8 July 2014, 18:14

Kiev Chooses Bombs Over Talks: US Approves, Europe Suspicious

View from window of a Lugansk apartment damaged by Ukrainian forces' mortar fire. 

View from window of a Lugansk apartment damaged by Ukrainian forces' mortar fire. 

View from window of a Lugansk apartment damaged by Ukrainian forces' mortar fire. 

By David Kerans

WASHINGTON (VR)— The wedge between Ukraine and Russia over how to handle unrest in the eastern regions of Ukraine is on the verge of producing a serious wedge between the US and Western Europe. The immediate catalyst for both of these wedges is, of course, the escalating aggression Ukraine’s government is visiting on its own population in the eastern regions of the country.

Consistent with the spirit of the Maidan Coup that brought right wing Ukrainian nationalism to center stage, the administration of new president Petro Poroshenko in Kiev continues to spurn negotiation with anti-Maidan self-defence forces in eastern Ukraine, in favor of bombardments.

The US has tacitly supported Kiev’s confrontational attitude toward its Russian-speaking regions and toward the interests of the Russian Federation, and has thus facilitated Poroshenko’s evasion of opportunities to negotiate. Ray McGovern, a veteran CIA analyst and founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) pointed out to Radio VR that Western European powers traditionally faithful to the US are running out of patience: “The cynicism (of Ukraine’s US-backed aggression) is becoming clear to Germany and France. They refused to go into Iraq 13 years ago, remember….What we are seeing is the ending of the US’s vassal state system in Western Europe, and that’s big.”

McGovern explained that several European heads of state were on the telephone together on Sunday, June 29th, to try to iron out a path to successful negotiations in Ukraine, but they declined to include President Obama in the discussion.

Then, when they saw Ukraine escalating the violence in the east over the next two days, they hastily convened four-way talks in Berlin between Ukraine, Russia, German, and France with the goal of arranging a clear opportunity for Poroshenko’s administration to negotiate a solution with representatives of the anti-Maidan movement in eastern Ukraine. And again, as McGovern wrote last week, “There was no sign… that Secretary of State John Kerry was invited…. This marginalization of the U.S. is a consequence of a well-founded suspicion that Poroshenko’s fateful decision to ‘attack’ came with Washington’s encouragement.”

As we reported at the time of the four-way talks in Berlin, a “contact group” including representatives from the east was meant to meet in Kiev on Sunday July 5th to lay the groundwork for formal negotiations. But in the sequel those representatives could not travel to the capital amidst waves of attacks from Ukrainian military forces on various towns in the east. Kiev has done nothing to facilitate the convening of the contact group in the days since, electing instead to continue military attacks.

The stakes in the armed confrontation between Kiev and the self-defense forces of the east are rising sharply now, as the self-defense forces are retreating onto the two regional capitals under their effective control, Donetsk and Lugansk. The Ukrainian government forces, for their part, are cordoning off those cities in preparation for siege attacks. Considering that Donetsk has nearly a million inhabitants, and Lugansk over 400,000, Kiev’s uncompromising aggression promises to bring massive bloodshed.

The violence is already alarming and tragic. Speaking to journalists during an official visit to Bulgaria, Russian Foreign Mnister Sergei Lavrov said that current events in Ukraine remind us of Belgrade in 1999,"when NATO bombarded Yugoslavia for 11 weeks without any authorization from the United Nations.

Ukrainian officials are not ambiguous about how ruthlessly they intend to proceed. Mykhailo Koval, the National Security and Defence Council deputy chief, said on Monday “There is a clear strategic plan, which has been approved. The plan is focused on two major regional centers: Lugansk and Donetsk. These cities will be completely blockaded," and then “corresponding measures will force the separatists, the bandits, to lay down their arms.”

The reality of Kiev’s ruthlessness is not lost on other powers, and over the last 24 hours German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (among others) has urged Ukraine in the strongest terms to resume a cease fire and commence negotiations with representatives of the east. While on a visit to Mongolia, he said "Even if the situation in eastern Ukraine has shifted in favor of the Ukrainian security forces, there will be no purely military resolution of the conflict…. (A ceasefire is an) "essential step to calm the situation (which) must be taken before a political solution can even be considered."

The Ukrainian government does not consider itself obligated to follow advice from other powers, however, be that advice humanitarian or not. During an interview on television Monday, Valerii Chaly, President Poroshenko’s deputy chief of staff told a television interviewer that “How to solve the situation in the country — it is our sovereign right.”

A residential building damaged by an artillery attack in Kramatorsk. Photo credit: © RIA Novosti/Maksim Blinov

Kiev’s intransigence would be difficult to imagine in the absence of approval from Washington. European leaders appear to be reconciled to the conviction that the US is not interested in working towards a negotiated settlement. US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki helped to confirm Europe’s suspicions Monday, when in response to a question about Ukraine’s air strikes on residential areas in the east from RT reporter Gayane Chichakyan she explicitly condoned the bombardment: “The government of Ukraine is defending the country of Ukraine and I think they have every right to do that as does the international community.”

Poroshenko, for his part, dropped an apparent red herring about peace negotiations on Monday, when he told Donetsk mayor Aleksandr Lukyanchenko that he was still entertaining the idea of talks with eastern representatives, and specified the small town of Sviatogorsk as the candidate location. But a statement from Ukrainian Defense Minister Valery Heletey posted on the ministry website on Tuesday clarified that the “rebels” would have to lay down all of their arms before any negotiations could commence.

At the moment, therefore, the only ongoing international meetings to handle the crisis include three parties: Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Absent the participation of representatives from the east, of course, these meetings are not producing any solution.

As Kiev’s aggression rolls on, the international community is openly discussing possibilities for expanding economic sanctions against Russia. But no one has raised the prospects of sanctions against Ukraine, which is perpetrating the aggression and bloodshed.

On the contrary, NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen raised tensions higher all by himself Monday, when he called on all NATO member states to contribute at least 2 percent of GDP in military spending so as to ensure NATO can quickly respond to security threats—clearly a gesture aimed at Russia, whom he accuses of “aggression against Ukraine.” But Europe may not respond. As Fogh Rasmussen noted, only the U.S., Estonia, Britain, and Greece are currently meeting this target.

Russia, for its part, has its own economic cards to play if tensions continue to escalate. For example, the Russian Central Bank announced today that its chairman had just held talks in Beijing with the governor of the People’s Bank of China about establishing swaps between the two nations’ currencies--which would be an important, concrete step towards undermining the regnancy of the US dollar in large trade transactions and threatening its status as the world’s reserve currency (which holds down the US’s borrowing costs, among other things).

Russia’s strongest card so far, however, has been Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, says McGovern: “Russia will not be provoked into doing anything rash in Ukraine…. Putin has shown that Lavrov is his main weapon here, and he has shown real success in weaning France and Germany away from America.” This could be big indeed.

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