Are Russian forces massing or retreating from Ukraine border?
posted at 12:01 pm on March 4, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
Actually, it depends on which news source one uses. According to the Free Beacon’s Bill Gertz, a seasoned journalist on military issues, Russian forces have massed on their side of the Ukrainian border, threatening a much wider incursion to complement the seizure of Crimea:
Russian military forces continued massing within six miles of Ukraine’s eastern border regions as tensions increased over Moscow’s so far bloodless attempt to take control of the country by force under the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians.
In Kiev, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebiynis said the massing of Russian forces near Ukraine’s eastern border appeared to be preparation for a military invasion, Ukraine’s Unian news agency reported.
Border troops reported Russian forces massing near borders in the Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk regions.
“Those actions taken by representatives of the Russian state authorities may be evidence that Russia is preparing for a possible invasion on Ukrainian territory through its land border with Ukraine,” Perebiynis said.
Few details were available on troop movements but reports from the region indicated that nine convoys of armored vehicles were observed near the Russian border of Kharkiv, and five armored troop carriers were spotted less than two miles from the border in Donetsk. Military forces also were reported near the Luhansk administrative region.
That was last night, however. This morning, CBS News reported that Russian forces appeared to be retreating from those positions:
Putin pulled his forces back from the Ukrainian border on Tuesday, yet said that Moscow reserves the right to use all means to protect Russians in the country. He accused the West of encouraging an “unconstitutional coup” in Ukraine and driving it onto anarchy, declaring that any sanctions the West places on Russia will backfire.
Speaking from his residence outside Moscow, Putin said he still considers Yanukovych to be Ukraine’s leader and hopes Russia won’t need to use force in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
Putin lashed out at the US earlier today, accusing Americans of creating the need for Russian intervention in Ukraine with our “experiments” on the “rats,” or something:
Putin likens US in Ukr to mad scientist: “They sit there across the pond as if in a lab running all kinds of experiments on the rats.”
— Charles Lane (@ChuckLane1) March 4, 2014
Actually, the issue in Ukraine had a lot more to do with the EU than it did the US. We’re involved in it now, belatedly anyway. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kyiv today to pledge $1 billion in aid to the new Ukrainian government. He also pledged that the US was only “days away” from implementing sanctions, which may have some Ukrainians wondering what’s taking so long:
As Kerry arrived, the White House announced the package of energy aid, along with training for financial and election institutions and anti-corruption efforts. U.S. officials traveling with Kerry, speaking on grounds of anonymity, said the Obama administration is considering slapping Russia with unspecified economic sanctions as soon as this week.
The problem is that the invasion caught the administration “flat-footed,” as the USA Today editorial board scolded yesterday, and the Obama administration is still playing catch-up:
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Russia’s weekend invasion of Crimea is that the U.S. and its allies were caught so flat-footed, groping for a response that didn’t look weak and ineffectual.
It’s not as if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine, or its importance to him, are a secret. He wants to be seen as the leader who restored Russia’s lost power, and if Ukraine — the biggest, closest and most important non-Russian part of the Soviet Union — were to follow other former Soviet states into the Western camp, his hopes would be dashed. He wasn’t about to let that happen. …
It’s also apparent that Putin’s careful strategic planning was not matched in the West, where the response has been late and lame.
Peter Wehner argues that we’ve rarely seen so much arrogance for so little reason, and have it exposed so thoroughly:
When he ran for the presidency, it was Barack Obama who never put limits on his criticisms of others. He spoke as if the problems of the world would disappear with two events: the removal from office of his predecessor and his arrival as president of the United States. Even in a profession not known for attracting modest individuals, Mr. Obama’s arrogance set him apart. …
In foreign policy, Obama would wage a successful war in Afghanistan. He would convince dictators and adversaries why they should bow to his wishes. He would solve decades-long conflicts. American prestige would rise in all corners of the globe. “Instead of retreating from the world,” Obama said, “I will personally lead a new chapter of American engagement.” There would be the “reset” with Russia, the “new beginning” in the Middle East, the end of Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and so much more. Mr. Obama would practice “smart diplomacy.” After all, he understood things the rest of us did not. And if you didn’t accept his view of the world, you weren’t simply mistaken; you were an ideologue, a hyper-partisan, a dullard, perhaps a fool, and/or someone whose thinking belonged to bygone era. Watch the contemptuous way the president dismissed Mitt Romney in a presidential debate on the topic of Russia — despite the fact that events have proven Romney right and Obama wrong.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? Our relations with nation after nation – from Afghanistan and Iraq to Russia and China, from Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea to India and Australia, from Honduras to Brazil, from Poland and the Czech Republic to Germany, Great Britain, Canada and more – are worse now than they were when Mr. Obama was sworn in as president in 2009. I’m not asking people to measure Mr. Obama against a standard of perfection; I’m asking them to measure him against his own promises, his own speeches, his own words.
Having been president for more than five years, we can now render some reasonable and informed judgments about Mr. Obama, including this one: he is an amateur on par with Jimmy Carter. And to see the crude and brutish Putin run circles around Obama—on negotiations over nuclear weapons, on granting asylum to Edward Snowden, on convincing Obama to undercut our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic, on establishing ties with Egypt, on strengthening the murderous Syrian regime, and now invading Crimea and threatening the rest of Ukraine—is painful for any American to witness. As House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers put it, “Putin is playing chess and I think we are playing marbles, and I don’t think it’s even close.”
The Ukrainians know better now than to rely on the US for a rescue. They’re currently negotiating with Russia directly to an end to the crisis and occupation. What Ukraine needs is a united, prepared Western front to deter Russia from aggression — and five days later, it still doesn’t exist. The flat-footed response is barely improving, almost as if the White House can’t quite believe that Putin really means to reassemble the Russian Empire. With friends that clueless, Ukraine had better cut the best deal it can while it still can.