Joe Biden’s secretary of state had to defend the response of the previous Democratic administration to the 2014 crisis in Ukraine, suggesting that Barack Obama prevented Russia from “doing even more” to the country.
Over the past week, Washington has been sending strongly-worded warnings to Moscow over the movements of troops on its western border. From the US point of view, Russia is acting aggressively and may be preparing for military action in neighboring Ukraine, a country that counts the US as its patron. Russia’s position is quite the opposite: first of all, Moscow is moving its troops within the country’s borders. Secondly, the political instability in Ukraine may prompt the government in Kiev to launch a new attack on the rebellious eastern region of Donbass and Russia says it is making sure it’s ready to respond to it.
The tension is not unlike that of 2014, when a post-coup government in Kiev sent its military to quash dissent in Donbass and suffered a humiliating defeat by local militias – which some have blamed on the Russian intervention. The setback shortly followed the decision by the region of Crimea to break up with Ukraine and become part of Russia again, in what the US considers an act of annexation by force.
With the parallels in mind, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was confronted on Sunday by NBC host Chuck Todd, who suggested the US response to the 2014 crisis was underwhelming and that President Biden may face a similar situation with China and Taiwan today.
Blinken, who served as Deputy National Security Advisor in the Obama administration in 2014, defended the policy, saying his former boss “led a very significant international effort to impose real cost and sanctions on Russia.”
“How did it work out, in fairness?” Todd responded, to which Blinken said: “What we don’t know is has this deterred Russia from doing even more.”
He went on to reiterate US concerns over the current tensions over Donbass and how President Biden is ready to inflict “costs and consequences,” should Russia “act recklessly and aggressively”. He disagreed with the host when he pointed out that Biden’s Russia policy looked exactly like Obama’s (and Trump’s), which didn’t appear to make Russia act the way Washington wants it to.
“We can’t go back four years ago or six years ago or eight years ago – pick your year,” he said, reiterating the threat of making Russia pay.
The 2014 crisis in Ukraine started with US-backed violent anti-government protests in Ukraine, in which right-wing nationalists played the role of foot soldiers against security forces. An outspokenly anti-Russian government was brought into power on the back of the uprising, which stirred discontent in the Russia-friendly eastern regions of Ukraine.
After the Ukrainian army failed to capture Donbass, a peace roadmap, which would allow the breakaway regions to reintegrate under special terms guaranteeing their autonomy and representation, was agreed after international talks in Minsk, Belarus. Kiev sabotaged the Minsk agreements for years and has recently pulled out of peace talks altogether.
Meanwhile the President Volodymyr Zelensky, once a widely popular politician whose party in 2019 managed to secure a unilateral majority in the Ukrainian parliament, has lost much of his public support. He suffered a major defeat in last year’s regional elections and has recently launched several attacks on the more popular opposition forces. He ordered the shutdown of TV channels critical of his government and is currently trying to ban a small opposition political party, the leader of which has been bombarding Zelensky personally with acerbic criticisms.
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