6 April 2021   Leave a comment

The tension between Russia and Ukraine continues to escalate. Not only is Russia massing additional troops in the eastern Donbass region and Crimea, but Russia is now conducting large-scale military exercises. The New York Times reports:

“In Ukraine, Parliament on Tuesday approved a statement declaring an ‘escalation’ along the front, essentially acknowledging that a cease-fire negotiated in July had broken down. It pointed to a ‘significant increase in shelling and armed provocations by the armed forces of the Russian Federation.’

“The statement called on Western governments to ‘continue and increase international political and economic pressure on Russia,’ something Ukraine has been requesting for years. The United States and European allies have imposed financial sanctions on Russia, targeting President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle, banks and oil companies.”

Since 2018 there have been 8 cease-fires between Ukraine and the Russian separatists, the most recent of which was brokered by the the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. That cease-fire has broken down. Ukraine cut off water supplies to Crimea after the Russian invasion in 2014 and there are fears that Russia will try to divert water from the Dnieper River in Ukraine in order to address the water shortages in Crimea. Such a move would unquestionably trigger a higher level of violence.

We still do not know if Russia is serious about consolidating its control in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine or whether the Russians are testing the US commitment to Ukraine. It is a deadly game and the Ukrainians have asked for membership consideration to NATO. Reuters quotes the Ukrainian President: “‘NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbass,’ Zelenskiy told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a phone call, according to a statement from Zelenskiy’s office. A Membership Action Plan laying out Ukraine’s entry path into the alliance ‘will be a real signal for Russia’, he said.”

I sincerely doubt that US President Biden would seriously entertain such a proposal since the Russians would regard the move as highly provocative. It would replicate many of the passions that the US and Russia endured in Georgia in 2008 when US President George W. Bush broached the idea of Georgian membership in NATO. Ted Galen Carpenter relates that struggle in The National Interest:

“Bush and other officials were effusive in their praise of Saakashvili and Georgia’s democratic revolution. In a May 2005 speech in Tbilisi, Bush hailed Georgia as ‘a beacon of liberty’ and praised that country’s self-styled democrats for creating the template for other ‘color revolutions.’ Therefore, he believed that Georgians deserved special recognition. ‘Your courage is inspiring democratic reformers and sending a message that echoes around the world: Freedom will be the future of every nation and every people on Earth.’ He added (erroneously) that Georgia itself was ‘building a democratic society where the rights of minorities are respected; where a free press flourishes; where a vigorous opposition is welcomed and where unity is achieved through peace.’

“Bush also had pushed the NATO allies to give Georgia (and Ukraine) membership in the Alliance. Even though French and German opposition postponed that scheme, Saakashvili apparently believed that NATO would confront Russia militarily in any showdown between Moscow and Tbilisi. In August 2008, he launched a military offensive to regain control of a breakaway region, South Ossetia, which had been under the protection of Russian peacekeeping forces since the early 1990s. Unfortunately, Saakashvili’s offensive also inflicted casualties on the Russian peacekeeping troops. Moscow responded with a full-scale counteroffensive that soon led to the occupation of several Georgian cities and brought Russian troops to the outskirts of the capital….

“The parallels between Washington’s excessive encouragement of Ukraine and Bush’s blunder with respect to Georgia are eerie and alarming. Vladimir Putin’s government has given the West numerous warnings over the years that attempting to make Ukraine a NATO military client crosses a bright red line in terms of Russia’s security. The Kremlin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in response to the U.S.-European Union campaign to help demonstrators oust Ukraine’s elected, pro-Russia government and replace it with a pro-West regime should have conveyed that message with great clarity.”

James Goldgeier, writing in Foreign Affairs, suggests that the Ukrainian confrontation is only one of the many issues that rattles the US-Russian relationship. His essay is a decidedly bleak overview of that relationship: “As Biden begins his presidency, one aspect of U.S.-Russian relations is over: the high hopes for what an incoming U.S. president can achieve. The SolarWinds hack, Russian election interference, the conflict in Ukraine, and the poisoning and arrest of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are just some of the issues that will hinder any return to a more positive U.S.-Russian relationship. But ever since Putin first became president more than 20 years ago, the bigger issue has been the clashing ambitions that U.S. and Russian leaders have for the world and especially for Europe. Although it is possible that Trump would have bowed to Putin’s vision in a second term, Moscow’s and Washington’s conflicting visions will be on full display in the Biden years.”

Posted April 6, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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