As Russia conducts new “military drills” near the Ukraine border, and after Putin issued new threats of “consequences” and warned that “if the Kiev regime has started to use the army against the population inside the country, it, beyond any doubt, is a very serious crime,” President Obama in Tokyo said that the United States is “teed up” to impose further sanctions on Russia if it does not abide by the April 17 deal, according to CNN.
In a lengthy statement today, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recalled the agreement reached in Geneva a week ago to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine and lamented the fact that “Every day since we left Geneva – every day, even up to today, when Russia sent armored battalions right up the Luhansk Oblast border – the world has witnessed a tale of two countries, two countries with vastly different understandings of what it means to uphold an international agreement.”
He added that one week later, “it is clear that only one side, one country, is keeping its word” and said, “Let’s get real – the Geneva agreement is not open to interpretation. It is not vague. It is not subjective. It is not optional. What we agreed to in Geneva is as simple as it is specific.”
Kerry reviewed the substance of the agreement and said that while “From day one, the Government of Ukraine started making good on its commitments,” the world, “sadly, has rightly judged that Russia has put its faith in distraction, deception, and destabilization.”
For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction. Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons, and get out of the Ukrainian buildings. They have not called on them to engage in that activity.
Kerry ridicules Putin’s recent claims that “the CIA invented the internet in order to control the world or that the forces occupying buildings, armed to the teeth, wearing brand new matching uniforms and moving in disciplined military formation, are merely local activists seeking to exercise their legitimate rights.”
Kerry further points out that it is exactly because of the internet, the free press and social media that no amount of Russian propaganda can hide the truth.
As to Russia’s “full-throated effort to actively sabotage the democratic process through gross external intimidation” Kerry says:
We have seen this movie before. We saw it most recently in Crimea, where similar subterfuge and sabotage by Russia was followed by a full invasion – an invasion, by the way, for which President Putin recently decorated Russian special forces at the Kremlin.
Kerry points out:
Our intelligence community tells me that Russia’s intelligence and military intelligence services and special operators are playing an active role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine with personnel, weapons, money, operational planning, and coordination. The Ukrainians have intercepted and publicized command-and-control conversations from known Russian agents with their separatist clients in Ukraine. Some of the individual special operations personnel, who were active on Russia’s behalf in Chechnya, Georgia, and Crimea have been photographed in Slovyansk, Donetsk, and Luhansk. Some are even bragging about it by themselves on their Russian social media sites. And we’ve seen weapons and gear on the separatists that matches those worn and used by Russian special forces.
He concludes with these warnings:
So following today’s threatening movement of Russian troops right up to Ukraine’s border, let me be clear: If Russia continues in this direction, it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an expensive mistake. Already the international response to the choices made by Russia’s leaders is taking its toll on Russia’s economy. Prime Minister Medvedev has alluded to the cost Russia is already paying. Even President Putin has acknowledged it.
As investors’ confidence dwindles, some $70 billion in capital has fled the Russian financial system in the first quarter of 2014, more than all of last year. Growth estimates for 2014 have been revised downward by two to three percentage points. And this follows a year in which GDP growth was already the lowest since 2009. Meanwhile, the Russian Central Bank has had to spend more than $20 billion to defend the ruble, eroding Russia’s buffers against external shocks. Make no mistake that what I’ve just described is really just a snapshot and is also, regrettably, a preview of how the free world will respond if Russia continues to escalate what they had promised to de-escalate.
Seven days, two opposite responses, and one truth that cannot be ignored: The world will remain united for Ukraine. So I will say it again. The window to change course is closing. President Putin and Russia face a choice. If Russia chooses the path of de-escalation, the international community – all of us – will welcome it. If Russia does not, the world will make sure that the cost for Russia will only grow. And as President Obama reiterated earlier today, we are ready to act.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.