Yves here. The writing is delicious. But one thing that is frustrating (and of course quite deliberate) in reading the Western media account of the standoff in Ukraine is that they airbrush out how the West stoked this conflict and can hardly be surprised that Putin finally felt compelled to respond.
Bush the Senior cut a deal with Gorbachev to facilitate the peaceful unwind of the USSR, which was that NATO would not move into former Warsaw Pact states. The Clinton Administration broke the pact, something that even dedicated cold warrior George Kennan regarded as a disastrous error. Destabilizing Ukraine, a country that had been part of Russia and is on Russia’s border, was taking the stealth battle against Russia too close to its doorstep. Let us quote Marshall Auerback on this again:
I’ve always had little sympathy for a lot of these Ukrainian nationalists, as they (like the anti-Russian Baltic nationalists) have very unsavory neo-Nazi antecedents.
That aside, it strikes me that it’s FAR more ambiguous than our short-sighted parochial press is indicating. The Ukraine is literally down the middle on this one. Russia has legitimate concerns especially given the way we double-crossed them on the Baltics and other parts of the Warsaw Pact when the Berlin Wall came down.
Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine, and also far more at stake than we have. Try the following thought experiment: would the United States feel concerned if, say, Canada lurched into chaos, its government fell to a mob, and there was real potential for a breakup of the nation whereby one segment of the country might opt for assistance from outside powers like China in a hostile alliance against the US?
Oh wait, there is a precedent: didn’t the US have a bit of a mini-meltdown on Cuba in 1962?
Now it looks as if things may have reached the horse-trading phase, except the US appears to have the unrealistic expectation of getting Putin to pull troops out of Crimea, when their numbers, if not necessarily their location, are within treaty boundaries. And as pretty much everyone who is not in the Administration reality-distortion sphere understands, the US has played this one badly and does not have much leverage. Which does not rule out the possibility of something stupid happening, particularly given that there are unaffiliated mercenaries on the ground and I would not see it at all impossible that we’d try to foment some sort of small attack (snipers? torching a critical building or infrastructure?) to bait the Russians to respond, then depict them as having thrown the first punch.
Ilargi has a good selection of fresh news stories. Although we ran this in Links yesterday, one of my experts said an article by Robert Parry is the best single piece of analysis he’s seen, so be sure to read it too.
By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor-in-chief of The Automatic Earth. Originally published at Automatic Earth
Arguably, the US lost its first PR war over Vietnam. When its young and hopeful started dying on live TV, it was over. Never again, swore spin doctors on all sides of Capitol Hill. Over the past 40-odd years, PR and spin techniques have been substantially refined, and the media – both written and TV -, hard as it may have seemed at the time, have moved much closer to the government’s PR interests. So much so that one can figuratively speaking expect to be burned at the stake for suggesting Edward Snowden is anything like today’s Woodward and Bernstein.
As I was watching John Kerry land in Kiev today, and walk with his insane security detail to places where protesters were shot, only very recently, the lost PR war of 4 decades ago came to mind. G-d knows they’re still trying with all their might, just watch CNN, and read the WaPo, but it looks very much like a lost cause. The WaPo runs a long piece entitled Behind the West’s Miscalculations in Ukraine; the basic tenet is that the US left it to Europe to deal with Ukraine and Yanukovych, and the EU screwed up, so now John Kerry has to step in and they will never leave this kind of important project up the Europeans again.
And granted, the EU probably didn’t do a great job either, but A) who would believe Washington would leave a project of the geopolitical magnitude of Ukraine up to others, and B) the article doesn’t name Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland even once. While it’s very clear from recordings that she was pivotal in bringing “Yats” to power – she about hand-picked him – and keeping “Klitsch” out. If you’re the WaPo, and you run a long story on the “West’s Miscalculations in Ukraine”, but you neglect to mention the number one – public – US operative, then what does that say about Woodward and Bernstein’s legacy? For Peep’s sake, Nuland is walking in Kiev with Kerry on live TV as we speak, but you just ignore her in your article?
