The Ukraine Crisis Has Escalated — Again. Now What?

A U.S. response to the latest Russian provocations may take a while.

Pro-Ukrainian supporters rally in front of policemen guarding the Russian consulate in Odessa on June 16, demanding the Russian flag there be flown at half mast to commemorate the 49 Ukrainian troops killed in the downing of a military plane.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
June 16, 2014, 10:20 a.m.

Two weeks ago, Pres­id­ent Obama warned Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin that Rus­sia would face “ad­di­tion­al costs” if it didn’t stop fan­ning the sep­ar­at­ist fire in east­ern Ukraine.

Then on Fri­day, Rus­sia sent tanks, rock­et launch­ers, and oth­er weapons to sep­ar­at­ists in east­ern Ukraine, ac­cord­ing to the State De­part­ment. The day after, Rus­si­an-backed mil­it­ants shot down a Ukrain­i­an mil­it­ary plane, killing the 49 people aboard — the dead­li­est event since un­rest began Feb­ru­ary.

And on Monday, Rus­sia cut off its gas sup­ply to Ukraine.

The Ukraine crisis has quickly es­cal­ated in a mat­ter of days — yet again. But wheth­er the re­cent events are enough for more U.S. ac­tion against Rus­si­an pro­voca­tion in the com­ing weeks re­mains un­clear.

A Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil spokes­wo­man said Monday that the U.S. con­tin­ues to urge Rus­sia to pull its sup­port from sep­ar­at­ist groups and stop the flow of arms across the bor­der. For now, it looks as if the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is stick­ing to its usu­al tac­tic in this crisis — play­ing the wait-and-see game as Putin makes prom­ises to dis­en­gage from the re­gion.

“The mere fact that some of the Rus­si­an sol­diers have moved back from the bor­der and that Rus­sia is now destabil­iz­ing Ukraine through sur­rog­ates, rather than overtly and ex­pli­citly, does not mean that we can af­ford three months, or four months, or six months, of con­tin­ued vi­ol­ence and con­flict in east­ern Ukraine,” Obama said dur­ing the G-7 sum­mit at the be­gin­ning of this month.

But talk of sanc­tions is es­pe­cially un­likely to come in the im­me­di­ate weeks. All eyes are on the de­teri­or­at­ing situ­ation in Ir­aq right now, a real­ity that buys Rus­sia time. With the ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­trac­ted by events in the Middle East, Putin may be think­ing he has ad­di­tion­al wiggle room for more med­dling in Ukraine.

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