Ukraine’s ousted president is expected to give a news conference on Friday. Viktor Yanukovych hasn’t been seen in days, and he’s supposed to speak in Russia, in a city not far from Russia’s border with Ukraine.
Russia is not only apparently giving Yanukovych shelter; it is also carrying out military exercises that have raised alarms in Washington. The U.S. says this should not be a zero sum game and Ukraine should not face a choice of East versus West, but that’s not an easy case to make.
Secretary of State John Kerry says he called his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to say he wants to work together to calm tensions in Ukraine.
“I asked specifically that Russia work with the United States and with our friends and allies in order to … rebuild unity, security and a healthy economy,” Kerry said.
Kerry says he received assurances from Moscow that it will respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, that its military exercises, long planned, are not aimed at Ukraine and that it had nothing to do with the Russian flags raised over a local parliament building seized by armed gangs in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
“We will look to Russia in the choices it will make in the next days for the confirmation of these statements,” Kerry said. “Statements are statements, words are words; we have all learned that its actions and the follow on choices that make the greatest difference.”
Kerry insists this should not be a Cold War story: a struggle between East and West. But there’s a great deal of mistrust of Russia in Washington.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee says he has been hearing rumors that the Russians might offer passports to Ukrainians who feel more aligned with Moscow. That’s what Russia did in a separatist region in another former Soviet republic, Georgia, before Moscow invaded in 2008.
“I was the first U.S. official to fly to Tbilisi when Russia came into Georgia, and the first official to go to up to Gori to witnesses the bombings and what Russia had done with their tanks and other artillery,” Corker said. “What you see happening right now in Ukraine brings back those memories.”
At a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, Corker pointed out that Russia has even deeper interests in Ukraine than in Georgia, particularly in Crimea, where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee member says it is time for the U.S. to stand up to Russia and deter it from seeking, as he puts, a soft partition of Ukraine.
“Right now it appears that the president doesn’t really have a plan,” he said. “Not to be pejorative, but as with so many other former policy crises, it seems like we [are] catching up and dealing with events ad hoc as they move along.”
The big question hanging over Ukraine now is the economy. That was an issue that Kerry discussed with his German counterpart, just back from Kiev. Speaking through an interpreter, Walter Steinmeier said Ukraine needs to carry out reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund and it needs a reprieve from this dispute between east and west.
“The government now has to furnish proof of the fact that it is the government of the whole of Ukraine: the North, the South, the East and the West,” Steinmeier said. “[And] that they actually stand up for all those parts of the country.”
While the U.S. welcomed a new technocratic government in Ukraine, Russia dismissed it as “a government of winners” that includes what it calls “extreme nationalists.”