WASHINGTON – There is growing concern the United States may have been instrumental in financing the Ukrainian opposition, which is comprised of many ultra-nationalists with neo-Nazi connections.
The opposition ousted democratically-elected but pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which led to direct Russian military intervention in the Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula.
The crisis started when Yanukovych turned down an invitation to join the European Union, since Russian President Vladimir Putin offered him an initial $15 billion in urgent financial assistance to halt an impending default, as well as cut rates on natural gas imports.
At the time, the EU had not made any substantive offers. Once Yanukovych turned down the EU invitation, demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, began, which led to him accept opposition demands for reform and positions within his government.
Despite an agreement signed Feb. 21 with the opposition, demonstrations only increased, with encouragement from the West, including the U.S.
The demonstrations then led to Yanukovych’s ouster and the installation of an interim government that included ultra-nationalists who not only wanted Yanukovych out of office but also began to go after ethnic Russians.
The targeting of ethnic Russians then prompted an immediate Russian response of troop movements into the Crimean Peninsula, which is 60 percent ethnic Russian, as a basis to protect them.
The U.S. and Russia exchanged charges of violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty but didn’t have an enforcement provision to prompt the introduction of Western troops to support the government.
Putin considers the interim government illegal and refuses to negotiate with it, even though the interim government’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is due in Washington this week. Yatsenyuk is expected to meet with President Obama and other top officials.
The prospect has only infuriated Moscow even more, making Putin mistrust Obama on any settlement.
Added to this is the allegation from Putin advisor Sergey Glazyev that the U.S. Agency for International Development was giving “$20 million a week” for arms and other assistance to “the opposition and rebels” in Kiev.
He also had accused Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland of “blackmail” by warning that wealthy, Russian-speaking oligarchs backing Yanukovych could have their assets seized if they didn’t hand over power to the opposition.
In that leaked conversation, Nuland had expressed to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt the White House’s frustration at Europe’s hesitation toward pro-democracy protests, prompting her to utter the now infamous words, “f— the EU”
To the Russians, these alleged events underscored U.S. and Western involvement in instigating the ouster of Yanukovych to install a more Western-oriented government in Kiev.
This concern was reinforced by yet another leaked conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and the EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Aston that opposition members recently were behind the sniping of followers of Yanukovych in Kiev.
In the 11-minute conversation posted on YouTube, Paet said he had been told snipers who were killing police and civilians in Kiev last month during the protest movements were from the opposition and not supporters of Yanukovych.
The Estonian foreign ministry confirmed that such a conversation had taken place, saying: “Foreign Minister Paet was giving an overview of what he had heard in Kyiv and expressed concern over the situation on the ground. We reject the claim that Paet was giving an assessment of the opposition’s involvement in the violence.”
The opposition’s involvement, however, has become a serious problem, as WND recently reported.
Members of some of the ultra-nationalist groups – not only in Ukraine, but also with ties to ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazi groups in Europe – now are part of the interim government Putin has labeled “illegal.”
One of these is the far-right Pravy Sektor, or Right Sector, a paramilitary group whose leader, Dymtro Yarosh, now intends to run for president.
Right Sector and other ultra-nationalist groups in Ukraine are openly hostile toward ethnic Russians, which has prompted Putin to move troops into Crimea to protect them.
In a recent interview with Time magazine, Yarosh said that his form of nationalism rejects all foreign influence, whether from the EU or Russia.
Claiming to have amassed an arsenal of lethal weapons, Yarosh asserted, “It is enough to defend all of Ukraine from the internal occupiers.”
“We remain the leaders of this revolution,” said Right Sector Chairman Andriy Tarasenko. “We are mobilizing and we are preparing to react to foreign aggression,” he said, adding that his group was ready for full-scale war with Russia.
The Western debacle handling of the Ukraine crisis has given Putin the basis he needs to press Russia’s strategic interests beyond Russia by, in effect, setting up buffer zones between his country and Central European countries that belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.
NATO’s push to Ukraine and Georgia on Russia’s periphery, however, was a step too far.
This message was apparent during the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, and now the crisis in Ukraine has underscored Russian intentions.
Following that five-day war in Georgia, Russia basically annexed the two Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but European and U.S. reaction was tepid, with no consequences on Russian action.
While Europeans have expressed concern over what amounts to Russian military escalation into the Crimean Peninsula, they have offered few options toward halting his advances.
The EU, which initially reneged on any economic package for Ukraine’s near-default economy, has its own internal economic problems, making it reluctant to confront Russia, which is one of Europe’s largest trading partners.
The U.S. also is limited in any response – economic or military – since Obama has no intention of introducing troops as it dramatically cuts its own defense budget in an effort to deal with its own economic problems.
Since Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO, there is no obligation under Article 5 to intervene militarily, even though Ukraine a few years ago sought to join NATO. Russian pressure at the time prompted the Europeans to pull back that invitation.
In addition, Obama needs Putin’s cooperation on Syria, negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran and the transporting of American troops and equipment out of Afghanistan through Russian supply routes – something Putin recently threatened to shut down but has not.
Analysts don’t see Putin backing down. He doesn’t think in terms of the economic consequences, evident by the Russian stock market, which tanked last week, losing some 13 percent of its value in one day.
Instead, Putin is seen as a nationalist with a clear, geo-strategic agenda Obama seems to lack.
With Russian military intervention for now on the Crimean Peninsula, its residents are to vote on Mar. 16 on being annexed to the Russian Federation. If that were to occur, analysts see serious problems in western Ukraine, where Kiev is located.
Job Henning of the Truman Project, for example, believes that the western portion of Ukraine could erupt into chaos.
Putin sees Ukraine as almost indivisible from Russia itself and is prepared to go any length to stop its deeper integration into Europe. Instead of joining the EU, Putin wants Ukraine to become part of his dream of a duty-free Eurasian Union that helps maintain Russian influence over those countries that once formed the Soviet Union.
Some analysts speculate that he is trying to create another Soviet Union but under a different name. Other analysts disagree, suggesting that he doesn’t want to inherit the internal problems of the countries formed since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
Instead, Putin wants to create a buffer to prevent NATO and EU encroachment over areas he regards as being in Russia’s sphere of influence.
The concern for the West, however, will be if Putin decides to extend his campaign beyond Crimea and into Eastern Ukraine, or seeks to extend his Russian military doctrine of protecting ethnic Russians in countries that once were part of the Soviet Union but now belong to NATO, are members of the EU or want to be members of one or the other.