Ukraine delivered a diplomatic bombshell across Russia’s bow today, escalating tensions in the region over their invasion of South Ossetia. The Kiev government announced that they may bar the Russian Navy from using their ports in the Crimea as part of its effort to maintain neutrality. Moscow had negotiated leases through 2017 with Kiev, and needs the ports to support its war on Georgia:
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said the deployment of a Russian naval squadron to Georgia’s Black sea coast has the potential of drawing Ukraine into the conflict.
“In order to prevent the circumstances in which Ukraine could be drawn into a military conflict … Ukraine reserves the right to bar ships which may take part in these actions from returning to the Ukrainian territory until the conflict is solved,” said the statement which was posted on the ministry’s Web site.
The Ukraine government didn’t need a reminder of how Russia treats its former satellites when they get too independent, but they’re certainly learning from the Georgian example. Ukraine’s move makes it clear to Vladimir Putin that Russia will pay a steep political and military price for their adventure in the Caucasus. It also sends a signal of support to the beleaguered government in Tbilisi, which can use all the friends it can get at the moment.
Russia seemed surprised at the statement. Their defense minister called the warning “quite unexpected”, but it follows normal diplomatic protocols. Any nation providing military support for a belligerent during an armed conflict is a de facto belligerent themselves, unless they cut off that support. Ukraine’s action isn’t just expected but a normal response for any nation wishing to remain at least neutral.
Russia may gain South Ossetia and Abkhazia in this grab, but Putin has let the mask slip. Former Soviet republics will learn to to fear Russia and to gravitate to the West for protection — as long as we stand firmly for Georgia. Fortunately, the Bush administration is now following John McCain’s lead on this issue and sending exactly that signal.