EU, US unlikely to intervene on Ukraine’s behalf in Crimea

(By Deutsche Welle) With the immediate threat of a civil conflict in Kyiv averted, Ukraine’s crisis has now shifted to the Russian-majority region of Crimea. The region could become a flashpoint between Moscow and the West.

President Vladimir Putin placed combat troops in western Russia on alert Wednesday (26.02.2014), amid rising tensions between pro- and anti-Kremlin protesters in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, where Moscow stations its Black Sea naval fleet.

Meanwhile, NATO defense ministers have reiterated their commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.

“NATO allies will continue to support Ukrainian sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, democratic development, and the principle of inviolability of frontiers, as key factors of stability and security in central and eastern Europe and on the continent as a whole,” the defense ministers said in a joint statement after their meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US did not view the volatile political situation in Ukraine as a Cold War-style confrontation with Russia.

“This is not a zero-sum game, it is not a West versus East…,” Kerry said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in Washington. “This is about the people of Ukraine and Ukrainians making their choice about their future,” Kerry added.

But there’s very little that the US and EU can actually do to help maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity, according to Joerg Forbrig, an Eastern Europe expert with the German Marshall Fund. He cites the war between Georgia and Russia in 2008, in which Moscow’s military intervention led to the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Tbilisi’s control. While the West engaged diplomatically, it was unable to prevent the division of Georgia.

“The West has very limited means of enforcing this message,” Forbrig told DW. “What we can clearly rule out is that the West would rush to the help of the Ukrainian government to safeguard this integrity.”

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Former US ambassador to Ukraine: ‘The EU and the US have leverage’

(By Deutsche Welle) Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer tells DW that the West should target Ukrainian oligarchs with sanctions. But he also believes only Ukrainians can solve the country’s political crisis.

An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Glazyev, accused the United States last week of not only financing the Ukrainian opposition, but went so far as to say that Washington was arming “rebels.” Is there truth to these claims or is this hyperbole?

The idea that the US government is financing the protests is utter nonsense. There’s no evidence that I have seen of it. And the idea that Mr. Glazyev says it’s providing weapons is also nonsense. If you go back and look at what Mr. Glazyev has said, he’s been the point person in Russia to try and do everything he can to undermine Ukraine’s effort to do the association agreement with the European Union. And he’s said some things in the past that have had very little credibility.

How would you characterize the US relationship with the Ukrainian opposition and the protest movement?

The US government has reached out and has contacts with the opposition, which I think is appropriate for the embassy and for visiting officials to do. I think the US government would like to find a way to encourage the opposition and President Yanukovych to get a meaningful political dialogue underway. That would be the best way out of the current political situation.

In January, Arizona Senator John McCain met with several Ukrainian opposition leaders, including Svoboda party leader Oleh Tyahnybok, who’s made anti-Semitic remarks in the past. What’s Washington’s relationship with the right-wing groups that are participating in the protests?

I think there actually have been conversations with Tyahnybok since his party became a political force. And I know for a fact that the American embassy has been pretty direct with Mr. Tyahnybok and the Svoboda party about some concerns about some things they have said, including handing over several pages of quotes of things that were seen as anti-Semitic and such.

There’s been growing discussion in the EU and US about imposing sanctions against Ukraine. What kind of sanctions are we talking about? Are sanctions really an effective instrument to push Ukraine toward reform?

I do favor targeted sanctions by the United States and the European Union with two objectives. One is to make clear to those who might be involved in the use of force that there will be penalties. But I also believe that sanctions can be used in a positive way and that is to prod people in the inner circle around Yanukovych to encourage him to engage in a real dialogue and attempt to find a solution.

When we talk about Yanukovych’s inner circle are we talking about people in government or people in the business sector?

The people who have the control of levers of force are in government. You want them to know this. But I think also when you’re talking about the inner circle, you’re talking about business people. Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest oligarch, has been fairly close to Mr. Yanukovych. I think it would be useful if Mr. Akhmetov was using his influence with President Yanukovych to encourage him to negotiate in a serious way to find a solution. And if there was some threat that there might be financial or travel sanctions on Mr. Akhmetov, that could be a useful lever.

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US, Russia maneuver to influence Ukraine’s political future

(By Deutsche Welle) With the US Congress reportedly preparing sanctions against Ukrainian leaders, Moscow has warned Washington to get out of the crisis in Kyiv. Has Ukraine become a proxy battleground between Russia and the West?

As the political crisis in Ukraine has escalated, EU and US efforts to support the opposition have gathered momentum. Washington is reportedly putting together a package of diplomatic carrots and sticks. US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has said that Kyiv could receive US aid money, but only after it has implemented political reforms.

Meanwhile, the US Congress and the White House are reportedly discussing targeted financial sanctions against the Ukrainian public figures allegedly responsible for violence. In a resolution which passed in a 381-2 vote, the House of Representatives on Monday expressed support for the “democratic wishes of the people” in Ukraine.

According to Steven Pifer, former US ambassador to Ukraine, sanctions should also target President Viktor Yanukovych’s inner-circle, which includes government officials and business people.

“Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest oligarch, has been fairly close to Mr. Yanukovych,” Pifer told DW. “I think it would be useful if Mr. Akhmetov was using his influence with the president to encourage him to negotiate in a serious way to find a solution.

“If there was some threat that there might be financial or travel sanctions on Mr. Akhmetov, that could be a useful lever,” he said.

So far, the EU has been reluctant to impose sanctions out of concern that punitive measures will only push Yanukovych further toward Moscow. In neighboring Belarus, for example, Western sanctions have done little to persuade strongman Alexander Lukashenko to reform his authoritarian regime.

But Andrew Wilson, an expert on Ukraine with the European Council on Foreign Relations, disagrees with the analogy.

“There aren’t oligarchs in the same sense. You have a much more personal presidential system [in Belarus],” Wilson said. “Whereas in Ukraine you do have oligarchs, and you can hurt their interests.”

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