James George Jatras
Deputy Director, AIU
Today Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk announced that he was sending the Verkhovna Rada (just dissolved earlier this week under decree from President Petro Poroshenko) a bill to revoke Ukraine’s non-bloc status and to put it back on the path to NATO member candidacy. The call comes in advance of next week’s summit of the alliance in Wales.
Yatsenyuk’s attempt to "play the NATO card” also comes on the heels of yesterday’s accusation that Russian military forces directly had "invaded” Ukraine. According to the well-established pattern, the claim immediately was echoed by screaming headlines around the world, especially in English-language media, sometimes attributed to the Kiev administration but more often simply reported as established fact.
But with just a day’s passage, the latest round of Kiev’s (and on cue, NATO’s) shouting "Wolf!” (or actually, "Bear!”) already is following the trajectory of earlier unsubstantiated claims. (See, for example, with respect to an earlier "invasion” claim: "Kiev in U-turn over claim that 'Russian tanks, artillery and 1,200 fighters' had been deployed in Eastern Ukraine as evidence fails to materialise,” August 20.) In this latest case, instead of real proof of the direct involvement of Russian forces, there are a few grainy satellite photos (from the usual private contractor) subject to conflicting interpretation, a handful of confused Russian paratroopers peacefully taken into custody on the wrong side of the border, and "confirmation” of the fact disputed by absolutely nobody that there are Russian volunteers serving with the anti-Kiev forces.
To the surprise of some, even President Barack Obama in his news conference yesterday made no reference to any "invasion” but again sought to put the entire blame for the civil war in eastern Ukraine on Russia on the basis of the latter’s support for the anti-Kiev forces:
There is no doubt that this is not a homegrown, indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine. The separatists are backed, trained, armed, financed by Russia.
Obama’s remarks about Ukraine bear comparison to his thoughts expressed at the same news conference with respect to Syria, where anti-government rebels are "backed, trained, armed, financed” by the United States and our regional allies. Does that mean the Syrian rebels are not "a homegrown, indigenous uprising”? Certainly official Washington would not say so. So why is Ukraine different?
Similarly, Obama said that Syria’s Assad "has lost legitimacy in terms of dropping barrel bombs on innocent families and killing tens of thousands of people.” So why is it so hard to believe that inhabitants of Lugansk, Donetsk, and other places in Ukraine reject the legitimacy of the Kiev regime that has bombed and shelled them? Evidently Ukrainians will be permitted to question Kiev’s legitimacy only when the current toll of over two thousand killed reaches the level of the carnage in Syria.
Perhaps most noteworthy, President Obama ruled out a military solution to the Ukraine crisis and made a point of noting that Ukraine is not a NATO member covered by the security guarantee of Article 5. This perhaps portends that Yatsenyuk’s NATO gambit will garner a less than enthusiastic reception next week even from the Americans, apart from expected European opposition.
Ukraine’s collapsing economy and deteriorating military situation with the opening of a southern front along the Sea of Azov should have spelled the end of efforts of trying to solve the country’s political problems through military means, which entails attacking civilian areas and creating a humanitarian crisis – a crisis callously ignored by western governments. Europe certainly would favor a ceasefire and negotiations, as would the Russians.
But with Washington’s obstinate backing of the faltering military effort and domestic pressure from radical nationalist groups like Svoboda and Pravy Sektor, Kiev still refuses to take that path. As Poroshenko made clear in Minsk earlier this week, he is willing to discuss a political settlement with the easterners only after they are defeated or decide to lay down their arms – an expectation increasingly divorced from reality.