The State Department is candid, at least. A “media note” reiterates that “On April 12, armed pro-Russian militants seized government buildings in a coordinated and professional operation conducted in six cities in eastern Ukraine. Many of the militants were outfitted in bullet-proof vests and camouflage uniforms with insignia removed and carrying Russian-origin weapons. These armed units, some wearing black and orange St. George’s ribbons associated with Russian Victory Day celebrations, have raised Russian and separatist flags over the buildings they seized, and called for referendums and union with Russia.”
State notes that this is precisely what occurred preceding Russia’s takeover of Crimea. After detailing mounting evidence of Russian efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine, the missive states: “Russia is now using the same tactics that it used in Crimea in order to foment separatism, undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, and exercise control over its neighbor in contravention of Russia’s obligations under international law.”
But that is not all: “The U.S. Defense Department, meanwhile, protested what it described as harassment of a U.S. Navy ship by a Russian attack aircraft Saturday in the Black Sea. A military official who was not authorized to speak on the record said Monday that the Russian aircraft, an apparently unarmed Sukhoi Su-25, made ‘multiple close-range, low-altitude passes’ near the USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer, for 90 minutes while the ship was conducting unspecified ‘routine operations’ in international waters.”
There is no aggression it seems that Russian President Vladimir Putin is unwilling to undertake; he knows the West’s response, if any, will be puny and late.If you can believe it, the administration is once again shocked, just shocked, to learn there’s Russian aggression going on there:
The Obama administration is reevaluating the situation on daily basis, revising their previous assumption that Russia would not interfere so blatantly in Eastern Ukraine ahead of the upcoming diplomatic conference.
“People were very alarmed,” the official said, noting that “the people who study Russia weren’t as surprised.”
There is still some internal disagreement inside the Obama administration over whether to proceed with sanctions against broad sectors of the Russian economy or with more targeted sanctions against Russian politicians, oligarchs, and perhaps some of the institutions those politicians and oligarchs are connected to. So far, the U.S. has sanctioned 31 Russian individuals and one Russian bank. U.S. officials believe the sanctions against Putin’s business associates have had some effect and could be expanded.
Military exercises may also be in the offing. Maybe all this should have taken place after Russia grabbed Crimea?
NATO is forever in a state of denial that Putin will do whatever outside-the-NATO-capitals expects. NATO’s new modus operandi seems to be: Issue strong statements, confirm Russian aggression, target specific perpetrators and then repeat when the next act of aggression surprises the West. Unless and until the administration acts robustly and exact a real economic and political toll on Russia, don’t expect Putin to stop at eastern Ukraine.