Proposed US weapons deliveries to Ukraine raise fears of further escalation

(By Deutsche Welle) Calls in the US to supply Kyiv with weapons have been met with deep skepticism in Western Europe. As rebels in Ukraine gain ground, NATO is divided over how to prevent a broader conflict.

Two of Washington’s key European allies have rejected calls in the US to supply Kyiv with lethal military assistance, exposing potential fault lines within NATO as the war in eastern Ukraine continues to escalate.

The White House’s pick for defense secretary said on Wednesday that he was “inclined” to support supplying Ukraine with “lethal arms.”

“We need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves,” Ashton Carter said during a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told CNN earlier in the week that the administration was reviewing the question of arms deliveries.

Opposition within NATO

But across the Atlantic, major European allies have been frank in their opposition. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters that Paris has “no intention of delivering weapons at this stage to Ukraine.” His comments echoed the long-standing German position, which Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated during a visit to Budapest on Monday.

“Germany will not support Ukraine with weapons,” Merkel told reporters. “I am firmly convinced that this conflict cannot be resolved militarily.”

Berlin’s opposition to weapons deliveries could play a critical role in White House deliberations. White House adviser Rhodes has called Merkel the “most important international partner on Ukraine.” He said that Obama and the chancellor would discuss Ukraine face-to-face during a “very important meeting” at the White House on February 9.

Kimberly Marten, an expert on Russian foreign policy at Columbia University, said that the reservations in Europe were well founded.

“There does not appear to be an endgame in the weapons proposal,” Marten told DW via email. “What will the US do if the fighting becomes worse and expands to more Ukrainian territory if we send in weapons?”

Continue reading

Eastern Europe expert: Ukraine faces a frozen conflict

(By Deutsche Welle) Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russia separatists have created a buffer zone as part of a ceasefire agreement. Expert Joerg Forbrig tells DW that Kyiv now faces an unresolved, frozen conflict in its eastern region.

What does the buffer zone in eastern Ukraine do?

At the moment, it’s just trying to spatially separate the two sides. The agreement is that both sides would withdraw by 15 kilometers, so there would be a 30-kilometer corridor between the two warring sides, between the Ukrainian government’s army and the separatists and their supporters from Russia.

Who does the buffer zone benefit?

There are a number of factors here. There is a degree of exhaustion both on the part of the Ukrainian government forces and on the part of the separatists in eastern Ukraine. There’s a momentum both in Russia and in Ukraine that speaks in favor of a ceasefire at this stage.

On the Ukrainian side, there’s obviously the understanding that they cannot defeat Russia and the separatists militarily. There’s an election schedule of course, with the parliamentary elections in September. There’s an issue still about the gas talks between Russia and Ukraine.

On the Russian side, there’s also an understanding that, at this stage, it might be best to pause the conflict and perhaps even freeze it. The favorable outcome of this military conflict for Russia would only be possible if Russia engaged even more openly.

The Russians are also well aware that the European Union has set a deadline until the end of the month to review the sanctions in light of developments on the ground. So, if there was some form of a more positive dynamic in east Ukraine, the Russians are probably holding out hope that at least some of the sanctions would be lifted. All of this resulted in what seems to be a pause, not a resolution to the conflict, but a pause at least.

Continue reading

US-Russian tensions over Ukraine threaten cooperation on Syria, Iran

(By Deutsche Welle) US-Russian relations have reached one of their lowest points since the end of the Cold War. The question is, as Moscow and Washington face off over Ukraine, can they continue to cooperate on Syria and Iran?

Barack Obama was going to be the president who salvaged Washington’s deteriorating relationship with Russia. Ties between the two countries had frayed during the Bush administration over Moscow’s intervention in Georgia and US plans to deploy a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe.

In 2009, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a red “reset” button. The gesture symbolized the Obama White House’s desire to clear the slate and build a more cooperative relationship with the Kremlin.

Fast forward five years and Washington is now threatening Moscow with economic sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. It’s the most serious confrontation between the two powers in the past two decades, according to Jeffrey Mankoff, an expert on Russian foreign policy with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C.

“There’s not going to be a walking back from the confrontation that’s been unleashed by this crisis, at least as long as Russia is what it is, which is to say an increasingly authoritarian and revisionist power,” Mankoff told DW.

But from the Syrian civil war to Iran’s nuclear program, the US needs Russian cooperation to resolve a host of international problems. In Washington, the Republican opposition believes that President Obama’s unwillingness to adopt a more aggressive posture has only emboldened Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran.

“We are almost rudderless as far as our foreign policy is concerned,” Senator John McCain told DW at the Munich Security Conference in February.

Continue reading

Western nations underwrite Ukraine’s transition

(By Deutsche Welle) Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the EU and US have promised billions in financial aid to shore up the embattled government in Kyiv. DW takes a look at how Brussels and Washington are using the funds.

As Ukraine’s cash-strapped interim government fights a costly battle against an armed pro-Russian uprising in the country’s east, Western nations have agreed to transfer billions in aid to help Kyiv survive its escalating economic and political confrontation with Moscow.

On Wednesday (07.05.2014), Ukraine’s central bank announced that it received $3.19 billion (2.29 billion euros) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the first tranche of a $17 billion international bailout. With the IMF deal concluded, Kyiv has successfully fulfilled the precondition for a European Union aid package totaling 11 billion euros.

