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?”

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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.

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International mission to secure MH17 site fraught with risks

(By Deutsche Welle) Australia and the Netherlands have decided against deploying troops to secure the MH17 crash site in Ukraine, opting instead to send an unarmed police team. But access to the site is difficult in an active war zone.

Dutch and Australian police called off an attempt to reach the wreckage of MH17 on Monday due to reports of explosions in the region, the second time they have been forced to turn back due to clashes near the site of the crash.

Initially, the Netherlands and Australia had contemplated sending an armed mission to secure the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner and retrieve human remains that have not yet been recovered. But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called off the idea of an armed mission after a ceasefire negotiated with the rebels around the crash site fell through.

“We had the intention to send a unit of the air mobile brigade which was very lightly armed, so it’s not a real unit which would provoke hostilities,” Kees Homan, a retired major general with the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps, told DW.

“But as the fighting continued in the area, our prime minister then took the decision that a military unit for protection of the investigators was not a real option,” said Homan, who now works with the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

Prime Minister Rutte had concluded that “there’s a real risk of such an international military mission becoming directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine.” 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.

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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.

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Merkel meets Obama in Washington amid violence in Ukraine

(By Deutsche Welle) German Chancellor Angela Merkel has met with US President Barack Obama. The two leaders are seeking to repair ties after the NSA scandal and forge a common front in the Ukraine crisis.

President Obama and Chancellor Merkel held talks in Washington on Friday, amid escalating violence in eastern Ukraine.

In a joint press conference, the two leaders made clear that they were stepping up preparations to impose sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy, if Moscow did not work to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine before the country’s presidential elections on May 25th.

President Obama told reporters that the West was unlikely to end its business dealings with Moscow in the energy sector, but said that other areas of the Russian economy were vulnerable to EU-US sanctions.

“The idea that you’re going to turn off the tap on all Russian oil and gas exports, I think is unrealistic,” the president said. “But there are a range of approaches that can be taken not only in the energy sector, but in the arms sector, the finance sector, and lines of credit for trade, all of which have significant impact on Russia.”

Chancellor Merkel warned that the crisis in Ukraine has challenged Europe’s post-war order, which rests on the principle of the territorial integrity of all nations. Merkel said that although both the EU and US preferred a diplomatic solution, Moscow’s behavior would determine whether or not economic sanctions were imposed.

“It’s very much up to the Russians which road we will embark on,” Merkel said.

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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 na├»ve 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.

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