On Monday we noted that Europe has moved to extend economic sanctions on Russia for another six months in response to Moscow’s alleged role in fueling the violence that now plagues Eastern Ukraine. This marks the latest escalation in the ongoing standoff between the Kremlin and the West and underscores the pace at which the situation is deteriorating. Here’s a recap of recent events:
Ukraine has seen its worst outbreak of violence since February’s ‘ceasefire’ this month, with both sides blaming the other for the intensification of hostilities. Meanwhile, the US has dusted off the Cold War playbook (although, ironically, Defense Secretary Ash Carter claims Washington’s stepped up “containment” efforts are part of a new, more modern strategy designed to help America avoid being pulled back into the Cold War), suggesting heavy weapons may be stored in Eastern Europe to ensure NATO forces can deploy quickly in the face of Russian “aggression.” Last week, Belgium, Austria, and France froze Russian state assets in an attempt to enforce an effectively unenforceable ECHR decision stemming from the long-running Yukos debacle, while Germany, Norway, The Czech Republic, and The Netherlands rehearsed a Ukraine siege in Poland.
Now, just a few days after NATO’s latest proxy war dress rehearsal, and just 24 hours after Ash Carter accused Russia of "nuclear saber rattling", we have more details on the Pentagon’s plan to deploy heavy weapons in Eastern Europe. Speaking at a joint press conference, the Defense Secretary outlined the scope of US weapons deployment:
“We will temporarily stage one armoured brigade combat team's vehicles and associated equipment in countries in central and eastern Europe. This pre-positioned European activity set includes tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery. [Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland have] agreed to host company- to battalion-sized elements of this equipment.”
(Carter looking particularly pleased on Monday)
In other words, here's what working towards de-escalation and peaceful coexistence looks like to Washington: "250 tanks, Bradleys, and self-propelled howitzers, and associated armoured brigade combat team equipment [stationed] in Baltic and Central European countries."
Meanwhile, Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law (yes, someone actually has that job title in Russia) has accused the US of sabatoging a bilateral agreement aimed at the pursuit of "common national interests" by adopting a "teacher-pupil" mentality. Here's TASS:
Russia is ready to conduct an equal dialogue with the United States and is against the US lecturing on democracy building principles, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law Konstantin Dolgov told TASS on Tuesday.
"The Russian-American presidential commission included the civil society group, and there were plans to continue its work," Dolgov said. "But then we got the general answer that the United States was ‘so concerned’ about human rights in Russia that decided to freeze this group among the first — that’s the alogism."
"We’ve never shed and don’t shed any tears over this," the diplomat said. "By the way, the Russian and US civil societies are communicating."
He said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has recently commented on the general situation in relations with the United States. "We’ve received signals from the United States that they are willing to resume dialogue with us one way or another," the Russian Foreign Ministry commissioner said. "We are fully ready for such a dialogue."
The diplomat said Russia had very many problems with Washington in the human rights sphere, in particular, the situation with arrests of Russians in third countries at American requests, the situation with Russian children adopted by US families.
"Dialogue is always a two-way street. The ‘teacher-pupil’ formula will not work anymore," he said. "It will be only an equal dialogue and we are ready to conduct this kind of dialogue."
"And if they want to lecture us on democracy building ways, let them lecture students at some American university," Dolgov said.
The reference here is to the 2009 U.S.-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission. In April of last year, the US "temporarily suspended several projects and meetings planned under the auspices of the Commission" due to what Washington calls "Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity." After cancelling the projects, the US proceeded to channel the associated funds straight to Ukraine:
"Funding for these activities has instead been used to contribute to a package of U.S. assistance to Ukraine, which is supporting economic reform and addressing other pressing needs."
Fortunately for Dolgov, it doesn't appear as though he, or any other Russian diplomats for that matter, will be forced to endure a "lecture" on democracy from the US anytime soon because as the positioning of 250 Bradleys and self-propelled howitzers, and associated armoured brigade combat team equipment" in Eastern Europe makes clear, the time for dialogue of any kind has long since passed.