No One Sees Easy Way Out On Ukraine

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Hardly anyone expects Ukraine to get better before it gets worse, or for the latest set of commitments in last month’s cease-fire agreement to be kept.

Victoria Nuland, assistant Secretary of State for European affairs.

Instead, senior Western diplomats and analysts are predicting a further escalation of tensions, including the placing of Russian nuclear weapons in newly annexed Crimea; more unrest in cities like Mariupol and even Odessa; more advances by Russian-supported rebels against an under-gunned and dispirited Ukrainian Army; and attempts to destabilize the Western-leaning government in Kiev, beginning with President Petro O. Poroshenko.

Mr. Poroshenko, weakened by the loss of Crimea and a large, contiguous chunk of eastern Ukraine, faces Western demands for economic overhauls, increased energy prices and a crackdown on corruption to justify billions in loans and aid.

He also confronts new challenges from oligarchs like Ihor V. Kolomoisky over control of energy companies and private militias with flexible loyalties to the state, or what’s left of it.

The West, which claims to be united, is actually divided over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and how to respond.

Having hailed the revolution in Kiev as a defeat for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the United States and Europe are indeed united in one matter: refusing to defend Ukraine militarily.

But they disagree on much else: whether to provide Kiev with arms; whether to give Kiev massive economic aid and for what benchmarks; whether the cease-fire agreement reached in Minsk, Belarus, last month is being implemented.

The disputes were clear this week at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum.

Europeans, led by Germany and France, oppose supplying even defensive arms to Kiev, believing it would prompt Russian escalation.

Washington is not convinced.

Nor is the NATO supreme commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who said that the West must respond to Russia’s continuing supply of troops and arms to the rebels.

The West “should consider all our tools in reply,” he said.

“Could it be destabilizing? The answer is yes. Also inaction could be destabilizing. Is inaction an appropriate action?”

General Breedlove’s outspokenness and readiness to publicize evidence of Russian intervention have not endeared him to European officials or some in Washington who do not want to be pushed into difficult decisions.

Europeans say that key elements of the Minsk agreement, like the withdrawal of heavy weapons, are proceeding; American officials disagree.

“We continue to see disturbing evidence of air defense, command and control, resupply equipments coming across a completely porous border, so there are concerns whether Minsk is being followed or not,” General Breedlove said.

Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, said the pro-Russian separatists possessed more sophisticated weapons than the Ukrainian Army.

“We’ve seen, month on month, more lethal weaponry of a higher caliber” brought into Ukraine, she said.

“The No. 1 thing,” she added, “is for Russia to stop sending arms over the border so we can have real politics.”

The European Union has rolled over financial sanctions against Moscow, but its foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, wants to lift sanctions, though subject to “the situation on the ground.”

Russia faces large loan payments by year’s end that exceed its foreign-currency reserves, making some officials wonder whether Moscow will escalate or try to accommodate, hoping to get European Union sanctions lifted.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former American national security adviser, is not sanguine.

Predicting Russian nuclear weapons in Crimea, he said, “I’m not sure that at this stage we have succeeded in convincing the Russians that we are prepared to deter the kind of steps they are adopting.”

He wants to balance deterrence and accommodation, but he suggests instead that “the Russians may pursue an assertive policy towards Ukraine just far enough to avoid a military confrontation but produce the result of the total collapse of the Ukrainian economy, the wasting of billions of dollars.”

Despite sanctions, Russia “remains a major power and therefore achieves a major change in the geopolitical situation in Europe.”

Source: The New York Times