The “Haircut In Search Of A Brain” Kerry (as Jim Kunstler adequately christened the Secretary of State) came traveling with the promise of a $1 billion loan to the self-appointed new Kiev government. He better make sure the documents are iron clad, in case “Yats” is outta there in a few weeks time and the next government refuses to pay up. That $1 billion number was what Yanukovych turned his back on in negotiations with Europe last fall, presumably when the absolutely full of themselves EU crew started attaching ever more IMF and World Bank conditions to it, and Putin had offered him $15 billion. Apparently, that took everyone by surprise, including the US as represented by Nuland and ambassador Pyatt. And now Kerry comes a-carrying the same $1 billion again, undoubtedly with more strings attached than a spinning wheel. The entire western circus is just drowning in its own hubris.
NATO holds a special meeting today. So do the EU foreign ministers. And they’re all of them on the phone with the White House all the time. They’re extremely busy looking at bans and sanctions. And what do we have so far? The US has halted military cooperation with Russia. Yeah, that’ll hurt … A secret document in Britain that the Guardian got hold of calls for any sanctions to leave rich Russians’ investments in London real estate alone. That’s got to have made Putin chuckle.
Economic sanctions? I bet you you can’t find anyone who can assure you those would hurt Russia more than it does the west. So count them out. Like what, we’re not going to buy your oil and gas anymore, Vlad? I see estimates of high (60 days) EU gas reserves after a very mild winter across the continent, but so what? Are Germany et al going to risk first banning Russian gas, and then start buying again, in the hope that Putin will have learned his lesson? For all they know, he’ll just double the price. Apart from all that, don’t forget that contracts have been signed, and you can’t just break those. Moscow sells $180 billion worth of mostly oil and gas to Europe, and Europe sells Moscow $120 billion in machines and various other items.
And whatever you may think of Putin, he’s consistent in his message: Russia reserves the right to protect the Russians and ethnic Russians who live in Ukraine. And despite all sorts of denials in western media that these people are under threat, why should they, or we for that matter, feel sure about that? We’ve seen the anti-Russian sentiments. And If you don’t know what that looks like, try 12 Videos Showing Why Ukraine Fears And Stands Up To Radical Nationalists.
Putin also said today that Yanukovych in his view has no political future, something he indicated last week when he refused to meet with the ousted president. However, Putin maintains that Yanukovych is the only legitimate president of Ukraine, even if he fled to save his life. Which was in serious danger, little reason to doubt that. Russia simply doesn’t recognize the “Yats”-led self named new government in Kiev. And that probably means “Yats” won’t be in power long. Kerry and his EU counterparts better prepare for that, and support a next PM, certainly before the May elections, if those take place.
No matter what you think, if you pay attention, it seems undeniable that Putin is winning the PR war on this one. No matter that Angela Merkel and Madeleine Munster Albright (who dug her up?) say he’s delusional and lives in another world, or Obama states he’s on the wrong side of history. Riddle me this: if you want to have a constructive discussion with someone, to what extent does it help to say such things? And what is the person you’re saying it about supposed to make of it? Anyone notice that Putin doesn’t stoop to such levels? It seems that only the losers do.
The best assessment I saw today came from Russian/American journalist Vladimir Pozner on CNN, who said that whatever Putin does, he is always demonized by western media.
Pozner also remarked that there’s no such thing as one Ukraine, there are many different peoples gathered together under one flag. They of course have the same right to self-determination that all peoples are guaranteed under UN law. And if the millions of Russians living in Ukraine feel threatened, and ask Putin for protection, should he deny that request? What would the US do if it had that kind of number of Americans under threat, and requesting aid, somewhere in the world, let alone on its own borders, like Mexico or Canada? I think we know the answer to that one.
Washington and Brussels would live to get a hold of the pipelines under Ukraine soil. And that they haven’t yet is certainly not for lack of trying. But they’re choking on their own hubris circus, and besides they should understand that Russia will never allow them control over those pipelines, because they keep the Russian economy alive.
It looks like a very real possibility that Ukraine will not survive in its present shape and form for much longer. And even though it would first of all be silly to blame that on Russia, even if Ukraine would split according to the wishes of its separate population segments, the pro west western part of the country should never get it into its head to as much as touch the pipelines. Because that would carry with it a serious risk of warfare. It’s time for the westworld to wake up from its hubris induced dreams of what once was. You don’t win a war with a Haircut In Search Of A Brain, not even a PR war. Those days are gone.
As divisions deepen between the eastern and western regions of Ukraine, the backers of the putsch regime in Kiev portray Russia as a reckless aggressor to absolve their own responsibility for engineering the crisis.
