ACTION ALERT: US Threatens Russia over Ukraine Unrest
February 27, 2014
Associated Press & Sheldon Richman / The Future of Freedom Foundation
President Obama insists he does not regard the conflict in Ukraine "as some Cold War chessboard in which we are in competition with Russia." He'd be more credible if he were not following his predecessors in acting as though the Cold War still exists. Meanwhile, Russia has ordered 150,000 troops to test their combat readiness in a show of force that prompted a blunt warning from the United States that any military intervention in Ukraine would be a "grave mistake."
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Russia War Games over Ukraine
Prompt US Warning
KIEV, Ukraine (February 26, 2014) -- Russia ordered 150,000 troops to test their combat readiness Wednesday in a show of force that prompted a blunt warning from the United States that any military intervention in Ukraine would be a "grave mistake."
Vladimir Putin's announcement of huge new war games came as Ukraine's protest leaders named a millionaire former banker to head a new government after the pro-Russian president went into hiding.
The new government, which is expected to be formally approved by parliament Thursday, will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. Its fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the capital last week.
In Kiev's Independence Square, the heart of the protest movement against Yanukovych, the interim leaders who seized control after he disappeared proposed Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the country's new prime minister.
The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.
Across Ukraine, the divided allegiances between Russia and the West were on full display as fistfights broke out between pro- and anti-Russia protesters in the strategic Crimea peninsula.
Amid the tensions, Putin put the military on alert for massive exercises involving most of the military units in western Russia, and announced measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
The maneuvers will involve some 150,000 troops, 880 tanks, 90 aircraft and 80 navy ships, and are intended to "check the troops' readiness for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation's military security," Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.
The move prompted a sharp rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned Russia against any military intervention in Ukraine.
"Any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge, a grave mistake," Kerry told reporters in Washington. "The territorial integrity of Ukraine needs to be respected."
In delivering the message, Kerry also announced that the Obama administration was planning $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and would consider additional direct assistance for the former Soviet republic.
Still, Kerry insisted that U.S. policy was not aimed at reducing Russia's influence in Ukraine or other former Soviet republics, but rather to see their people realize aspirations for freedom in robust democracies with strong economies.
"This is not 'Rocky IV'," Kerry said, referring to the 1985 Sylvester Stallone film in which an aging American boxer takes on a daunting Soviet muscleman. "It is not a zero-sum game. We do not view it through the lens of East-West, Russia-U.S. or anything else. We view it as an example of people within a sovereign nation who are expressing their desire to choose their future. And that's a very powerful force."
Russia denied the military maneuvers had any connection to the situation in Ukraine, but the massive show of force appeared intended to show both the new Ukrainian authorities and the West that the Kremlin was ready to use all means to protect its interests.
While Russia has pledged not to intervene in Ukraine's domestic affairs, it has issued a flurry of statements voicing concern about the situation of Russian speakers in Ukraine, including in the Crimea.
The strategic region, which hosts a major Russian naval base and where the majority of the population are Russian speakers, has strong ties to Moscow. It only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia -- a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.
Igor Korotchenko, a former colonel of the Russian military's General Staff, wrote a commentary in a Russian online newspaper, slon.ru, saying "if illegal armed formations attempt to overthrow the local government in Crimea by force, a civil war will start and Russia couldn't ignore it."
Still, while the exercises include most units from Russia's Western Military District and some from the Central Military District that spreads across the Urals and part of Siberia, it does not involve troops from the Southern Military District, such as the Black Sea Fleet and areas in southern Russia that neighbor Ukraine.
This seemed to signal that Moscow does not want to go too far. By flexing its military muscles Russia clearly wants to show the West it must seriously consider its interests in Ukraine, while avoiding inflaming tensions further.
In Crimea, fistfights broke out between rival demonstrators in the regional capital of Simferopol when some 20,000 Muslim Tatars rallying in support of Ukraine's interim leaders clashed with a smaller pro-Russian rally.
The protesters shouted and attacked each other with stones, bottles and punches, as police and leaders of both rallies struggled to keep the two groups apart.
One health official said at least 20 people were injured, while the local health ministry said one person died from an apparent heart attack. Tatar leaders said there was a second fatality when a woman was trampled to death by the crowd. Authorities did not confirm that.
The Tatars, a Muslim ethnic group who have lived in Crimea for centuries, were brutally deported in 1944 by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, but have since returned.
One of the first jobs for Yatsenyuk and other members of his new Cabinet will be seeking outside financial help from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Economists say Ukraine is close to financial collapse, with its currency under pressure and its treasury almost empty. The acting finance minister has said Ukraine will need $35 billion in bailout loans to get through the next two years.
Any such deal will require a new prime minister to take unpopular steps, such as raising the price of gas to consumers. The state gas company charges as little as one-fifth of what it pays for imported Russian gas. The IMF unsuccessfully pressed Ukraine to halt the practice under two earlier bailouts, and halted aid when Kiev wouldn't comply.
The European Commission's top officials held a meeting Wednesday in Brussels to discuss how the 28-nation bloc can provide rapid financial assistance to Ukraine.
Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Maria Danilova and David McHugh in Kiev, Svetlana Fedas in Lviv, and Yuras Karmanau in Simferopol contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Obama Should Steer Clear of Ukraine
Sheldon Richman / The Future of Freedom Foundation
(February 26, 2014) -- President Obama insists he does not regard the conflict in Ukraine "as some Cold War chessboard in which we are in competition with Russia."
He'd be more credible if he were not following his predecessors in acting as though the Cold War still exists. Although the Soviet empire, including its Warsaw Pact alliance, disbanded beginning in 1989, Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued aggressively anti-Russian policies up to the present.
