Seems it all started on or about August 10. Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of plotting a terrorist attack on Crimea and cited a purported confrontation with two Ukrainian “saboteurs” that resulted in the deaths of two Russian servicemen. “There is no doubt that we will not let these things pass,” Mr. Putin said on state television, according to The New York Times. “But I would like to turn to our American and European partners. I think it is clear now that today’s Kyiv government is not looking for ways to solve problems by negotiations, but is resorting to terror. This is a very worrying thing.” The FSB (successor to the KGB) said a Ukrainian spy network had been uncovered. There was even some video footage of the FSB operation, which later was revealed to be phony.
“These fantasies are just a pretext for another portion of military threats against Ukraine,” Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement. “It is Russia who has been generously funding and supporting terrorism in the territory of Ukraine for a long time and raising it to the level of its state policy.” At the United Nations, Ukraine’s Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko said the accusations were “completely groundless” and commented: “The scenario looks very similar. That’s why we stand ready for any further provocative developments.”
Next came reports from the Pentagon of Russian troop build-up near eight border points with Ukraine in the north, east and south. It was noted that as many as 40,000 troops, plus tanks, armored vehicles and air force units were in place. It was a worrying development that led some observers to say a Russian invasion could be in the works. Then there was news of Russian forces and military equipment being sent to the “separatist” forces in Ukraine’s east, and there were military exercises on Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
To top it all off, Mr. Putin convened a Russian Security Council meeting in Russian-occupied Crimea on August 19. A real in-your-face move. At that meeting the Russian president said it was “obvious” that Ukraine had carried out an attack in Crimea because it “doesn’t want to, or can’t for whatever reason, fulfill” the Minsk ceasefire agreement. Reuters reported that he stated: “Judging by all accounts, our partners in Kyiv have decided to escalate the situation. We are all familiar with this method of escalation. It goes back a long way and has sometimes been used successfully but not always. I hope that this won’t be a final choice… and that common sense will prevail.”
President Poroshenko stated on August 18 that chances of a further escalation were “very significant,” adding “we don’t rule out a full-scale Russian invasion.” He even suggested that he might have to declare martial law and a new military mobilization.
At least one U.S. expert reacted to the Russian moves by criticizing the inaction of the United States and the West. “The fact that a full-scale Russian invasion is still a plausible scenario after 30 months of conflict is an abject repudiation of an American policy of ‘leading from behind’ and West European fetish for trying to find ‘off-ramps’ that Putin hasn’t the slightest interest in taking,” Phillip Karber, a former U.S. arms control official who now heads the Potomac Foundation, told The Washington Free Beacon.
Why is Mr. Putin doing what he’s doing? There are several interpretations, ranging from preparations to seize even more Ukrainian territory to strengthening his bargaining position at the upcoming G-20 summit in China, where the plan is to resume talks about the “ceasefire” in Ukraine’s east. Bloomberg News quoted Serhiy Zgurets, head of the Defense Express military research center in Kyiv as saying: “This escalation may be linked with the Kremlin’s desire to exit the current format of talks. It wants to return to direct negotiations with the U.S. to divide spheres of interest.” Many commentators have noted that Mr. Putin is seeking to decrease Western support for Ukraine and pressure the West to agree to resolution of the conflict on Moscow’s terms. And, of course, there are those nasty Western sanctions. Mr. Putin wants them gone.
The West should not fall for these latest stratagems by Moscow. And, by now, it should understand that the real terrorists are Moscow-supported, Moscow-supplied, Moscow-instigated.
Unfortunately, it seems some are buying it – at least in part. Some Western states blame the victim as much as the aggressor in this case. Furthermore, they don’t much care about Ukraine and, let’s face it, just want to move on to business as usual and resume trade with Russia. Even the U.S. administration is bending over backwards to show evenhandedness in dealing with the two sides in this war. On August 19, as reported by RFE/RL, Vice-President Joe Biden urged both Russia and Ukraine to show restraint. Mr. Biden spoke with Mr. Poroshenko by phone and “relayed that the United States had sent a message to Russia that the world is watching and underscored the need to de-escalate the situation.” Mr. Biden “also urged Ukraine to show restraint.” Really? Ukraine is invaded, its territory is annexed, nearly 10,000 are killed and about 1.7 million are displaced. How much restraint must Kyiv show?
In the meantime, Mr. Putin continues his aggression, while blaming Ukraine for not implementing the Minsk agreement. His mendacity truly knows no bounds.