Sunday, March 13, 2016

European ‘Ennui’ Threatens Ukraine and World
Europe, that pretentious group of countries with self-anointed visions of grandeur and holier-than-thou temperaments, has tired of having to deal with Ukraine. Russia’s war against Ukraine and Kyiv’s erratic escape from Moscow’s subjugation thru brambles of domestic corruption to a sovereign democratic existence have tested European leaders’ patience beyond their limited thresholds of tolerance.
But Europe’s irrepressible, gaping yawn can endanger Ukraine and pave the way to its demise at the hands of a stalking, belligerent Russia.
Geoffrey R. Pyatt, US ambassador to Ukraine, a staunch advocate of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and indivisibility, elaborated in a recent interview that Kyiv faces the threat of what he described as “Ukraine fatigue” from its fair-weather (my description) European allies.
Throughout its history, Ukrainians have demonstrated a strong desire to live freely, according to their culture and customs. When threatened by neighbors, notably Russia, they fought bravely against successive invasions, occasionally seeking help from allies, which oftentimes arrived in the form of words and sanctions rather than critically needed lethal defensive arms.
Today, a quarter of a century after declaring its independence and reestablishing an independent state, Ukraine made a courageous choice for democracy, freedom, nuclear nonproliferation and European integration and was then punished by a Russian invasion.
Ukraine’s travails have become more than the leaders in Berlin, Rome, Paris, London, Madrid and the other capitals are able to absorb and endure. Europeans, who have known foreign occupations throughout their histories, are sighing in relief that today they aren’t now victims of foreign occupation.
In an interview with earlier this month, Pyatt articulated the following points about today’s Ukraine:
·         Ukraine is key to the concept of “Europe, whole, free, and at peace.”
·         Ukraine “looks to join the Europe of values” – after all that is what the Revolution of Dignity was all about.
·         Ukraine has made a choice for Europe.
·         A sanctions rollback by Europe would mean sacrificing European values for Russian money.
Pyatt, a career diplomat who took office in Kyiv in August 2013, emphasized that Ukrainians – not merely the bureaucrats in Kyiv – but the people favor integration with Europe and a decent life in a close relationship with Europeans and their standards. After all, during the recent Revolution of Dignity, the third flag carried by millions of protesters after the Ukrainian national flag and the red and black flag of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was the star-studded EU flag.
“Kyiv is the most pro-European capital on the continent,” he said.
While European leaders yawn when discussions turn to Ukraine as they hope for a rapprochement with Russia, which really means surrender, Pyatt outlined a different stance for the US: “Our role is not to tell them [the Ukrainians] to accommodate Putin’s imperial ambitions.”
In today’s unsure political and military climates, when Russia is stoking the furnaces of its military-industrial complex and dispatching nuclear-armed jets and submarines around the world in an effort to intimidate already scared global leaders, it is good to hear an American official admit that Russia has imperial ambitions. Recognition is the first step to eliminating the problem.
European leaders have placed a great deal of hope in the so-called Minsk truce accords, which, as I have written, will not lead to regional or global peace and stability. Pyatt strongly pointed out in his interview that “Minsk is not a formula for legitimizing the Russian presence in Donbas.”
The Minsk truce, which Russia has violated every week for the past two years, must not legitimize the Russian occupation of Crimea or any region of Ukraine. It can’t be used as a post-invasion justification for annexing foreign sovereign lands.
At the latest Paris ceasefire meeting, when asked by journalists if there has been a breakthrough, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin responded by saying: “No, I don't have that impression.”
The mere question implies that reporters and parties to the talks crassly regard both sides equally culpable.
Analyst Jeff Rathke, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also implied this when he said both Moscow-backed separatists and Kyiv need to do their parts to move on with a permanent ceasefire and political reforms to break the stalemate.
"On the one hand, decisions have to be made by the Ukrainian authorities,” he said, “but most importantly is the need for the separatists backed by Russia to do their part, and so that remains as a problem, as progress is correspondingly slow and there [have] been no breakthroughs."
The warring sides in Russo-Ukraine War of 2014-16 do not share equal blame. Russia is the one and only aggressor that is also guilty of egregious violations of a wide range of human rights of citizens and foreigners.
Klimkin noted at the Paris gathering that Ukraine continues to insist that all commitments for a cease-fire and withdrawal of weapons be carried out before elections are held.
“We must be able to ensure these elections are organized safely; we need our territory to be secure. Without security we can’t deliver on anything further,” he was quoted as telling reporters.
Appropriately, Pyatt said there was “zero probability” of reviewing sanctions on Russia until the Minsk agreement is fully implemented. This means a ceasefire, the release of hostages and the organization of elections according to OSCE standards – in my view the last prerequisite is of dubious benefit. It also means the withdrawal of Russian fighters and equipment, and the restoration of Ukraine control over its border with Russia. At present, the 400-kilometer long border in the areas held by terrorists is controlled by Russia only. Also add to these demands the dissolution of the Russian imposed renegade republics and surrender of all of its leaders.
As for the future of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, which was occupied by Russia in February 2014 igniting the war, Pyatt declared Washington would not recognize this illegal act.
“We will make the occupation of Crimea as expensive as possible,” he said referring to the economic and political cost Russia is incurring following the annexation.
Europe’s boredom with the Russo-Ukraine War of 2014-16 comes at a dangerous time not only for Ukraine but for Europe itself. News media report that skirmishes and battles between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian invaders occur every week. UNIAN reported on March 12 that Russian-backed separatist forces attacked Ukrainian troops 75 times the previous day. Another source reported earlier this month that Ukrainian intelligence observed six Russian trucks carrying special forces troops arriving in Donbas.
US Ambassador Daniel B. Baer to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna detailed on March 3 Russia’s repulsively high number of violations of the ceasefire: “The United States is concerned that the number of observed ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine is at the highest level since August 2015, exceeding 3,800 in the last week; combined-Russian separatist forces are responsible for the majority of them. Combined Russian-separatist forces have also attacked Ukrainian positions with proscribed heavy weapons, including grad rocket launchers, high caliber mortars, and heavy artillery. We regret that Russia and the separatists have chosen to again escalate the violence ahead of today’s Normandy format Foreign Ministers meeting in Paris. This violence threatens progress toward finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict and calls into question Russia’s and the separatists’ commitment to full implementation of the Minsk agreements.”
In other words, the Minsk peace process that the EU advocates while Moscow disrupts has failed because of Russia’s ongoing duplicity and Europe’s lackadaisical attitude about the guilty party. Russia has also cleverly raised the stakes against peace by joining the war in Syria on the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, further confusing and scaring Europe.
Fortunately, President Barack Obama on March 2 extended a series of sanctions against Russia for one year until March 2017, citing a continuing threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States by the actions and policies of persons that undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine.
The European Union on March 10 also extended sanctions for another six months until September 2016 against individuals and entities involved in the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
To be effective, these sanctions must not have a time limit. They must be maintained and increased until Russia pulls back from Ukraine.
In its dangerous, bored condition, Europe will continue to slide down the slippery slope of accepting Russian violations for the sake of faux peace and stability. It will wrongly increase pressure on Ukraine to accept Russian occupation. It will contribute to an escalation of Russia’s war with Ukraine. And it will give in to each Russian incremental demand as its invading armies proceed west across Ukraine. Moscow is betting that European boredom will allow it to prevail against Ukraine and the other former captive nations. Europe must not break ranks with the free world and x-captive nations in looking for other accommodations with Russia than its complete withdrawal from Ukraine.
Europe must be steadfast in demanding that Russia ends its aggression against Ukraine.