While denunciations of Moscow have streamed out of western capitals in recent days over the standoff in Crimea, it should be understood that the political crisis currently unfolding in Ukraine could have been wholly avoided. In attempts to defuse unrest and maintain legal and societal order, ousted President Yanukovich offered remarkable concessions in his proposal to install opposition leaders in top posts in a reshaped government, which was rejected.
Russia expressed readiness to engage in tripartite negotiations with Ukraine and the European Union with the hope that both Moscow and Brussels could play a positive role in Ukraine’s economic recovery, but the EU was unwilling to accept such a proposal. The February-21 agreement was mediated by Russia, France, Germany and Poland and aimed to end the bloodshed in Kiev by reducing presidential powers and establishing a framework for a national unity government, in addition to electoral reform, constitutional changes, and early elections.
There was clearly no shortage of opportunities to ease the polarization of the Ukrainian state through an inclusive political solution, and yet the opposition failed to uphold its responsibilities, resulting in the ouster of Ukraine’s democratically elected leader to the detriment of the country’s political, economic, and societal stability.
As the new self-appointed authorities in Kiev dictate terms and push legislation through a rump parliament, the reluctance of western capitals to address the clearly dubious legitimacy of the new regime suggests that the US and EU condone what is effectively a coup d’état with no constitutional validity.
The leaked phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, is a testament to Washington’s proclivity for foreign meddling and its brazen disregard of Ukraine’s sovereignty. It is no coincidence that Arseniy Yatsenyuk – handpicked by Nuland for the role of prime minister – now occupies that position in Kiev’s new leadership, and much like the reckless agitation strategies employed by the US elsewhere, extremist groups were manipulated to allow the nominal moderates to seize power on Washington’s behalf.
In order to maintain enough momentum to oust Yanukovich, Ukraine’s opposition leaders relied on allies in the radical camp such as fascist groups like Svoboda, Trizub, and the Right Sector. These organizations espouse ethnic hatred against Jews and Russians and promote neo-Nazi ideals. The foot soldiers of these movements laid the groundwork for the putsch by occupying the Maidan [Independence Square], storming government offices, and attacking riot police with Molotov cocktails, firearms, and other lethal weapons.
Members of these far-right groups have been integrated in so-called ‘self-defense forces’ that now patrol Kiev and other major cities, and have been seen wearing symbols that include the Celtic cross, which has replaced the swastika for many modern white-power groups, the wolf-hook SS insignia, and other occult symbols associated with the Third Reich. In his capacity as prime minister, Yatsenyuk has relinquished control of Ukraine’s national security forces to the heads of these radical organizations, who have openly used threatening and bigoted language to incite ethnic hostility, in addition to calls for Russians and Jews to be either destroyed or expelled from Ukraine.
The political ascent of radical forces that represent a minority of Ukrainian public opinion has alarmed minority communities, indicated by Ukrainian Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman’s calls for Kiev’s Jews to flee the country in light of recent political developments. Regions in the east and southeast of Ukraine, where many ethnic Russians and Russian speakers reside, are experiencing the Maidan protests in reverse, as protestors plant Russian flags atop government buildings in rejection of the new leadership in Kiev.
Since seizing power, the putsch regime in Kiev has attempted to pass laws against the official use of Russian and other languages throughout the country, fueling social unrest and secessionist sentiment in some quarters that culturally and linguistically identify themselves as Russian. Fast-moving developments in Kiev and actions taken by the new regime have enflamed the crisis, and any Russian intervention should be seen against the backdrop of eastern and southeastern Ukraine’s rejection of an unconstitutional transfer of power that directly threatens the integrity of the state.
The request by the legitimate President Yanukovich and the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to bring a limited contingent of Russian forces into the region to ensure the safety of ethnic Russian citizens living within Crimean territory is a reasonable request in light of the chaotic socio-political situation currently facing Ukraine. It should be understood that the movements of Russian forces in Crimea have been entirely lawful, and within legal boundaries established by existing security pacts with Ukraine. For western capitals to threaten sanctions and accuse Russia of a belligerent ‘invasion’ of Ukraine is completely unjustifiable, and tinged with political bias.
