12:36 GMT15 May 2021
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    Kiev is beefing up its military presence near its borders with Russia's Republic of Crimea. Meanwhile, Washington is considering cutting financial aid to Ukraine by nearly 70%. Russian observers say that the two events are connected, and that Ukraine's leaders are prodding to try to determine just how far their US allies will continue to back them.

    Earlier this week, US media offered a glimpse of the Trump Budget Office's ambitious plans to cut USAID funding, showing that Ukraine is facing a hefty 68.8% reduction in economic assistance, from the $570 million this year to $177 million in 2018.

    Responding to the possible cuts, Kiev has been left trying to make the best of a bad situation. Ukraine's Embassy in the US issued a statement saying that the reports of a 68.8% cut were erroneous, and that the actual proposed cut was 'only' roughly 30%. Kiev is actually looking to get $90 million more in support in 2018, the Embassy said.

    Ukrainian politics observers say that if the cuts do go through, ordinary citizens will hardly be affected, since it is the country's political, media and 'civil society' elites that are engaged in dividing up most of the US's economic aid spending amongst themselves. 

    "This is an important issue for those who have gotten used to living off of grants, and depending on US support for certain sectors of the economy – first and foremost the defense sector," political analyst Kost Bondarenko said, speaking to local media. "But it wasn't worth expecting anything else; Trump has always said that he would cut aid to other countries and direct these funds toward the needs of Americans," he added.

    But as Svobodnaya Pressa contributor Anna Sedova explained, Ukraine's authorities are probably concerned not only by the possible cut in aid spending, but with consequent cuts in political and military support as well.

    This week, Donetsk People's Republic authorities reported on the arrival of US military instructors in the conflict zone in Donbass. Meanwhile, on Thursday, Ukraine announced plans to hold more military drilling near the border with Crimea, as part of an overall buildup on the Russian peninsula's border.

    Respected Russian political scientist Sergei Markov suggested that the US presence in the Donbass is a test of a different kind – an effort by the Pentagon to determine just how far the White House will continue supporting Ukraine in principle. 

    "The new leadership in the Pentagon is trying to assess what was done by their predecessors, and to figure out what to do in the future. Right now, apparently, a new US policy is taking shape in relation to Ukraine, quietly, behind the scenes," Markov wrote, commenting on the suspected Donbass deployment on his Facebook page.

    The analyst believes that Ukraine will certainly try to do everything it can to influence Washington as the latter considers reducing its support, warning that Kiev may even stage some kind of large-scale provocation to push the US back into their corner.

    "Provocations are needed to ensure that the US doesn't reduce its report. They want to tell the Americans 'if there is no US support, there will be a pro-Russian uprising, and then Ukraine will move into Russia's orbit," Markov noted.

    Speaking to Svobodnaya Pressa, the expert emphasized that for now, "no one knows for certain just how large such a provocation can be, and what their outcome would be. But one thing is for certain: the current US administration is very unhappy with the result of its Ukraine policy, and they are preparing to change it. This is why an audit is taking place of all [US] programs – the results of work are being checked across the board. This is taking place fairly quietly, but Ukraine's authorities are certainly aware of this process, and are trying to influence the results" accordingly.

    Markov pointed out that similar provocations aimed at Trump have been carried out in other parts of the world, and have enjoyed success. This includes the alleged chemical attack in Idlib, Syria earlier this month, which rebels blamed on Damascus, and to which Trump responded by bombing a Syrian airbase. According to the analyst, it certainly cannot be excluded that the present authorities in Kiev would sink to the same level and stage a similar provocation in a bid to shore up support from the West.

    "Everyone saw that the provocation in Idlib worked very well. And it's worth recalling that this is not the first time that something like this has happened [in Ukraine]. For example, the Malaysian Boeing was shot down [in 2014] according to the same strategy. It cannot be excluded that the same methods may be used now," Markov warned. 

    Ultimately, the analyst stressed that it was difficult to predict exactly how all this will play out. "After all, organizing a provocation on the level of the downed Boeing is not easy," he noted. Nevertheless, amid a deteriorating political and socio-economic situation, and facing the prospect of being abandoned by their Western sponsors, Moscow should be prepared for any provocations that the Maidan-installed authorities in Kiev throw at them.


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    expert analysis, financial aid, aid, aid money, provocation, elites, USAID, Ukrainian army, Ukraine, Crimea, Russia
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