Meanwhile, the US Congress has approved some $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine. Additionally, Washington has signed off on tens of millions of dollars of broadly defined “security assistance” for countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including Ukraine. So far, the White House has said that it opposes delivering weapons to Kyiv.

“The United States has given some money but ultimately Ukraine is in the EU’s backyard; Ukrainians have protested under an EU flag; it’s up to the EU to support Ukraine in this process of transformation,” Amanda Paul, with the European Policy Centre, told DW.

“But of course it’s quite a leap of faith given Ukraine’s track record in carrying out reform[…],” Paul said.

Continue reading

Putin’s power play jeopardizes Eurasian Union plans

(By Deutsche Welle) President Vladimir Putin aims to create an Eurasian Union where the Soviet Union once reigned. But Moscow’s intervention in Crimea could make former Soviet republics think twice about deeper integration with Russia.

During his annual address to the Russian parliament back in 2005, President Putin publicly lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union, calling it “a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” The former KGB man laid out his solution to this “disaster” in a 2011 newspaper editorial, in which he called for the creation of an Eurasian Union.

“First, none of this entails any kind of revival of the Soviet Union,” Putin wrote in the daily Izvestia. “It would be naïve to revive or emulate something that has been consigned to history. But these times call for a close integration based on new values and a new political and economic foundation.”

“We suggest a powerful supranational association capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world and serving as an efficient bridge between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region,” he continued.

Neighboring Belarus and Kazakhstan have signed up to join Russia in this integration project. In 2010, the three ex-Soviet republics formed a common customs union. Meanwhile, they have agreed to make the Eurasian Economic Union a reality by January 1, 2015.

“According to Putin, it has to be a political alliance, not only the customs union, with supranational institutions that will be hosted by Moscow and apparently dominated by Russia,” Lilia Shevtsova, a Russia expert with Carnegie Moscow, told DW.

Continue reading

Bound by treaty: Russia, Ukraine and Crimea

(By Deutsche Welle) The EU and the US have accused Russia of violating international law by intervening in Crimea. DW examines the agreements that are supposed to govern relations between Moscow and Kyiv.

As successor states to the Soviet Union, both Ukraine and Russia are signatories to the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Adopted in Helsinki in 1975, the document sought to promote détente during an era of Cold War geopolitical tensions in Europe.

With the end of the East-West confrontation, the CSCE evolved into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest security forum. The OSCE has 57 member states, including Russia and Ukraine.

The Final Act obligates its signatories to “refrain…from the threat or use of force” against each other. According to the act, participating states “regard as inviolable one another’s frontiers” and “will refrain now and in the future from assaulting those frontiers.” They “will respect the territorial integrity of each of the participating states” and “will likewise refrain from making each other’s territory the object of military occupation.”

In addition, the participating states agree to “refrain from any intervention, direct or indirect, in the internal or external affairs” of another participating state.

Continue reading

Trade ties expose EU, US rift over Russia sanctions

(By Deutsche Welle) The EU and the US have threatened Russia with punitive measures if Moscow does not reduce tensions in Ukraine. But some European countries are reluctant to impose sanctions due to close trade ties with Russia.

Scrambling to react to the crisis in Crimea, the Obama administration has threatened Russian officials with visa bans and asset freezes, if the Kremlin refuses to roll back its military intervention in the Black Sea peninsula. But the European Union has proven reluctant to follow suit, holding out hope that diplomacy can resolve the Cold War-style crisis on its doorstep.

The White House has already suspended military ties and trade talks with Moscow, while the entire Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations have agreed to not participate in preparations for their summit in Sochi this June. Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday, where they strongly condemned “the clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity by acts of aggression by the Russian Federation.”

Although the EU threatened to suspend bilateral talks with Moscow on trade and visa liberalization and “consider further targeted measures,” the bloc did not explicitly place the threat of economic sanctions on the table. The EU’s 28 leaders are scheduled to meet for an emergency summit on Thursday, where they will consider whether or not to impose punitive measures.

“It’s clear that everybody would like to see this crisis solved politically without imposing sanctions, because those would severely damage bilateral relations,” Paul Ivan, an expert on EU sanctions with the European Policy Center, told DW.

“Sanctions are the most serious measure you can take before going to war,” he said.

Continue reading

Will US budget cuts lead to splendid isolation?

(By Deutsche Welle) With defense cuts looming in the US, Secretary of State John Kerry has warned against growing isolationist sentiment. But experts say that Washington is simply adopting a more restrained foreign policy.

US President Barack Obama published his budget on Tuesday, a week after Secretary of State Kerry had warned that cuts in military spending potentially signaled a “new isolationism” among the American public and its elected representatives.

“This not a budget we want,” Kerry told reporters last Wednesday. “It’s not a budget that does what we need. It was the best the president could get. It’s not what he wanted.”

“Look at our efforts to get the president’s military force decision on Syria backed up on (Capitol Hill),” the secretary of state said. “Look at the House of Representatives with respect to the military and the budget.”

“All of those diminish our ability to do things,” Kerry said, adding that the US was “acting like a poor nation.”

But according to Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, accusations of “isolationism” are little more than a political tactic used to delegitimize critics.

“This is standard American politics,” Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran and former army colonel, told DW. “There seems to be a belief in Washington that if you can portray your critics as isolationists, that doing so will then strengthen one’s own claim to wisdom. The United States is not an isolationist country – quite frankly it’s never been. Certainly it’s not today.”

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading