US Urges Russia to Stop “Intimidating” UkraineMarch 28, 2014 in Ukraine
United States President Barack Obama has urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to cut the number of troops it has deployed to its eastern border. The statement by Mr Obama comes as ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych called for a national referendum to determine each region’s “status within Ukraine.”
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Obama stated that the move by Russia may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that Russia has additional plans.” He added that President Vladimir Putin had been “willing to show a deeply-held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union.” He also warned that the Russian leader should not “revert back to the kinds of practices that were so prevalent during the Cold War,” adding “I think there’s a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past.”
Russia is believed to have deployed a force of several thousand troops close to Ukraine’s eastern frontier. Although the Kremlin has stated that it has no plans to take over the eastern regions of Ukraine, tensions in Ukraine and in other former Soviets states have continued to rise.
A new classified intelligence assessment has also concluded that it is more likely than previously that Russian forces will enter eastern Ukraine. Although US intelligence officials have emphasized that nothing is certain, they have indicated that over the past three to four days, there have been several worrying signs. According to one official, “this has shifted our thinking that the likelihood of a further Russian incursion is more probable than it was previously thought to be.” The build up along Russia’s eastern border with Ukraine is reminiscent of Moscow’s military moves before it went into Chechnya and Georgia in both numbers of units and their capabilities.
The assessment makes several new points including:
- Troops on Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine, which exceed 30,000, are “significantly more” than what is needed for the “exercises” Russia says it has been conducting, and there is no sign the forces are making any move to return to their home bases.
- The troops on the border with Ukraine include large numbers of “motorized” units that can quickly move. Additional Special Forces, airborne troops, air transport and other units that would be needed appear to be at a higher state of mobilization in other locations in Russia.
- Russian troops already on the border include air defence artillery and wheeled vehicles.
According to US intelligence officials, there is additional intelligence that even more Russian forces are “reinforcing” the border region. All of the troops are in positions for potential military action. The US currently believes that Russia may decide to enter eastern Ukraine in order to establish a land bridge into Crimea. The belief is that Russian forces would move toward three Ukrainian cities: Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk in order to establish land access into Crimea. According to US intelligence information, Russian forces are currently positioned in and around Rostov, Kursk and Belgorod.
In response to growing unrest amongst Western leaders, a Russian security official has also stated that intelligence measures are now being stepped up in order to counter Western threats to Moscow’s influence. Alexander Malevany, deputy head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) was quoted as saying “there has been a sharp increase in external threats to the state. The lawful desire of the peoples of Crimea and eastern Ukrainian regions is causing hysteria in the United States and its allies.” He added that Russia was taking “offensive intelligence measures” to counter Western efforts to “weaken Russian influence in a region that is of vital importance to Moscow.”
Meanwhile on Thursday, Ukraine’s highly-divisive opposition leader, and former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, announced her plans to run in the presidential polls which have been set for 25 May 2014, following last month’s fall of a pro-Kremlin regime. The dramatic announcement completes a highly improbable return to national politics that underscores the scale of changes that have shaken the former Soviet republic in the past few weeks.
Speaking to reporters shortly after walking into a pressroom, the 53-year-old confirmed “I intend to run for president of Ukraine.” In 2010, Tymoshenko, one of the most charismatic and outspoken leaders of Ukraine’s 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, lost a close presidential poll to Victor Yanukovych after heading two pro-Western cabinets that became embroiled in fighting and eventually lost popular support. During her speech, Tymoshenko attempted to paint herself as a compromise figure who could look after the interests of her older supporters but who could also be able to find common ground with the Russian speakers who are now looking towards the Kremlin for assistance.
Shortly after the 2010 vote, her political downfall was rapid and seemingly fatal as Yanukovych’s government quickly launched a series of criminal probes against his political rival. This led to a controversial trial over Tymoshenko’s role in agreeing to a 2009 gas contract with Russia that many Ukrainians though came at too high a cost. In October 2011, she was convicted of abusing her power and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison, a sentencing that Western nations denounced as the use of selective justice.
However on 22 February 2014, the day the Ukrainian parliament ousted Yanukovych for his role in the deaths of nearly 100 protesters in Kiev earlier that month, she emerged triumphantly from a state hospital, where she had spent most of her sentence under guard. Hours after her release, she arrived at the protest square in the heart of Kiev, which had also served as the crucible of the 2004 pro-democracy movement that had propelled her political career. However the crowd’s reception of Tymoshenko was guarded, a sign of their growing weariness of the corruption allegations that had been made against her. Many now believe that the pro-Western government movement that Tymoshenko once headed is now looking towards a new generation of leaders who played a more prominent role in the latest protests and who now hold key position sin the new interim government.