Where are the sanctions?
There were overt – and successful – efforts to disrupt the elections in two regions, and there are now large numbers of trucks with armed fighters crossing the Russian border into Ukraine. Only the ’grave consequences’ for Russia are yet to be seen
Ukraine has received well-earned praise over the last two days for conclusive presidential elections and a significant turnout against all odds. The West, and especially the EU, have been disturbingly silent, however, with regard to the source of all such ‘odds’, and the warnings to Russia they themselves issued.
There had been clear threats of real sanctions if Russia disrupted or tried to disrupt the presidential elections in Ukraine. Such warnings have also been issued over the last two months with respect to Russian military intervention in mainland Ukraine.
The attempts by Kremlin-backed ’separatists’ to prevent the presidential elections from taking place were entirely open. They were also largely successful in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions where election commissions were attacked by armed gunmen, commission heads abducted, and threats of reprisals issued both to commission members and ’enemies’ who tried to vote.
On May 27, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki first skirted the issue but finally admitted that since there had been attempts to disrupt the elections, they would be considering what to do next.
There has been silence from the EU. Despite the media headlines, this should not be attributed to a state of ‘shock’ over the far-right gains in the elections to the European Parliament in most EU countries. These gains had been predicted for many months, not least because of the overt support which Russia was giving to xenophobic, often neo-Nazi, parties with a strong anti-EU platform.
There were some conciliatory noises just prior to the elections from Russian President Vladimir Putin. They conveniently coincided with reports of the militants supposedly at loggerheads among themselves, and generally out of control. All of this was music to the ear of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel with her stated wish to ‘extend a hand to Russia’ and less open intention to avoid real sanctions.
That presumably was their aim since any such vague statements about ’respecting Ukrainian voters’ choice’ jarred badly with the continuing barrage of lies, hate speech and biased reporting in support of violent militants, treated as freedom-fighters, in the state-controlled Russian media. They seemed especially hypocritical in the light of open, violent and coordinated attempts to disrupt the elections by militants whose obvious links with Moscow have been acknowledged by western countries since the beginning of the trouble.
The apparent re-run of the Crimean scenario in Slovyansk and the same ‘green men’ in both was particularly noted back in March. A similar echo was heard with the seizure by militants of Donetsk Airport on Sunday evening, shortly after it became clear that Ukrainian voters had made their choice so clear that a second round of voting would almost certainly not be required. Whether it was this echo, or Poroshenko’s win, can be debated, but the anti-terrorist operation has finally begun working.
No western country can be expected to fight Ukraine’s battle against its own insurgents. It is, however, becoming increasingly apparent how many insurgents are not Ukrainian. Russian military trucks with heavily armed individuals were videoed early in May and over recent days armed militants have openly admitted to western journalists that they are fighters linked with Putin-appointed Chechen leader Ramsan Kadyrov. Russia’s representative to the UN, Vitaliy Churkin stated earlier in May that many ‘volunteers’ might soon begin coming to Ukraine, but that this was each person’s personal matter.
It ceases to be a personal issue when organized truckloads of heavily armed fighters are at very least not being stopped by Russian border guards. Ukraine’s border guard reported around 40 Kamkaz trucks with armed men on Monday night. On Tuesday a Luhansk publication informed that local residents had sighted a large column of military technology with armed men in combat gear without insignia heading towards Rovenkov from the Russian border. This is in addition to large numbers of fighters, as well, doubtless, as Russian equipment and trained professionals, brought in from the Crimea. The latter was annexed after a similar invasion which Putin and other Russian figures long continued to publicly deny.
With respect to such movements, Dr Rory Finnin from Cambridge University writes: “These infiltrations are violations of customary international law One of the legal sources used to define military aggression in wartime is the 1933 Convention for the Definition of Aggression, which .. identifies aggression as, among other things, the “provision of support to armed bands formed in its territory which have invaded the territory of another State, or refusal… to take in its own territory all the measures in its power to deprive those bands of all assistance or protection.” Covertly and overtly, the Russian Federation is acting as an aggressor against a neighbouring state”.
Whether or not Russia plans to annex any part of mainland Ukraine, or only to destabilize the country in order to maintain greater control, its actions are those of an aggressor. Its ambitions can only be fuelled by continued failure to translate EU assurances of ‘serious consequences’ into anything more than words.