Most glaringly, NATO, the Western alliance created after World War II ostensibly to deter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, did not also disband. On the contrary, at US insistence and in violation of promises to Russia's leaders, the alliance has grown and found new missions, such as intervening militarily against Russia's ally Serbia and in Afghanistan and Libya.
That would have been bad enough, but former members of the Soviet bloc, as well as former Soviet republics, have been admitted to NATO: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Besides that, US officials have talked up two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and -- surprise! -- Ukraine, as potential members of the alliance.
Moreover, the US government had a hand in the Georgian and Ukrainian "color revolutions," which brought pro-US politicians to power, at least for a time. The Obama administration is still at it today.
The hostile push of NATO up to the doorstep of Russia (along with other threatening measures) has not gone unnoticed in Moscow. One can imagine the howls we'd hear from American politicians, not least of all the ever-belligerent Sen. John McCain, if Russia were doing something similar in the vicinity of the United States.
The sorry fact is that America's rulers did much more than spike the football when the Soviet Union peacefully disintegrated. In every conceivable way, they exploited the occasion to assure that the United States would maintain its status as sole superpower and global hegemon. They humiliated Russia's leadership, apparently not caring that it would never passively accept the insult.
It's about time American politicians saw how their foreign policies look to those on the receiving end.
What's happening in Ukraine is sad. The country is divided between those who want closer ties to Western Europe and those who want closer ties to Russia. Since becoming independent of Russia, Ukraine has suffered corruption and worse offenses at the hands of legal plunderers.
Now demonstrations in the streets -- even mob rule featuring neo-Nazis -- have resulted in turmoil and death, and the Russia-leaning president, Viktor Yanukovich, has fled the capital, while the parliament has named an interim replacement. To make things worse, outsiders won't keep their hands off.
One thing we can know for sure -- and one need not be an admirer of Russian president Vladimir Putin to see it -- is that the United States should steer clear of Ukraine. It is none of the US government's business whether that country is economically closer to Russia or the European Union (EU).
The Obama administration should not only forswear direct and covert intervention, it should also shut up. American presidents must learn to mind their own business, even where Russia is concerned. The potential for a nuclear confrontation is nothing to take lightly.
It would be best if Russia and the EU did not press agreements on Ukraine -- Europe appears more guilty here than Putin -- but that is not for the US government to decide. Someday, if we're lucky, people will stop thinking of trade as a matter of state policy.
Why must Ukraine -- meaning its politicians -- sign an agreement with either the EU or Russia? Why can't individual Ukrainians and private Ukrainian companies trade freely with whomever they want? (This question also applies to America and every other country.)
There are many sources of political tension in the world, but historically a principal one has been the idea that governments must set the terms of trade with people in other nations. Bad idea. Free trade should mean individual freedom.
In the meantime, the Obama administration should steer clear of Ukraine. Despite what Americans have believed for over 200 years, the United States was not placed on this earth to right the world. Intervention is more likely to make things worse than better.
Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
ACTION Let us vote on Afghan war
Congress and the American people have an important responsibility to weigh in on decisions of war and peace.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the public helped to end the Vietnam War. Now, we need the American people to help stop the US role in the Afghanistan war.
A bipartisan resolution in the Senate would request that President Obama get congressional approval before he can extend the war in Afghanistan beyond 2014. This resolution would give the American people a say in how long the war goes on. Will you call your Senators and ask them to support this measure?
Here’s how Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), one of the sponsors, explained his legislation:
"The American people deserve a voice in decisions of war and peace. Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it isn't the right approach when it comes to war.”
Whether your Senators are Republicans or Democrats, whether they support continuing the war effort or not, they should support giving Congress and the public a voice in how long the war goes on.
We’ve made it easy to call your Senators on this key issue: please click here to make your voice heard!
Currently, the bill’s co-sponsors are: Merkley (D-OR), Manchin (D-WV), Paul (R-KY), Lee (R-UT), Harkin (D-IA), Wyden (D-OR), Begich (D-AK), Leahy (D-VT) and Whitehouse (D-RI).
• If one of your Senators is a co-sponsor, make sure you call anyway – they need to hear that they have your support!
• If you don’t see your Senator on this list, call and ask them to sign onto the Merkley-Manchin-Paul-Lee resolution!
All the instructions are on our easy-to-use form: just click here to start calling!
Thanks for getting involved.
John Isaacs & Guy Stevens / Council for a Livable World
ACTION ALERT: Congress Should Vote on Extending US Troops in Afghanistan
Let's Vote Before Extending the War
Shouldn't Congress and the American public have a say before our longest war gets longer?
If the Pentagon and the White House want to extend the war in Afghanistan, Congress should vote on it. A bipartisan group of Senators is sponsoring a resolution that would require congressional authorization for troops to be left in Afghanistan beyond December 31, 2014.
Congressional authorization will give the American public a vote on whether or not the troops come home this year. Please call your Senators -- ask them to co-sponsor this sensible resolution!
Make Phone Calls
1. Call 202-224-3553
2. Ask for "Staffer handling foreign policy"
3. Discuss talking points with contact
• Point 1: We've been in Afghanistan for over twelve years, and the American public is tired of war.
• Point 2: The Senator should sign onto this resolution, so that Congress and the American people can get a vote before we make a majorly consequential decision to extend the war.
• Point 3: The resolution co-sponsored by Senators Merkley, Manchin, Paul and Lee would give Congress and the American public a say on how long the war will continue.
• Point 4: President Obama's official end date for the war is December 31, 2014. If US soldiers are to remain in Afghanistan longer than that, then there should be a vote.
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