German Chancellor Angela Merkel sternly rebuked Russia Wednesday April 9 for not doing enough to defuse tensions in Ukraine. She told German lawmakers that "unfortunately, in many places it is not evident how Russia is contributing to the easing of the situation," and called for an international monitoring mission to be strengthened
Germany will continue to "use channels of communication," she said, but also made clear that "the Ukrainians must decide themselves on their fate.”
Merkel's comments came just one day after US Secretary of State John Kerry said in the Senate:
“No one is fooled by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea," Kerry said. "These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, and quite simply what we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary."
The State Department did not offer evidence to back up Kerry's claim.
Moscow seeks a Ukrainian federation with empowered provinces
An effort is meanwhile going forward to convene four-way talks next week between representatives of Russia, the United States, Ukraine and the European Union – preferably at foreign ministerial level.
Moscow wants more information about the agenda and insists on dialogue being fostered “among Ukrainians rather than bilateral relations among the participants.”
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered this message in a telephone conversation with John Kerry this week, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Russia defended itself against the US Secretary’s allegations of a “contrived pretext for military intervention” by placing the blame for the unrest in East Ukraine on the Kiev government and its refusal to address the legitimate rights and interests of Russian speakers.
The remedy for the crisis, in Moscow’s view, is not necessarily a Russian invasion but a new constitution that would give the regions strong powers and respect for minority rights as part of a federation, as well as a voice for keeping Ukraine out of NATO.
High rhetoric to distract from Kiev’s hopeless state
The provisional rulers of Kiev meanwhile poured their own fuel on the fire: On Monday April 7, they accused the pro-Russian protesters who seized government buildings and downtown Luhansk, north of Donetsk, of taking 60 hostages and tying explosives to their bodies for detonation in the event of an attack by the Ukrainian army or security forces.
This was a transparent attempt to paint the pro-Russian protesters of east Ukraine in the colors of the Muslim extremists who terrorize Russia, but most of all to aggravate the friction between Moscow and Washington.
Ukraine’s rulers find that inflammatory rhetoric directed at their foes can serve as a substitute for an army that is too weak to take on the pro-Russian militias in the east, or the 40,000 Russian troops massed around their borders.
Such talk may also offer a distraction from the hopelessness of their empty coffers and bankrupt economy. The Americans and Europeans have despaired of anyone in the provisional government coming up with measures that would qualify Ukraine for the International Monetary Fund and European Union funds promised Kiev (totaling $33 billion).
Every million dollars that happens to trickle in gives the Kiev regime a temporary shot in the arm, but falls way short of covering government payrolls or feeding the army, the security forces and the people at large.
The slightest spark could ignite out-of-control flames.
Ukraine is in the jaws of an international military crunch. In addition to the 10 large warships and 10 missile ships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Moscow has deployed to date, another 10 Russian ships in the Mediterranean, include its largest battleships and only working aircraft carrier.
The US and NATO cannot match Russian naval might in these waters. Neither do they command the rapid deployment forces in numbers comparable in size to the 15,000 Russian rapid response troops stationed along the Russian-Ukraine border.
In other words, the US and NATO have no equivalent for Russia’s military punch anywhere near the troubled arena at this stage. Sanctions threats leveled against Moscow are their substitute – so far with little impact.
The four-way conference tentatively scheduled for next week is also unlikely to stem the events rushing forward in the eastern provinces of Ukraine and Kiev itself. The danger is that in this incendiary situation, the slightest incident or incautious word could act as the spark for uncontrolled flames.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, albeit a canny and cautious politician, may also find himself pushed into situations over which he has no control.