US Secretary of State John Kerry’s statements alluding to Russia behaving like a 19th century power by ‘invading’ Ukraine on a trumped up pretext encapsulates Washington’s infinite potential for hypocritical double standards and pathological dishonesty. The egregious violations of international law by the United States and its NATO allies are abundant and need not be evoked to rebut Kerry’s desperate and deceptive accusation.
The outrage expressed by western capitals over the so-called ‘Russian aggression’ is in stark contrast to the restraint showed when Saudi Arabia militarily intervened in Bahrain in 2011 to put down peaceful protests. Recent interventions by France in its former colonies, Mali and the Central African Republic, have roused no international condemnation, despite notable local sentiment in those countries that view Paris as an aggressive actor.
The western stance on when intervention is and isn’t legitimate is highly selective, and for the interventionist countries to use their soft power monopoly to portray Russia as a meddler intent on aggressively undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty is truly a politically loaded and dangerous notion.
The Obama administration, in an attempt to offer President Putin ‘a face-saving way out of the crisis,’ has proposed that European forces take the place of Russian forces in Crimea to guard against threats to the population, knowing full well that Moscow would never accept such an arrangement in a region like Crimea, which shares historic political, economic, cultural, and strategic military ties.
The area in which Kiev’s new authorities need Washington and Brussels most is in dealing with Ukraine’s impending debt crisis, and indications suggest that any economic assistance from the West would come with punishing terms and conditions, structural adjustments and austerity measures that would generate widespread social discontent in the country, and threaten the already shaky legitimacy of the putsch authorities.
Internal divisions within the defense sector and the bureaucracy of Ukraine, such as the prominent defection of the newly appointed head of Ukraine’s navy, Admiral Denis Berezovsky, and other significant figures in support of Crimea’s pro-Russian stance suggests that the anti-Kiev sentiment is deepening and showing no signs of abating.
Residents of the Crimea will take part in a referendum on March 30 to reevaluate the status of the peninsula, and the outcome is widely expected to result in the region seeking greater autonomy from Ukraine with a move towards federalism. If Russian authorities feel that all possibilities for dialogue have been exhausted, and a peacekeeping mission must be launched in earnest, there is every indication that Moscow will act within international law and show maximum restraint.
Just as radical forces have become empowered as a result of western policy elsewhere, the result of the illegitimate putsch in Kiev is that those countries who claim to defend the post-World War II international order have empowered forces that sympathize with, and seek to propagate, fanatical prejudice and extremism, on the false notion that such radical groups will move aside peacefully to allow nominal western-aligned moderates and neoliberals to rule. It hasn’t worked elsewhere, and it won’t work in Ukraine.
U.S. Had Let Europe Take Lead in Guiding Westward Drift of Former Soviet Republic
The U.S. ambassador was waiting in the office of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in November, anxious for a decision that would cinch closer ties with the West, when he ran across a staffer bearing unwelcome news. “I can’t believe it. I just came from seeing the president. He’s told me we’re going to put the European project on pause,” Mr. Yanukovych’s chief of staff, Serhiy Lyovochkyn, told U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, according to a person who was present.
The ambassador asked how the president intended to explain the turnabout to 46 million Ukrainians expecting a new pact with the European Union. “I have no idea,” Mr. Lyovochkyn said. “& I don’t think they have a Plan B unless it’s a dacha on the outskirts of Moscow.”
The exchange made clear the U.S. would have to come up with its own Plan B. For the previous two years, the Obama administration had sought to let Europe take the lead in guiding the westward political and economic drift of the former Soviet republic, with the U.S. in a supporting role.
Now, the U.S. has been drawn front and center at a far more difficult time after blood has been shed, battle lines drawn and Russian ire provoked. Locked today in the very East-West standoff the administration had hoped to avoid, “The U.S. is now in the lead,” a senior U.S. official said.
Many European diplomats felt that while the U.S. portrayed itself as acting tough in recent weeks, the Americans had left them alone on the Ukraine issue for far too long, preferring to prioritize Washington’s own ties with Moscow.
The White House decision to rely on Europe to cement ties with Ukraine was shaped by a foreign-policy doctrine meant to give international partners more responsibility for the world’s challenges, U.S. officials said. By divvying up responsibilities, these officials said, the U.S. could focus on issues at home after more than a decade of costly wars abroad. There also was initial skepticism within the Obama administration that Mr. Yanukovych was serious about moving toward Europe. Few administration policy makers believed Ukraine should be an American responsibility because the issue was more important to Russia and Europe than to the U.S.
