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The Battle for Ukraine

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Moscow 'Respects' Outcome of Disputed Ukraine Referendum While Washington Dithers

May 12th 2014

Russian troops in Crimea

Moscow says it respects the vote in favor of self-rule in two eastern Ukraine regions and has called for the results to be implemented through dialogue between Kyiv and separatist leaders. In a May 12 statement, the Russian government declared, "Moscow respects the expression of the people's will in Donetsk and Luhansk." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said de-escalating the crisis in Ukraine is only possible if Kyiv and the separatists hold talks, rejecting the need for an international meeting.

Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov has slammed the rebel-held referendums as a "propaganda farce without any legal basis."

Turchynov told Ukraine's parliament on May 12 the disputed referendums were "nothing more than propaganda to cover up murders, kidnappings, violence and other serious crimes."

However, the president said he wanted to "continue dialogue with those in the east of Ukraine who have no blood on their hands and who are ready to defend their goals in a legitimate way."

European Union foreign ministers are meeting on May 12 to determine what additional sanctions to impose on Russia for its annexation of Crimea, Ukraine's province on the Black Sea and its perceived role in the unrest roiling Ukraine's east. 

Organizers of the controversial independence referendums in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions said on May 12 that about 90 percent of those voting have backed their call for sovereignty. The results from the Sunday May 11 vote are impossible to verify, according to VOA News. It is still unclear whether so-called independence would mean more autonomy within Ukraine, an attempt to create an independent state, or a move to join Russia.

A VOA reporter in Donetsk described the election as a "shambles," with no clear procedures on tallying the ballots, while there are reports of multiple voting and makeshift ballot boxes. Some who voted for independence say they mistrust the central Ukrainian government and believe a unified Ukraine is impossible. Those who oppose secession say the whole election is illegal; most did not bother to cast a ballot.

A similar referendum in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in March led to Russian annexation and the current crisis throughout eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are in control of a number of towns and cities. Meanwhile, Russian troops are massed at Ukraine's borders. There is no sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin is making good on a promise he made recently to pull back his troops from his country's border with Ukraine. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said over the weekend on ABC's This Week program, "They are not leaving as far as we can tell. You would have to ask President Putin as to why he says they are leaving, when in fact they are not

The German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported on May 11 that about 400 mercenaries hired by the U.S. security firm Academi are working for the fledgling Kyiv government in its eastern Ukraine operations against the pro-Russian rebels. The company, however, told VOA's Ukrainian service the report was "absolutely false." Meanwhile, U.S. troops are staging joint training exercises with NATO allies such as Latvia. Interviewed on ABC News, a Latvian officer said that the message he would send to Russia is that "it is better not to interfere with NATO."

The battle for Ukraine is stirring partisan debate in Washington.Sanctions imposed by the United States and NATO  do not appear to have altered Moscow’s posture toward Ukraine. “Russia continues to isolate itself for a short term gain. The Russians may feel that somehow they are winning. But the world is not just about short term,” Hagel added in the ABC interview. Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte is calling for sanctions on Russia's economy before the Ukrainian presidential poll on May 25. Said Ayotte, “This is the same playbook that we saw in Crimea playing out in eastern Ukraine. It is an insurgency-type action by the Russians to create unrest,” adding “It is time for the administration to issue the sectoral sanctions before the [May 25] elections, so those elections will not be disrupted, so they can go forward. I believe issuing the sanctions when the elections are interfered with are too late.” Another Reublican, Senator Lindsey Graham wants President Barack Obama to seek congressional approval of further measures against Russia. “Instead of doing this by executive order, Mr. President, come to the Congress and see if you could get bipartisan buy-in (support) for sectoral sanctions, which would send a stronger message to Putin. It would hurt the Russian economy more, and I think it would bolster our allies,” Graham said.

Across the aisle, Democrat Senator Chris Murphy also wants Russia to pay a price for its actions, but wants NATO support. Said Murphy, “I think we should be pushing the Europeans hard for sectoral-based sanctions.” He added, “The fact is, the United States acting unilaterally on sanctions may harm our security interests, not advance them. U.S. sanctions alone are not enough to change the calculus on the ground in Moscow. And ultimately they may give political impetus to Putin within Russia to continue his provocations,” he added. On May 4, the Obama administration would not say when it will fulfill its threat to “impose greater costs on Russia."

Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com


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