, contracting Turchinov and Yatsenyuk who have accused Russian of supplying unmarked troops. “Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” said Lavrov, warning Ukraine against attacking Russia-speakers.

Before the U.S. or EU get sucked into a quagmire in Ukraine, Ukrainian officials should dial back the violence before it’s too later. Moving troops closer to the Ukrainian border, Russia won’t hesitate, as Lavrov says, to defend its national interests, including protecting Russian enclaves in Ukraine. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili found out the hard way antagonizing Putin in 2008, losing 20% of Georgia to Russian occupation. Former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did nothing when Putin moved the Russian Army into Georgia. Turchinov and Yatsenyuk should get real that the U.S. and EU won’t defend Ukraine against a Russian military incursion. Saying Russian forces are “even closer to the Ukrainian border than it was planned earlier,” Deshchytisa won’t find too much sympathy from the U.S. and EU. No matter how much Ukrainian officials detest Putin’s annexation of Crimea, it could happen again in Eastern Ukraine.

Speaking on national TV last Sunday, Yatenyuk pleaded with the U.S. to save Eastern Ukraiane from a Russian invasion. Raising Russia’s nuclear arsenal and comparing Putin to Hitler, Yatsenyuk cleverly attempted to win sympathy from conservative lobbying groups, including the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Whatever battle Ukraine wages against the Russian Federation, it’s not up to the U.S. or EU to bail it out. U.S. officials have a broader foreign policy requiring Russian cooperation, certainly in Syria, Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan. Joining Ukraine’s madness in confronting the Russian Federation, the U.S. can’t confuse its own agenda with Kiev. If Turchinov and Yatsenyuk lose their grip on Ukraine, the U.S. and EU must deal with its new rulers, including ones that have loyalty to the Kremlin. Kiev must figure out how to proceed with Russia, not expect the U.S. or EU to bail it out economically or militarily.

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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