There will be no U.S. military involvement in Ukraine, President Barack Obama reconfirmed in Manila on Monday.
“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?” he said in a snub to the weekend war hawks on the Sunday morning talk shows.
“Frankly, most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people have no interest in participating in,” Obama said. “Do people actually think us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could deter the Russian army?”
Ukraine has practically begged the U.S. for military aid to help fight pro-Russian militants on its border with Russia. But senior government officials said that would be a waste of time and treasure.
“There’s not going to be any scenario where the Ukrainian military is brought quickly up to parity with the Russian military,” one administration official said during a press conference in Washington today. ”This is not the type of action that usually has the most significant deterrent on Russia’s calculus. We have a far greater ability to affect Russia and impose a cost on Russia by imposing sanctions rather than by that type of provision of assistance.”
A second round of sanctions was announced Monday by both Washington and Brussels. Seventeen companies with ties to Russian political figures or oligarchs believed to be providing support to anti-Ukrainian militants were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, including more subsidiaries belonging to the Rossiya Bank group and visa sanctions on Russian politician Igor Sechin, the chairman of Russian oil major Rosneft.
Obama played good cop to Treasury’s bad cop in reaffirming his pledge against a Western military response in Ukraine. His move follows reports today that British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told his military commanders that British troops “would not go into battle to help save Ukraine if Russia invaded.”
Under such a scenario, Russia will likely face harsher sanctions. The Obama administration has not named any names of companies on its future hit list, saying there was no need to make forecasts at this time. Washington is acutely aware of the fact that Gazprom — one of the companies that would exact the harshest punishment to date against Russia — supplies nearly 30% of Europe’s natural gas. Russia has retaliated against political foes before by turning off gas supplies. It is unclear whether the U.S., currently awash in natural gas, could quickly make up for Russian shortfalls. Or come close to Russian prices.
Obama is attempting to remove the tail risks associated with the tense situation in Ukraine. But with elections less than a month away there, tensions are expected to worsen.
Russia expert, Keith Darden, wrote in oped in The New York Times on Monday that the “war on truth” in Ukraine is a symptom and an accelerator of Ukraine’s chances of a messy and bloody outcome. Darden believes the only path toward peace is through free and fair elections on May 25. But this cannot be accomplished without Kiev incorporating the country’s south and east into the government mainframe as soon as possible. As it stands, pro-Russian factions in border towns in the East have hinted at wanting to become autonomous regions, or secede.
Last month, on March 16, the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine’s Black Sea voted to be annexed by Russia.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has observers on the ground ahead of next month’s election. But the Kiev government and Russian separatists restrict its movements. Eight OSCE monitors were kidnapped over the weekend by the separatists in Slovyansk, a city in the Donetsk province roughly four hours by car from the Russian border. May’s election will most likely be ripe with conspiracy theorists from both sides.
Darden says Russia, the U.S., Ukraine and Europe should give OSCE more resources and authority to provide a neutral accounting of facts to avoid election myth-making.
“Ultimately, though, the ability to restore legitimate authority lies in the Kiev government’s hands,” Darden writes. “Kiev seems set on doing so through force of arms, but legitimacy does not grow from the barrel of a gun. It comes through fair elections. For them to be seen as fair, Kiev’s leaders must better incorporate the country’s south and east into the government before the voting begins. If they don’t, Russia might incorporate them first – at the point of its own guns.”
See: The War On Truth In Ukraine – The New York Times
European Leaders Urge Obama To Export U.S. Natural Gas – The Guardian