Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Battle Over Eastern Ukraine Coming To A Head, Russia Threatens War If Sweden Joins NATO

Battle over eastern Ukraine coming to a head - Business Insider

Just one sentence, inserted into a complex piece of legislation, caused some to wonder whether Kiev has been sold out by its Western allies.

One sentence that was too much for many Ukrainians. One sentence that was not enough for the Kremlin. One sentence that the United States reportedly lobbied heavily for to assure that Kiev was holding up its end of the Minsk cease-fire.
The sentence: "The particulars of local government in certain districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are to be determined by a special law." 
This controversy over that one sentence in amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution aimed at devolving some power to the regions is the latest step in the delicate, duplicitous, and dangerous dance between Ukraine and Russia in the twilight of the Donbas war.
From the moment the ink dried on the Minsk cease-fire back in February, it was obvious that the thorniest problem to solve would be how the separatist-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts would ultimately be reintegrated into Ukraine.
War is politics by other means and the Kremlin's goals in Donbas are ultimately political.
"The Kremlin, for its part, is losing interest in the armed conflict it helped create: It wants to move on from military interference in Ukraine to quieter political destabilization," political commentator Leonid Bershidsky wrote in Bloomberg View. 
Russia is seeking to have the rebel-held areas enjoy broad autonomy inside Ukraine — a status similar to that enjoyed by Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And Moscow wants this status enshrined in Ukraine's constitution. A Ukraine decentralized to the point of dysfunction, after all, would make it all the easier for Moscow to meddle in Kiev's affairs.
But the fact that the version of the law now before parliament does — and the fact that US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland traveled to Kiev and met with lawmakers on the day they voted for its first reading — has made many in the Ukrainian capital nervous.
"Has the United States sold out Ukraine in exchange for Iran and Syria?" asked a headline in
Likewise, in an interview with that same publication, Taras Stetskiv, a former member of the Ukrainian parliament, asked: "What exactly has Russia bought with its signature under the deal to close down Iran's nuclear program? At least a special status for the Donbas in the constitution, and that's why Nuland came to control the vote."

But while Ukrainians like Stetskiv may be suspicious that they have been sold out to Moscow, the Kremlin and its surrogates were unsatisfied.
"Poroshenko's amendments to the draft constitution are a far cry from the Minsk agreements and close only to the political whims of Poroshenko himself," Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted

The Russian ambassador to Sweden has claimed that Moscow would take "countermeasures" should Sweden join the military alliance.
Viktor Tatarinstev made the threat during an interview with Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. He said that there would be "consequences" if Sweden became the latest nation to join NATO, writes Zachary Davis Boren for The Independent.
Potential NATO membership provokes opposition from Russia
Tatarinstev claimed that "Sweden is not a target for our armed troops," despite what he called an "aggressive propaganda campaign" in the Swedish media.
The Swedish public has increasingly displayed support for the country to join NATO, and Tatarinstev warned "if it happens, there will be counter measures."
"Putin pointed out that there will be consequences, that Russia will have to resort to a response of the military kind and re-orientate our troops and missiles," he said. "The country that joins Nato needs to be aware of the risks it is exposing itself to."
A number of reports surfaced last year which pointed to an increased Russian presence in the Baltic Sea. In one incident, a foreign submarine was spotted in Swedish waters, and suspicion fell on Moscow.
The presence of a foreign submarine has prompted plans for a series of upgrades to the Swedish Navy in order to improve its ability to detect submarine activity, according to Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist.
Additionally Russian warplanes have been behaving increasingly aggressively towards their Swedish counterparts, and fighter-bombers were seen in Swedish airspace last year.
That incident was described by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt as "the most serious aerial incursion by the Russians" in nearly ten years.
Earlier this month Supreme Commander Sverker Goransson of the Swedish Air Force told a seminar that Russian aircraft are not abiding by normal rules of conduct between military planes.
Goransson accused Russian planes of breaking formation, flying too close to Swedish planes and firing decoy flares at Swedish aircraft. He believes that such actions are "sanctioned at the highest level. Otherwise they wouldn't act this way."
NATO is increasingly worried by the aggressive behavior of Russian aircraft and naval vessels. The Navy is one area that Russia is upgrading, with two new warship designs revealed in May. The "Shtorm" multipurpose heavy aircraft carrier and the "Shval" destroyer are part of a modernization program which will also see Russia build its own amphibious assault ships after a deal with France fell through.
Vladimir Putin recently announced that Russia will spend $400 billion by 2020 in order to modernize its armed forces. As well as the new ships, Moscow has developed a state of the art tank known as the Armata, and plans to upgrade missile and other heavy weapons technology.
As NATO forces encroach on areas close to Russia, Moscow is becoming increasingly aggressive in both its rhetoric and its military activity. NATO has responded by carrying out large military drills close to Russian borders, a move which has done nothing to calm the situation.

Western politicians have attempted to isolate Russia on the international stage through a series of economic sanctions, but the accession of India and Pakistan to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, led by Russia and China, provides evidence that Russia does not stand alone. Russia's membership of the SCO and the BRICS grouping goes to show that Moscow still has some influence internationally.

Putin's wish to drive greater cooperation with China should also be a worry for the West, and there is a distinct possibility that the two nations pursue strategic alliances which could constitute a new threat to U.S. global hegemony. Western sanctions may only succeed in pushing Russia away from Europe and into the arms of China and other Asian partners.

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