Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, 23.08.2016
MOSCOW IS EXPLOITING WESTERN APATHY TO ESCALATE THE CONFLICT
Ukraine marks a quarter century of independence from the Soviet Union on Wednesday, and Vladimir Putin’s idea of a birthday gift is to mass troops on its border. This could be a gambit to force a new round of diplomatic concessions from the West— or the prelude to another war.
The Kremlin’s buildup includes deploying the S-400 air-defense system in Crimea and air and naval assets in the Black Sea, while conducting tank exercises in the Russian-occupied strip of Moldovan territory called Transnistria. In May the Kremlin formed a new motorized rifle division in Russia’s western Rostov region, which borders Ukraine’s separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Mr. Putin has also refused to grant the Kiev government control over its eastern borders, as he was required to do under last year’s Minsk II Agreement. As a result, he can reinforce his proxies in eastern Ukraine with troops, materiel and missiles of the sort that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014.
Then there is the Kremlin’s rhetoric. Moscow earlier this month accused Ukraine of dispatching saboteurs to Crimea in an attempt to destabilize the peninsula ahead of Russian parliamentary “elections” next month. The accusation suggests a classic Russian disinformation operation. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said a military mobilization is possible and warned the West not to rule out a “full-scale Russian invasion” of his country.
That makes Washington’s blasé reaction all the more dangerous. The Pentagon believes the Russian buildup is a routine drill, though drills have been used historically as covers for invasion. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden urged both sides to show restraint in a call Friday with Mr. Poroshenko, as if Kiev is guilty of any provocation except self-defense. President Obama has refused to provide Ukraine with the kinds of defensive arms that might deter the Russians.
All of this recalls Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008, which took place as another American President was about to leave office. History may not repeat itself, but the West has given Mr. Putin little reason for pause if he does have designs on more Ukraine territory this year.