Strategically, the Obama administration decided to take a back seat to Europe because of concerns that assuming the lead in Ukraine might backfire if Russia saw the European Union pact as a part of a superpower “Great Game” competition.
Even with Russian troops streaming into Crimea, administration officials said Monday it wasn’t clear if the outcome would have been any different had the U.S. taken a bigger role from the start. “The truth is Yanukovych left, and the new government is much more Western leaning. This is not a win for Russia,” a senior administration official said.
Talks between the EU and Ukraine date to the breakup of the Soviet Union, but in recent years they have focused on a sweeping trade and political pact known as the Association Agreement. In 2012, Ukraine and the EU initialed an agreement that, once final, would draw them closer.
The U.S. thought the Ukrainian leader might be bluffing about signing the Europe pact until mid-2013, when Mr. Yanukovych began taking more concrete steps. To bring Mr. Yanukovych closer to the West without provoking Russia, the U.S. and the EU settled on an informal division of labor, U.S. and European officials said. The EU’s job was to get the pact signed by a November 2013 deadline. The U.S. would work with the International Monetary Fund to get Kiev to agree to tough economic reforms.
The last thing the Obama administration wanted was another flashpoint with Russia. Relations between the two countries were already fraught over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for the Assad regime in Syria and the decision to grant asylum to alleged National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
Russia began pressuring Ukraine to resist the pact by reducing Russian imports from Ukraine during the first three months of 2013. Russia followed with a targeted trade war to hurt Ukrainian oligarchs who favored European engagement. Unease was growing within the U.S. administration. The EU wasn’t paying enough attention to Kiev’s economic troubles and pressure from Russia, government analysts privately warned policy makers, U.S. officials said.
Anxiety in Brussels surfaced in September, when Armenia, which had negotiated a similar trade and political deal with the EU, backed out and instead pledged to join the Russian customs union under pressure from Moscow. EU officials saw Armenia, which also faced economic and political pressure from Russia, as a warning sign and stepped up contacts with Ukraine. EU leaders expressed confidence the Ukraine deal would be signed, believing Mr. Yanukovych wouldn’t reverse course after coming this far.
At an October meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Minsk, Mr. Yanukovych made his last strong defense of the European pact. He also had a brief meeting with Mr. Putin that day, and U.S. officials believe that was when a more forceful Russian campaign began.
European divisions over Ukraine, with EU member states worried about antagonizing Russia, weakened the bloc’s ability to influence Kiev’s decisions, some diplomats said. Many member states believed the roadblock to a final agreement wasn’t Russian pressure, but Kiev’s refusal to meet European demands that it release at least temporarily imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to receive medical treatment in Berlin.
U.S. officials believe Russian officials persuaded Mr. Yanukovych to finally reverse course in a series of meetings in Sochi in early November. In one of those meetings, the Russians presented the Ukrainian delegation with a dossier spelling out potential damage to Ukraine’s economy if the government moved ahead with the EU agreement, Mr. Yanukovych’s advisers told U.S. officials. The dossier, U.S. officials said, set out specific financial losses and percentage declines in such sectors as aerospace and defense.
While top European officials were meeting almost weekly with their Ukrainian counterparts, the U.S. had little in the way of high-level contacts. But on Nov. 18, a few days after Ambassador Pyatt’s unexpected conversation with Mr. Lyovochkyn in the presidential office complex in Kiev, Vice President Joe Biden called Mr. Yanukovych, suggesting the U.S. could help counter Mr. Putin’s offer.
Mr. Biden, during a visit to Ukraine in 2009, had gotten along well with Mr. Yanukovych, a senior administration official said. He seemed receptive to Mr. Biden’s blunt style, the official added. Mr. Biden’s message was that the U.S. was prepared to work with both the IMF and the EU “to deliver the support Ukraine needed to get through the economic troubles,” said a senior administration official briefed on the call, which Mr. Biden made while visiting Houston.
