The chocolate factory owned by Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko in central Kiev is the 18th largest in the world. In the Soviet era, it called itself the Karl Marx Chocolate Works. Today, its owner has depoliticized its name to Roshen Sweets, which hasn’t done his business much good. His product is now banned in Russia on grounds of “health and safety,” while the Europeans are no kinder to its pro-EU manufacturer, having clamped a 48 percent tax on the boxes of candy, temptingly labeled “Kyev Evenings.”
Next Wednesday, June 4, President Poroshenko arrives in Warsaw for his first date with US President Barack Obama, who is coming to round off his three-part foreign policy treatise with assurances for East European leaders that America is there to defend them and their independence against the expansionist designs of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He will find its leaders hard to convince – especially after they heard his “hammer and nail” analogy last Wednesday. Putin’s withdrawal of most of the 40,000 troops he parked on the Ukrainian border, except for a few thousand, holds no real guarantee for their security. After all, they understand that it would take the Russian army just a few hours to restore the full complement to their former positions – or even place them deep inside Ukraine, if Moscow so decided.
The East European members of NATO are seriously worried by President Obama’s policy thrust for the two-and-a-half years remaining of his term in office, as he defined it in the speech he delivered at West Point on May 28.
“US military action cannot be the only or even primary component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”
European leaders within range of Moscow are uncomfortably certain that their security is not enough of “a problem” to rate the use of the American “hammer.”
The key policy trend revealed in that speech was that Obama sees only one major threat to America in the Middle East, and that is terrorism, i.e. al Qaeda.
He did not refer to Syrian President Bashar Assad by name, despite the horrors of the unending Syrian war, or the role of Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah in fueling that war. He made it clear that Syrian rebels would be awarded US assistance as a force for pursuing the war on al Qaeda.
Obama’s attitudes toward the Ukraine crisis and Iran’s nuclear program bear comparison: “Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions.”
But then, he went on to boast: “… at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government. Now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully.”
For Obama, therefore, everything is hunky dory on the Iranian nuclear scene, even though diplomacy is stalled and the six major world powers failed to turn Tehran away from its drive for a nuclear weapon.
The US president sees no nails demanding the application of the American hammer – either in East Europe or in Middle East trouble spots.
Poroshenko may have had an inkling of this when he was still running for the presidency. This would explain his secret visit to Israel in April, revealed here by debkafile’s intelligence sources, among other things, for secret rendezvous with Russian oligarchs close to Putin, in search of an understanding.
They didn’t turn him down, only advised him as president to refrain from aggressively provocative actions against pro-Russian rebels in East Ukraine – or face Moscow’s ire.
The future Ukraine president promised to heed this warning.
However on May 27, two days after his election, the chocolate king decided to show he had muscle and launched the Ukraine army on an offensive against the insurgents of Donetsk and Slaviansk.
Poroshenko ought to have stuck to producing candy; he clearly failed to realize that, with the Ukraine army in its current low state, he was biting off more than he could chew.
To save face, the Ukraine army Col. Gen. Koval Mykhailo claimed Friday, May 30, that large parts of East Ukraine had been brought under control and the military operation would continue. This was no more than a lame attempt to conceal the scale of this fiasco and restore a vestige of military pride, after the rebels downed a helicopter causing the death of 14 Ukraine soldiers, including a general.
Moscow responded by sending two units across into E. Ukraine – the Vostok (Chechen) Battalion and a Cossack force – while at the same time disavowing any military intervention in the fray.
But even the finest “Kyev Evenings” chocolates, if presented by Poroshonko in Warsaw Wednesday, are unlikely to change Obama’s mind about using the American hammer for the sake of Ukraine and East Europe. The words uttered at West Point will not be rewritten in Poland.