According to NATO, Russia has 35,000 to 40,000 combat-ready troops on its border with the Ukraine, which could be launched into action on as little as 12 hours.
“UKRAINE: Russische Soldaten laut Nato sofort einsatzbereit; Die Nato spricht von ungewöhnlichen Vorgängen an der russisch-ukrainischen Grenze; Das westliche Militärbündnis zählt bis zu 40.000 Soldaten in dem Grenzgebiet,” Die Zeit, 10. April 2014 (17:28 Uhr).
“UKRAINE: Nato fürchtet russischen Einmarsch in die Ukraine; Russische Truppen sind an der ukrainischen Grenze stationiert; In wenigen Tagen könnten sie laut Nato alle Ziele im Nachbarland erreichen; Die Lage sei besorgniserregend,” Die Zeit, 2. April 2014 (16:04 Uhr).
These are Russian actions which deserve urgent attention.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reassured Secretary of State John Kerry and others in the West that Russia will respect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. These are Russian words, the same ones he used days before the Russian invasion of the Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has reassured German Chancellor Merkel that Russian troops would be withdrawn from the border. These are Russian words. The troops have not been withdrawn.
We should not place any trust in these words, which come from known liars. We should not trust either Putin or Lavrov, or anything either of them says. They have been telling blatant lies as part of the Russian propaganda campaign, and have lied directly both to John Kerry and to Angela Merkel.
As the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the Ukraine prepare to meet on April 17, Western leaders and everyone else needs to understand that the only language of genuine communication between Russia and the West is now the language of actions. Consequently, they should go to the meeting with new actions that have already been taken, and which they can use to communicate with the Russians.
So far, Russian actions include:
1) The invasion and annexation of the Crimea;
2) The infiltration of agents provacateurs into the eastern Ukraine to foment disturbances;
3) Demands that the Ukraine meet Russian demands for Ukrainian constitutional reforms granting greater regional autonomy to Russian-speaking regions, backed by the palpable threat of military intervention represented by invasion-ready military forces on the border;
4) An increase in gas prices to some $100.00 above market prices, on top of an increase that wipes out the concessionary price established in international agreements which extended Russia’s lease on naval facilities in Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based.
In addition, Russia has demanded payment of an additional $11 billion dollars as repayment for concessionary price discounts since the lease agreements were signed in 2010, on the theory that since the Ukraine is part of Russia these lease agreements and concessionary gas price agreements are void; and
5) Russia has now demanded payment one month in advance for future gas deliveries to the Ukraine, and threatens to halt deliveries if payment is not made.
So far, Western Actions have included:
1) The imposition of targeted sanctions on less than three dozen individuals from Russia, the Crimea, and the Ukraine, and one Russian bank;
2) Development of lists of additional or “stage-three” sanctions which might be imposed (e.g., if Russia invades the eastern Ukraine), including trade, financial and other sanctions which could have a very serious impact on Russia (as well as Western countries);
2) The commitment of financial assistance to the Ukraine from the EU, the U.S. ($1 billion), and the International Monetary Fund ($15 billion, contingent on financial reforms in Ukraine);
3) Deployment of additional surveillance and fighter aircraft to NATO members Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia; and
4) The scheduling of additional NATO military maneuvers in eastern NATO member states; and
5) The dispatch of 100 OSCE observers to the Ukraine, which German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is now pushing to increase to 500 observers, in compliance with an earlier OSCE decision to which Russia agreed.
Absence of Strategy and Sanctions to Compel Russia to Return the Crimea
The West has failed to adopt any sanctions or other measures designed to force Russia to undo its invasion and annexation of the Crimea.
Ominously, officials in both the U.S. and the EU, have hinted they might be prepared to continue doing business with Russia so long as it doesn’t commit further aggression by invading the eastern Ukraine, leaving it in possession of the Crimea with little more than verbal and diplomatic protests from the West.
The loudest “action” by the West with respect to undoing the invasion and annexation of the Crimea has been a failure to act. The “slap on the wrist” measures of the first- and second-round sanctions cannot be taken seriously as measures to produce a rollback.
The West has failed to adopt the extremely obvious economic sanction of prohibiting financial or other business transactions with any company operating in or doing business with the Crimea (corrected).
Actions Going Forward
Decision makers in the diplomats’ meeting with the Russians on April 17 need to communicate with Russia in the language of actions, not merely the verbal formulations of diplomacy, which insofar as Russia is concerned have neglible effect. All the diplomatic words and entreaties, and telephone calls to Putin and Lavrov, do not appear to have affected the language of actions which Russia is speaking.
Russia speaks in actions from a strong position, having invaded and annexed part of another country, in open violation of the most fundamental norms of the U.N. Charter, international law, and the postwar political, economic, and legal order.
Will the West’s responses, in the language of actions, be up to the task of halting and rolling back Russian aggression, and its ill-gotten gains?
If we connect the dots, and take note of the fact that Japan has in the last day reversed its policy of reducing its plutonium stocks–whether by coincidence or not–we can glimpse in an instant how critical the answer to the preceding question may be.
See Hiroko Tabuchi, “Japan Pushes Plan to Stockpile Plutonium, Despite Proliferation Risks,” New York Times, April 9, 2014.
Helene Cooper and Martin Fackle, “U.S. Response to Crimea Worries Japan’s Leaders,”
New York Times, April 5, 2014.
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