The next day, Mr. Yanukovych met Stefan Fuele, a former Czech foreign minister who was the bloc’s point man on the deal, at the presidential palace. As the two officials sipped tea surrounded by top aides, Mr. Yanukovych presented new figures amounting to tens of billions of euros Ukraine would need to see through the reforms embedded in the EU deal. Frustrated by a fumbling translator and determined to convey a clear message to Mr. Yanukovych, Mr. Fuele, who studied in Moscow in the early 1980s, switched into Russian during his response. The EU official rejected the numbers the president was citing and questioned whether Mr. Yanukovych was looking for excuses to justify his reversal. More
Mr. Yanukovych didn’t respond to the appeals. On Nov. 21, the Ukrainian government announced it was putting the EU deal on hold, blaming the EU for failing to offer enough economic support. Even then, some European officials hoped Mr. Yanukovych would make a last-gasp change of heart when he arrived at a summit in the Lithuanian capital on Nov. 28, where he was supposed to have signed the deal. Those hopes were finally dashed that evening in a 75-minute meeting in a sparse meeting room on the ground floor of the Kempinski Hotel in Vilnius’ central square.
Mr. Yanukovych told the EU’s two top officials he could advance the bilateral deal but offered no time frame for signing it, and demanded three-way talks with Russia and the EU in the meantime, according to a person familiar with the discussions. Those were deal-breakers for European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who refused to give Moscow direct say over the fate of a bilateral EU-Ukraine pact.
The meeting ended in farce the next day. After the summit was formally over and faced with growing protests at home over his U-turn on the EU deal, Mr. Yanukovych rushed over to Mr. Van Rompuy and Mr. Barroso to urge them to agree to a Ukrainian drafted joint statement saying talks would continue. It is too late, the EU leaders told him.
U.S. officials said they believed Mr. Yanukovych was looking for the easiest way to raise cash, regardless of the strings attached. EU officials said they weren’t prepared to match the eventual $15 billion loan package from Moscow. U.S. officials tried to convince Mr. Yanukovych it was a bad deal. Moscow offered Ukraine cheap natural gas for three months. After that, prices would rise and Ukraine would be required to buy more, increasing the country’s dependence on Russia.
In his calls, Mr. Biden warned the besieged Ukrainian leader that he was “behind the curve” and putting himself in an “impossible position,” said a senior administration official briefed on the calls. U.S. officials said Mr. Yanukovych was responsive at times, reversing some of the government’s anti-protest laws after one of Mr. Biden’s calls. “But it would always be grudging and halfhearted and too late,” a senior administration official said.
In Washington, Mr. Biden pushed to “wield the threat of sanctions” if Mr. Yanukovych decided to crack down on protesters, a message the vice president conveyed directly in a Dec. 6 call. But the Europeans were torn about sanctions, arguing against the risk of backing the Ukrainian leader into a corner.
U.S. officials said the tipping point came on Jan. 16, when Mr. Yanukovych pushed through laws that effectively banned peaceful protests and outlawed opposition group activities. State Department officials and intelligence analysts warned the White House that Ukraine could be engulfed in civil war.
In the last week of January, at a Situation Room meeting at the White House, Mr. Biden urged the administration to spell out in more detail what financial aid would be provided if Mr. Yanukovych and the opposition cut a deal, said U.S. officials briefed on the session. Mr. Biden was backed by Secretary of State John Kerry, officials said, and President Barack Obama agreed.
A few days later, Mr. Kerry huddled with senior European officials on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich and delivered Mr. Obama’s message: Get money ready, according to officials briefed on the discussions.
In February, EU foreign ministers closed ranks with the U.S., saying they would respond quickly if the situation deteriorated, and, later, agreeing on sanctions. Mr. Kerry was in Paris in the third week of February for meetings when his French, German and Polish counterparts decided to fly to Kiev to try to broker a deal between Mr. Yanukovych and opposition leaders. The U.S. was skeptical, but Mr. Kerry and Mr. Biden agreed to help behind the scenes.
In the end, U.S. officials said, they believed Mr. Yanukovych got cold feet about the power-sharing proposals, and then he disappeared. Many street protesters, meanwhile, resented the U.S. for saying it wanted to work with Mr. Yanukovych instead of booting him. The Obama administration is now preparing sanctions to respond to Russia’s military intervention. “We’re not putting Europe in the lead on this anymore,” a senior U.S. official said.
