Russia to NATO: Hey, explain your moves in eastern Europe

Let’s see if we can guess who’s who in this New Cold War scenario. Troops and materiel have been shifted around on one side, and the other side demands an explanation of what intent lies behind those moves. This refers to the massive buildup on the Russia-Ukraine border, right, with NATO demanding the answers? Er … not exactly. In this case, it’s more like the classic line, “Mom — he hit me back!”


Russia says it wants answers from NATO regarding activities in eastern Europe, after the Western military alliance said it would step up defenses for its eastern members.

Russia’s move to annex the Crimea region from Ukraine last month has sparked the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, and raised fears among its eastern European neighbors. …

“We have posed these questions to the North Atlantic Alliance. We are expecting not just any answer but an answer fully respectful of the rules we have coordinated,” Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told a joint news briefing with his Kazakh counterpart on Thursday.

Responding to criticism from Kiev and the West over the presence of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine, Lavrov said Russia had the right to move forces on its territory and said they would return to their permanent bases after completing military exercises.

“Russian troops in the Rostov region will return to their bases after completing military exercises,” Lavrov said, referring to an area near the Ukrainian border.

Well, then, the response practically writes itself. NATO’s units will end their “exercises” when Russia’s do the same. It’s a little late to complain about NATO’s lack of respect for “rules we have coordinated” when Russian forces just dismembered Crimea from Ukraine and threaten to partition it further. Lavrov gives a pretty good demonstration of diplomatic chutzpah in this demand.


Just the same, there are indications that NATO’s message may finally have gotten through to Moscow. Pro-Russian demonstrations of the kind Moscow used to justify its action in Crimea are dissipating in the key Donetsk region:

The new billionaire governor of the Donetsk region has no intention of allowing Moscow to carry out another Crimean-style annexation here in coal-mining, steel-making eastern Ukraine, which lies temptingly along the Russian border.

Serhiy Taruta, a steel magnate appointed just a month ago by the Kiev government, intends to hold this Russian-speaking ground for Ukraine by keeping order and improving people’s lives in the poverty-strapped steppe.

Donetsk was roiling with fear and violence as he took over. Russian television propaganda persuaded many here that fascists from western Ukraine were on the way to rampage through the east. Suddenly protesters in the city of Donetsk were shouting under the Lenin statue for a referendum that would allow them to join Russia. On March 13, a pro-Russian crowd set upon pro-Ukrainians. A 22-year-old pro-Ukrainian was knifed. He died on the way to the hospital. …

The annexation of Crimea, however, stirred latent pro-Ukrainian sentiment. Public officials began speaking out against the rumors. Last weekend was quiet. Now the guards at Taruta’s government office are down to a handful of riot police, with only a few strands of barbed wire strung near the front door.


Taruta has a message for the West, too:

With perhaps 40,000 Russian troops massed on the nearby border and making him uneasy, he had a special message for Washington, which in 1994 persuaded Ukraine to relinquish its nuclear weapons in exchange for a promise to protect its territorial integrity. “There have been guarantees,” he said, “and they need to be carried out.”

He’s not the only Russian-speaking Ukrainian seeking a restoration of the nation’s territorial integrity. Crimea must be returned, demanded … Viktor Yanukovich?

Former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted after asking Russian troops into Crimea, admits that his decision was wrong, calling Moscow’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula “a major tragedy.”

In an interview with The Associated Press and Russian channel NTV, he said he made a mistake when he asked Russia to intervene, a move many Ukrainians view as treason.

“I was wrong,” he said through a translator. “I acted on my emotions.”

Yanukovych, who is currently residing in Russia, said he hoped to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to return Crimea.

“We must set such a task and search for ways to return to Crimea on any conditions, so that Crimea may have the maximum degree of independence possible… but be part of Ukraine,” he said.


Don’t expect Ukrainians to be too impressed by this admission of presidential immaturity. Security officials in the new government in Ukraine accused Yanukovich of ordering the murders of Euromaidan protesters. Kissing up to Kyiv now won’t improve his standing in Ukraine, nor will undermining the legitimacy of Vladimir Putin’s Crimea annexation make him more popular in Moscow. If Yanukovich keeps “act[ing] on my emotions,” he may need to find a new place for asylum.

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