Shortly after Vladimir Putin's successful annexation of Crimea (via military invasion and sham referendum), the New Republic's Julie Ioffe predicted that Moscow wouldn't stop there:
So far, [Putin] has kept it just to busing in hooligans into eastern Ukraine to act as grassroots pro-Russian protesters. But make no mistake, Putin is about to take eastern Ukraine, too. To wit: On Saturday, the two-week anniversary of the authorization, the Russian foreign ministry was already laying the foundations for such a seizure, saying that it was being flooded with requests from citizens across eastern Ukraine, asking the Russians for protection against the western Ukrainian fascists.
The US has accused Russia of fomenting violent demonstrations in eastern Ukraine, with Ukrainian officials asserting "concrete evidence" of surreptitious "Russian special service" involvement. While the extent of the Kremlin's direct intervention remains murky, it's obvious that Putin's fingerprints are all over the current unrest. The interim government in Kiev issued a deadline for pro-Russian agitators (which may be a euphemism) to pull out of various government buildings that have been seized. Despite the serious-sounding ultimatum, the deadline has come and gone with no immediate consequence. In fact, another Ukrainian police station has been taken. Video:
"The pro-Russian groups [are] well armed, well organized, in uniform," this same correspondent notes in another video dispatch. In other words, these are not your garden variety street protesters. The snippet 1:45 into that news package depicts what appear to be uniformed troops wielding and firing military-style weapons as they storm the station. The situation on the ground is perilous, with Ukraine's government flailing to protect their territorial sovereignty:
Pro-Russian protesters took over a police building in an eastern Ukrainian city on Monday, even as a government deadline for demonstrators to leave occupied facilities in other cities passed with no immediate consequences. Video from a demonstration in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka showed protesters confronting police and walking through the building, which had small fires burning and broken windows. A severely beaten man in a police uniform was taken to an ambulance as onlookers shouted at him. The seizure is a new complication for the government in Kiev. Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov had given pro-Russian protesters in other eastern Ukrainian cities until 2 a.m. ET to disarm or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" by Ukraine's armed forces. But the deadline passed with no sign that it was heeded in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Slaviansk. There was no movement at the regional government building in Donetsk, which has been occupied for more than a week. In Slaviansk, pro-Russian protesters milled around with makeshift shields outside the occupied police station. Similar deadlines in the past came and went with no consequences. Horlivka, with a population of about 300,000, became at least the 10th city or town in eastern Ukraine where activists have taken over security or government buildings in recent days.
So at least ten cities in eastern Ukraine have seen "activists" storm government buildings, yet Kiev's threat of a retaliatory "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" to oust Russia's puppets has gone unfulfilled. Why? Back to the CNN piece:
When asked why the Ukrainian government had made no apparent move to evict protesters after the deadline passed, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky told reporters that the government still believes in a political solution. Although it wants to avoid bloodshed, the government still will protect the country's territorial integrity, he said Monday in Kiev.
They're paralyzed. On one hand, they recognize that paramilitary, Moscow-backed thugs occupying government buildings within their borders is unacceptable. On the other, actually launching the promised "full-scale" military push back would likely result in more bloodshed, and would hand Putin exactly the pretext for invasion for which he's been angling. So although restraint and talk of "political solutions" may be the wisest move for embattled leaders in Kiev, failing to follow through on previous (and fully justified) threats looks like weakness -- which Putin preys on. (Issuing empty threats rarely ends well when dealing with brutish strongmen). The West, led by the United States, is deliberating over how to to slap Moscow with new sanctions over its obvious and dangerous subterfuge. The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin reports:
The Obama administration is moving quickly to levy new sanctions against Russia, hoping to stop what the U.S. government now sees as a Crimea-style incursion by unmarked Russian troops in several cities in Eastern Ukraine. But so far, America and its European allies can’t agree on how to hit the Vladimir Putin regime for its latest move onto Ukrainian territory, senior Obama administration officials tell The Daily Beast....Behind the scenes, there’s shock and alarm inside the Obama administration about the recent actions by Russian forces. A senior administration official told The Daily Beast Sunday that the thinking inside the administration had been to wait until this Thursday before moving forward with any new sanctions. That’s the day U.S., EU, Russian, and Ukrainian governments are scheduled to meet in Geneva. But given the new violence, the Obama administration has now moved to ready sanctions as early as Tuesday, the official said, cautioning that no final decision has been made. State Department, White House, and Treasury Department officials have been reaching out to their European counterparts over the weekend to persuade them to join a new sanctions regime.
Read Rogin's full report for a convincing rundown of the evidence implicating Putin's regime in these so-called "protests." Though the developments themselves are clearly disturbing and destabilizing, how is it that they're being met with "shock and alarm" within the Obama administration? We already knew that US officials were caught off-guard by Russia's illegal Crimea gambit, but seriously -- how is anyone still surprised by Putin's continued aggression? Doesn't anyone at the White House read Julie Ioffe?
UPDATE - With this conflict spiraling, be sure to read this Washington Post report about Hillary "Reset" Clinton's relevant connections to Boeing. Very cozy indeed.