United States to Russia: Do as We Say, Not as We Do

U.S. involvement in Ukraine is counterproductive because it pushes all the wrong buttons for Russia, especially now that relations between Putin and President Obama are at an all-time low.
“From Moscow’s point of view, any form of direct U.S. involvement in Ukrainian security operations could grow over time into stronger assistance, possibly including U.S. troops on the ground.” ((Possible U.S. Involvement in Ukraine Could Heighten Tensions. Geopolitical Diary, Stratfor Global Intelligence. April 25, 2014. Available: http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical-diary/possible-us-involvement-ukraine-could-heighten-tensions))

However, the Russians are convinced that the latest operation by Ukrainian security forces is evidence of U.S. military assistance. On Thursday, Ukrainian forces stormed several Russian separatist checkpoints in Slovyansk, killing five separatists and one police officer. Similar to a previous operation on April 15, the Ukrainians withdrew suddenly, reportedly after receiving intelligence of an increased risk of Russian troops crossing the border. However this time the Ukrainian personnel were better prepared and had more professional gear, such as body armor and small arms equipped with high-end reflexive fire sights. For the Russians, such a drastic improvement can only mean direct U.S. involvement, specifically through the U.S. security firm, Greystone.

Their evidence is circumstantial and the Ukrainians have been denying similar claims for some time, but on Wednesday the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister didn’t help matters when he said, “Each day we receive [dozens of tips] on how to conduct anti-terrorist operations. We even conducted consultations with American experts, which…have decades of experience on combatting terrorism and they said that we are conducting a good anti-terrorist policy.” [backref name=“Possible U.S. Involvement Could Heighten Tensions”]

If the United States really wants a diplomatic solution, this is not the way to go about it.

Putin Must Restore Harmony in Ukraine

The situation in Ukraine has alternated between rhythm and discord. The music began when Ukraine decided to pursue an Association Agreement with the EU. The first discordant note sounded when the Ukrainian president was told that he must end relations with Russia. His decision not to sign the AA resulted in local protests, which culminated in Victoria Nuland’s phone call. In retrospect, this phone call was probably misleading. Unfortunately, it’s given credence to Putin’s focus on the United States. Conflict between Russia and the United States is certainly safer for Putin in the short term than conflict with the EU. However, he seems to be using the U.S. to avoid dialogue with his closer neighbors. In my opinion, Putin is on the line to respond appropriately to Keiv’s latest attempts to restore harmony.

Ukraine’s leaders have responded to his concerns in two ways: by addressing the radical right, and by indicating a willingness to discuss the federalization of Ukraine. These things should have the potential to end the crisis, but at this time the pro-Russian groups in Eastern Ukraine are out of step. Regardless of whether Russia is supporting them, if Putin fails to call them to order he is at fault.

Some are now saying that the United States’ presence in Poland is part of the problem. However, the American strategy has clearly been defensive so far. The administration probably wants to demonstrate support for Central Europe, as has been stated. The reason: if these countries believe they have been left on their own to face Russia, they might decide they have no choice but to make peace with Putin. NATO can’t handle Central Europe’s requests for help because NATO is cash-poor and divided. Therefore, the United States has to take up some of the slack. [ref]From Estonia to Azerbaijan: American Strategy After Ukraine. Stratfor Global Intelligence. March 25, 2014. available:http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/estonia-azerbaijan-american-strategy-after-ukraine?topics=286[/ref]

All things considered, it’s difficult to make the case that this is another Cold War as some on the Left would like us to believe. It’s not a conflict between the United States and Russia, except perhaps for purposes of propaganda. The U.S. has clearly been playing a supporting role to the EU and Obama’s continuing restraint supports this view. Harsh retaliation has been ruled out because it would damage the EU as much as Russia.

No one is forgetting that Russian security was threatened, but Russia is not under threat from the United States at this time. Putin must work with his neighbors in the EU and Ukraine. Perhaps he believes his focus on the U.S. will win support for his personal agenda. Too bad Obama hasn’t taken his bait.

It’s Putin’s turn to strike a chord. He should end this.