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I read with interest the two letters to the editor from Messrs. Martyniuk (January 29) and Mirchuk (January 15) and the two responding letters from Messrs. Lomacky and Vitvitsky challenging their accuracy (“spouting nonsense”), and seeking an apology for “provocative allegations against our president” and “spreading false information.”
Apparently, their dispute centered on blame for the loss of Crimea, and its implication on President Joe Biden’s policies towards Ukraine and Russia, especially Nord Stream 2 (NS2).
Momentous historical events such as the invasion of a peaceful neighboring state have both an antecedent and inferences for the future. So, let’s see what went wrong to avert similar naïve mistakes.
It is November 23, 1994, and President Bill Clinton is primed to greet Ukraine’s second president, Leonid Kuchma, at the White House for an official state visit. After months of negotiation, Ukraine had ceded to U.S. insistence that Ukraine disavow its nuclear arms and destroy the ICBMs which, if unleashed, would reduce the U.S. to rubble. (Note: When asked by a Ukrainian diplomat for advice, I urged that its ICBMs be exchanged for iron-clad security guarantees, but to retain tactical nukes for additional deterrence….
“America could be trusted, but not its political leaders”). Less than two weeks later, the leaders of the U.S., U.K., Russia and Ukraine met in Budapest to sign a fateful and ill-advised memorandum that had a direct impact on Crimea, Donbas, and, possibly, Ukraine’s very future.
Readers who are interested in my thoughts on the Budapest Memorandum may choose to review the article I had written for The Weekly in June of last year (June 14, 2020). I will simply restate the obvious: Ukrainian negotiators understood its terms to mean that the U.S. and U.K. would “guarantee” Ukraine’s territorial integrity, independence, etc., with all means at their disposal short of direct military intervention. But U.S. and U.K. negotiators understood it to mean that Ukraine was simply given “assurance” of its territorial integrity, etc., but without conditions as to the nature and extent of support (if any) they would provide. All four leaders signed documents in three languages committing to both “assurance” and “guarantees,” although the distinctions were clear and conforming words were available. Oversight or deception?
Fast forward to February 22, 2014. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had fled Ukraine. Parliament appointed an acting president and prime minister. Ukraine’s military forces had been so hollowed out that they were down to 5,000 combat-ready troops. Their Soviet-era top military leadership was untested and unqualified. Ukraine’s treasury was so drained of money and in debt that the country was on the verge of social and economic collapse. All this while Russian President Vladimir Putin raged over Mr. Yanukovych’s desertion, and tens of thousands of Russian troops held exercises across from Crimea. A “perfect storm” for Mr. Putin’s mayhem.
On February 28, 2014, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council met. Acting President Oleksander Turchynov urged a declaration of war but the country’s defense minister reported that Ukraine could mobilize no more than 5,000 troops, while the prime minister at that time, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, warned that the U.S. 6th fleet had pulled back two U.S. warships from the Black Sea, thus signaling western intentions. Ukraine would have to cope on its own (see https://euobserver.com/foreign/132425).
On March 5, 2014, Mr. Putin denied he had control over the unknown, uniformed and armed “self-defense” forces.
On March 7, 2014, former U.S. President Barack Obama places a 90-minute telephone call to Mr. Putin. … They are reported to be “far apart.” In the following days and weeks Mr. Putin doubles-down on his invasion and expansion further into Ukraine.
In a March 18, 2020, interview Mr. Turchynov chronicles his meeting with then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. He is told that the Budapest Memorandum “does not require a thing of us…we will help only in the diplomatic and political sphere… do not provoke Russia.” They urge him to revoke the recent declaration of mobilization as too provocative. In the same interview, Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev reported how the U.S. Embassy even called the Tartar leadership, directing them to submit peacefully, and assuring them that there will be no occupation. Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, when asked whether he would defend Crimea, responded with an analogy of a thug breaking into one’s home and raping one’s wife, but you do nothing because it would be “provocative” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbgMK 7nJ2LE).
In another interview, Mr. Turchynov stated that the period prior to receipt of the Javelins was the most difficult for Ukraine: “We were isolated from the military-technological support of our western partners. They told me that they were afraid that the war would expand.” (Note to readers: The Javelins were authorized during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s second year and the following period was one of the most peaceful in the seven years of war – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCJ W0J0gDPE).
In a January 2020 interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, deputy defense minister, Maj. Gen. Serhiy Kryvonis, refuted the weakness and pessimism that Mr. Obama demonstrated in urging Ukrainians to roll over. As soon as the war started, “we were prepared to intervene directly with two special force brigades – the 25th airborne and the 79th mobile,” Kryvonis said. He awaited authorization to move, which never came because of “politics,” though his men were prepared to “fight to the death.” He and others in the Ukrainian leadership believed that if they intervened early enough and crushed Mr. Putin’s green men when they appeared, “my intelligence sources tell me” that Mr. Putin was likely to back off (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAFOa9 vicOY).
It’s obvious that, despite the enormous difficulties Ukraine faced, the government was calling up reserves, mobilizing and ready to intervene militarily. They had reason to believe that Mr. Putin’s camouflage of his troops and denial of responsibility was part of an exit strategy he planned to deploy if his forces met serious opposition. Ukraine was dissuaded (“directed”) to submit without resistance under threat of losing aid from the west and with assurances that the problem would be solved diplomatically. The memorandum on which Ukraine had relied for its security was exposed as meaningless when the chips were down. Having yielded to western pressures, the government had no alternative but to order its soldiers and sailors in Crimea to stack arms and turn over their ships and bases without firing a shot.
Mr. Obama, acting through then Vice President Biden and after Ukrainians had conceded to his demands on Crimea, continued to refuse military aid with which Ukrainians could defend themselves, even when Mr. Putin again attacked Ukraine in the Donbas. Those were days of shame and infamy for America, and bloodshed and destruction for Ukraine.
Although there is some evidence that Mr. Biden urged stronger measures against Russia and supported arming Ukraine, Ukrainians have good reason, while observing another potentially disastrous vacillation on NS2, to be wary of the man who played a key role then, and is now our president. He has much to do before he can regain the trust of all Ukrainians.