Putin: Russia has right to use force in Ukraine (AP)
Accusing the West of encouraging an “unconstitutional coup” in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow reserves the right to use all means to protect Russians there. The Russian leader’s first comments since Ukraine’s fugitive president fled to Russia last month came just as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was flying to Kiev to meet with Ukraine’s new government. Putin also declared that Western actions were driving Ukraine onto anarchy and warned that any sanctions the West places on Russia for its actions in Ukraine there will backfire.
Tensions remained high Tuesday in Crimea, with troops loyal to Moscow firing warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers. Russia took over the peninsula on Saturday, placing its troops around the peninsula’s ferry, military bases and border posts. Yet world markets seemed to recover from their fright over the situation in Ukraine, clawing back a large chunk of Monday’s stock losses, while oil, gold, wheat and the Japanese yen have given back some of their gains. “Confidence in equity markets has been restored as the standoff between Ukraine and Russia is no longer on red alert,” David Madden, market analyst at IG, said Tuesday.
Speaking from his residence outside Moscow, Putin said he still considers fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych to be Ukraine’s leader and hopes that Russia won’t need to use force in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. “We aren’t going to fight the Ukrainian people,” Putin said, adding that the massive maneuvers he ordered last week had been planned earlier and were unrelated to the situation in Ukraine.
Putin also insisted that the Russian military deployment in Ukraine’s strategic region of Crimea has remained within the limits set by a bilateral agreement on a Russian military base there. He said Russia has no intentions of annexing Crimea, but insisted that its residents have the right to determine the region’s status in a referendum set for this month.
Earlier Tuesday, the Kremlin said Putin had ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine’s border to return to their bases. The massive military exercise in western Russia involving 150,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and dozens of aircraft was supposed to wrap up anyway, so it was not clear if Putin’s move was an attempt to heed the West’s call to de-escalate the crisis.
Putin accused the West of using Yanukovych’s decision in November to ditch a pact with the 28-nation European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia to encourage the months of protests that drove him from power and putting Ukraine on the verge of breakup.
“We have told them a thousand times: Why are you splitting the country?” he said. Yet he acknowledged that Yanukovych has no political future and Russia gave him shelter only to save his life. Ukraine’s new government wants to put the fugitive leader on trial for the deaths of over 80 people during protests last month in Kiev.
Ukraine’s dire finances have been a key issue in the protests that drove Yanukovych from power. On Tuesday, Russia’s state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom said it will cancel a price discount on gas it sells to Ukraine. Russia had offered the discount in December following Yanukovych’s decision to ditch a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. Gazprom also said Ukraine owes it $1.5 billion.
The new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev has accused Moscow of a military invasion in Crimea. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the new Ukrainian leadership, insists it made the move in order to protect Russian installations in Ukraine and its citizens living there. [..]
At the United Nations in New York, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, said Monday that Russia was entitled to deploy up to 25,000 troops in Crimea under the agreement. Churkin didn’t specify how many Russian troops are now stationed in Crimea, but said “they are acting in a way they consider necessary to protect their facilities and prevent extremist actions.”
Russia is demanding the implementation of a Western-sponsored peace deal that Yanukovych signed with the opposition that set presidential elections for December. Russian envoy at those talks did not sign the deal. Yanukovych fled the capital hours after the deal was signed and ended up in Russia, and the Ukrainian parliament set the presidential vote for May 25.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Ukraine’s ousted president Viktor Yanukovych remained its only legitimate leader despite fleeing to Russia but conceded he lacked any political future. “I think he has no political future — I told him that. As for playing a role in his fate, we did that purely from humanitarian reasons,” Putin said of Yanukovych, who took refuge in southern Russia after crossing from Ukraine in a way that has not been made public. Putin said Russia viewed Yanukovych as legally Ukraine’s president. “The legitimate president, purely legally, is undoubtedly Yanukovych,” Putin said.
Crucially, Putin said this meant Russian intervention in Ukraine would be justified because Moscow had received a request for protection of its citizens from Yanukovych. “We have a direct request from the acting and legitimate — as I have already said — president Viktor Yanukovych about using armed forces to protect the lives, health and freedom of Ukrainian citizens,” Putin said. Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin showed the letter dated March 1 at Security Council talks on Monday.
Putin spoke scornfully of his erstwhile ally Yanukovych, who drew his supporters from the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine and in November agreed to scrap a deal with the European Union under pressure from Russia. “Do you sympathise with him?” one journalist asked. “No, I have completely different feelings,” Putin said.
