On Easter Sunday, a recently brokered deal by the US and its European allies between Ukraine and Russia was shattered.
According to conflicting reports, a “shootout” occurred at a checkpoint in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian financed separatists. At least one person is dead and several were injured. One news report placed the number killed at five.
In the deal brokered in Geneva, Moscow agreed to do everything in its power to dissolve the separatist movements. A poll released this month found a clear majority in eastern Ukraine, though unhappy with the politicians now running the country’s government, do not want to join Russia.
According to Sikorski, “They [the separatists] have equipment that only Russian armed forces possess. And we had seen the pattern in Crimea. It’s an extremely hard task to reform the country, introduce an [International Monetary Fund] adjustment program and defend its territory at the same time.”
Before the ink dried on the Geneva agreement, Putin sat for an interview on national television warning of further incursions to protect Russian minorities and maintain stability in the region. He also repeatedly denied Moscow is organizing or financing separatists in eastern Ukraine or did so in the Crimea, now formally annexed to Russia.
Putin referred to most of eastern and southern Ukraine as “Novorossiya” or “New Russia.” If his expansion strategy is left unchecked, Russia will not only annex almost a third of Ukraine, but he’ll go clear across the country to expand into parts of Moldova, a small nation between Romania and Ukraine.
Sikorski also observed, Putin “wants to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful European/EU-associated country. To that end, he needs to destabilize Ukraine and to upset its electoral calendar and make it more difficult to carry out economic reforms.”
Americans, weary of involvement in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan may wince at Sikorski’s comments inferring why Ukraine must matter to the US, not just Europe.
He told the Post interviewer, “It matters because for the first time since the Second World War, one European country has annexed a province from another European country. And that matters because it is a rejection of our entire legal system and international norms and treaties that we have regarded as the foundation of peace.”
Sikorski added, “Remember, there is not a country in Europe that does not have national minorities. If we went back to protecting them through changing borders, we would be back in the hell of the 20th century and before. This is why what President Putin has done in Crimea and is now doing in eastern Ukraine is so threatening to all of us.”
Four nations - Latvia, Poland, Estonia and Lithuania, with Russian minorities and long historical conflicts with Russia are now part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
NATO members, including the United States, have pledged to defend the other in the event of an attack. In short, an attack whether in the name of protecting Russia’s ethnic minorities or in the spirit of maintaining regional stability by Moscow, would be considered an attack on the US.
Russia could cause another world war.
Hence, Sikorski is urging a focused US approach with the resolve to contain Russia before it gets out of control. This includes a greater NATO presence in Poland and the Baltic States while imposing aggressive sanctions on Russia for the slightest infringement of the recently signed Geneva agreement.
In light of the Easter killings, separatists are calling on Russia to send in “peacekeepers.” The Russian Foreign Ministry has formally blamed the Ukrainian government for violating the Geneva agreement.
Ironically, the killings and provocations on Easter Sunday occurred after the Ukrainian government called for a suspension of hostilities and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was about to send 200 more monitors to the region.
Just days ago, Putin told his country during a nationally televised interview that the upper house of Russia’s parliament granted him, “the right to use military force in Ukraine. I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that we are able to solve all today's pressing issues via political and diplomatic means.”
If the US and EU are serious about keeping Russia contained, then imposing additional sanctions sooner, rather than after the fact, would be a more pragmatic strategy.
Paul Jesep is an attorney, policy analyst and author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically.”