Call this a carrot and stick approach, but Ukraine’s problem is that neither the carrot nor the stick will mean much. Ukraine president Oleksander Turchinov threatened military action against pro-Russian forces holding government buildings in the east, while at the same time proposing a referendum to expand federalism to provide more local autonomy. Turchinov also appealed to the UN to send peacekeeping troops as a buffer against a Russian invasion, which Turchinov argued to Ban Ki-moon had already taken place with the seizures of the government buildings:
With pro-Russian militants attacking more buildings in eastern Ukraine Monday and ignoring a government deadline to disperse, Ukraine’s acting president said he would welcome United Nations peacekeepers to help establish order by conducting a “joint counterterrorist operation” with Ukrainian forces.
A statement posted on his official Web site said President Oleksandr Turchynov raised the matter in a telephone call with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, accusing Russia of sending “special units” to eastern Ukraine to “conduct armed seizure of the administrative buildings and threaten lives of hundreds of thousands of our citizens.” He said Russia was repeating the scenario of its takeover of Crimea least month, but he noted that the situation in eastern Ukraine is different “because the majority of people do not want to support separatists.”
Vowing to “fight back [against] terrorism and Russian aggression,” Turchynov raised the prospect of conducting a “joint operation with the U.N. peacekeeping forces” so that the world could “witness the legality” of Ukrainian forces’ actions.
“We do not object and even welcome holding of joint counterterrorist operation in the East,” Turchynov said, according to the statement. It said Ban pledged to “do everything I can for the situation to be resolved peacefully as soon as possible.”
Russia earlier warned Ukraine that any military action against the seizure of these buildings would be “criminal,” which is why Turchinov offered to have UN observers/peacekeepers on hand. Of course, Russia would have to approve or abstain in that proposal, and they’re not going to do either. Turchinov knows that, but perhaps he just wants to challenge Moscow’s public stance of just wanting to seek peace in Ukraine.
Turchinov also proposed a peaceful way out of the current crisis by adding a referendum to elections scheduled for next month on an expansion of autonomy. This has about the same chance of ending the crisis as the introduction of UN peacekeepers:
A day after threatening a full-scale military operation to drive pro-Russian militants out of a string of eastern Ukrainian cities, the country’s acting president offered an apparent olive branch Monday, saying he wasn’t opposed to a countrywide referendum on possibly granting regions greater autonomy.
The move appears to signal increasing desperation from Kiev, highlighting it has few options for a real response as opponents take over further territory.
A referendum on greater independence from the central government in Kiev has been a key demand made by the militias that have commandeered government buildings in the east. Russia has also repeatedly called for Ukraine to change its constitution and switch to a federalized system that would grant greater independence to regions, particularly in the east, which are more heavily ethnic Russian and more closely tied to Moscow economically.
The military option remains on the table, Turchinov warned, but that also seems less likely as the deadlines pass:
Kyiv has grown increasingly desperate for Western support, but the Wall Street Journal reports that they’ll be disappointed — and in fact already are, as the West has mostly offered lip service on their behalf:
Russian intelligence and special forces on Saturday directed local crime bosses and thugs in coordinated attacks on police stations and other government buildings in towns across eastern Ukraine. These men were dressed and equipped like the elite Russian special forces (“little green men,” as Ukrainians called them) who took Crimea. Ukrainian participants got the equivalent of $500 to storm and $40 to occupy buildings, according to journalists who spoke to them. Fighting broke out on Sunday in Slovyansk, a sleepy town in the working-class Donbas region that hadn’t seen any “pro-Russia” protests. A Ukrainian security officer was killed.
Kiev is on a war footing. Radio commercials ask for donations to the defense budget by mobile-telephone texts. The government’s decision to cede Crimea without firing a shot cost the defense minister his job and wasn’t popular. Western praise for Ukrainians’ “restraint” got them nothing. The fight for Ukraine’s east will be different.
This invasion was stealthy enough to let Brussels and Washington not use the i-word in their toothless statements. The EU’s high representative, Catherine Ashton, called herself “gravely concerned” and commended Ukraine’s “measured response.” There was no mention of sanctions or blame. The U.S. State Department on Saturday said that John Kerry warned his diplomatic counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, that “if Russia did not take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine’s border, there would be additional consequences.”
By now, the Ukrainians ought to have seen enough to know that they’re on their own. Moscow has reached the same conclusion. These perceptions of the West are shaping events.
A month ago, the EU sanctioned 21 marginal Russian officials and quickly tried to get back to business as usual. On Friday, the U.S. added to its sanctions list seven Russian citizens and one company, all in Crimea. What a relief for Moscow’s elites, who were speculating in recent days about who might end up on the list. Slovyansk fell the next day.
The sanctions situation may change soon, Josh Rogin reports:
The Obama administration is moving quickly to levy new sanctions against Russia, hoping to stop what the U.S. government now sees as a Crimea-style incursion by unmarked Russian troops in several cities in Eastern Ukraine. But so far, America and its European allies can’t agree on how to hit the Vladimir Putin regime for its latest move onto Ukrainian territory, senior Obama administration officials tell The Daily Beast. …
Behind the scenes, there’s shock and alarm inside the Obama administration about the recent actions by Russian forces. A senior administration official told The Daily Beast Sunday that the thinking inside the administration had been to wait until this Thursday before moving forward with any new sanctions. That’s the day U.S., EU, Russian, and Ukrainian governments are scheduled to meet in Geneva.
But given the new violence, the Obama administration has now moved to ready sanctions as early as Tuesday, the official said, cautioning that no final decision has been made. State Department, White House, and Treasury Department officials have been reaching out to their European counterparts over the weekend to persuade them to join a new sanctions regime. The E.U. Foreign Ministers will meet in Brussels Monday.
The Obama administration is reevaluating the situation on daily basis, revising their previous assumption that Russia would not interfere so blatantly in Eastern Ukraine ahead of the upcoming diplomatic conference.
“People were very alarmed,” the official said, noting that “the people who study Russia weren’t as surprised.”
Russia may have already responded. Earlier today, a Russian fighter jet buzzed an American warship in the Black Sea:
A U.S. military official says a Russian fighter jet made multiple, close-range passes near an American warship in the Black Sea for more than 90 minutes Saturday amid escalating tensions in the region.
The official says the fighter flew within 1,000 yards of the USS Donald Cook, a Navy destroyer, at about 500 feet above sea level, saying this prompted ship commanders to issue several radio warnings. The fighter appeared to be unarmed and the passes ended without incident.
It doesn’t look like a few UN peacekeepers and a referendum will keep Russia out of eastern Ukraine. If sanctions are the only message the West can send, it had better start amplifying those, and fast.