But he said he believed Yanukovych had risked being killed by protesters when he fled Kiev late last month. “Death is the easiest (way) to get rid of a legitimate president. That would have happened. I think they would have just killed him,” Putin said. Yanukovych said he fled Ukraine after he and his family received death threats and his car was shot at as he drove out of Kiev.
Putin said that Yanukovych had essentially handed over his powers on February 21 by signing agreements with the opposition leaders last month, counter-signed by international mediators. He “practically gave up all his powers anyway. And I think he — and I told him this — had no chances of being re-elected,” Putin said. He said he understood peaceful protesters against Yanukovych: “Of course people wanted changes.”
Asked about a rumour reported in Ukrainian media on Tuesday that Yanukovych had died from a heart attack, Putin denied it. “After he came to Russia, I saw him once, that was literally two days ago. He was alive and healthy. He will catch a cold yet — at the funerals of those who spread that information,” Putin added with characteristic black humour.
A rift appeared to be opening up on Monday night between the US and Europe on how to punish Vladimir Putin for his occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, with European capitals resisting Washington’s push towards tough sanctions. With the Americans, supported by parts of eastern Europe and Sweden, pushing for punitive measures against Moscow, EU foreign ministers divided into hawks and doves, preferring instead to pursue mediation and monitoring of the situation in Ukraine and to resist a strong sanctions package against Russia.
On Monday night the White House announced it was suspending military ties and co-ordination with Russia, covering bilateral activities such as exercises and port visits. Barack Obama said the White House was “examining a whole series of steps – economic, diplomatic – that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and status in the world”.
Obama said the US state department was reviewing its entire portfolio of trade and co-operation with Moscow, including preparing a raft of possible measures targeting senior government and military officials implicated in the invasion of the peninsula. Obama said the condemnation from other countries aimed at Russia “indicates the degree to which Russia’s on the wrong side of history on this”.
The president is expected to use his executive authority to bypass Congress to quickly target senior Russian officials. But Washington is clearly aware it may struggle to rally support for punitive measures from Europe. “The most important thing is for us – the United States – to make sure that we don’t go off without the European community,” the majority leader in the Senate, Democrat Harry Reid, told Politico. “Their interests are really paramount if we are going to do sanctions of some kind. We have to have them on board with us.”
But at an emergency meeting in Brussels the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Italy and Spain resisted calls for trade sanctions, instead limiting discussion to freezing long-running talks with Russia on visa liberalisation that would have made it easier for Russians to visit Europe. Washington is also threatening to kick Russia out of the G8 group of leading economies, but Berlin opposes that.
Britain is drawing up plans to ensure that any EU action against Russia over Ukraine will exempt the City of London, according to a secret government document photographed in Downing Street. As David Cameron said Britain and its EU partners would put pressure on Moscow after it assumed control of Crimea, a government document drawn up for a meeting of senior ministers said that “London’s financial centre” should not be closed to Russians. It did say that visa restrictions and travel bans could be imposed on Russian officials.
The picture of the document was taken by the freelance photographer Steve Back, who specialises in spotting secret documents carried openly by officials entering Downing Street. The document was in the hands of an unnamed official attending a meeting of the national security council (NSC) called by the prime minister to discuss the Ukrainian crisis.
The document said Britain should:
• “Not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close London’s financial centre to Russians.”
• Be prepared to join other EU countries in imposing “visa restrictions/travel bans” on Russian officials.
• “Discourage any discussions (eg at Nato) of contingency military preparations.”
• Embark on “contingency EU work on providing Ukraine with alternative gas [supplies] if Russia cuts them off”.
• Specific threats to Russia should be “contingent and used for private messaging” while public statements should “stick to generic” point.
• Draw up a technical assistance package for Ukraine “ideally jointly with Germany”.
• Pursue the “deployment of OSCE and/or UN (but not EU) monitors in Crimea and eastern Ukraine”.
• Push the “UN secretary general Ban to take the lead in calling and creating a forum for engaging Russia on Ukraine”.
• Accept an emergency summit of EU leaders to discuss Ukraine. This will now be held in Brussels on Thursday.
Government officials said that no decisions were taken at the meeting of the NSC, but they confirmed that the call in the document for London’s financial centre to kept open to Russians reflected the government’s thinking that it wanted to target action against Moscow and not damage British interests.