As documented here earlier this week, things are blowing up in Ukraine again - literally.
On Monday, after a preliminary vote in parliament in favor of a constitutional amendment granting rebel-held territories increased autonomy (a condition of Minsk II), a volunteer fighter from the Svoboda Party’s Sich Battalion lobbed a grenade at Ukrainian National Guard soldiers killing three and injuring more than 100.
The violence underscores the extent to which Ukraine’s fiercely nationalist volunteer battalions (some of which have called for the establishment of a "Christian Taliban" and the burning of Moscow) are in no way, shape, or form prepared to accept any compromise which they feel undermines the effort to push back against the Russian-backed separatists operating in the east.
On a more general level, Monday’s events draw a line under the fact that this is one proxy war which isn’t about to die down meaning tensions between Moscow and the West are set to remain elevated for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, Moscow has refused to participate in a restructuring of Ukraine’s debt. As we detailed earlier this week, Moscow is holding out for full payment on a $3 billion loan Vladimir Putin made to Ukraine in 2013 in a failed attempt to support then-President Viktor Yanukovych. Of course Yanukovych was run out of the country last year following a wave of John McCain-attended protests and so as you might imagine, the Kremlin was not at all pleased with the prospect of taking a 20% upfront hit from a debtor country with which Russia is now essentially at war.
As you can see, deescalation is simply not in the cards here and now, less than three months after deploying heavy weapons in Poland and conducting war games that looked suspiciously like a rehearsal for a Ukraine siege, NATO has opened a new command post in Lithuania. Here’s WSJ with the story:
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization inaugurated a new command post in Vilnius Lithuania on Thursday, one of six across the alliance’s eastern border meant to shore up the region’s defenses against Russia.
For first time, the new command posts put a permanent—but very small—alliance presence on the border of Russia, a move that has rankled Moscow but which NATO leaders hope will deter Vladimir Putin from stirring unrest.
For the alliance, the new headquarters are meant to create a NATO presence without violating its 1997 promise not to permanently station troops on Russia’s borders.
In addition to Lithuania, the other small headquarters are located in Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Because the alliance hasn't traditionally operated in those countries, U.S. officials said work needs to be done to speed up the ability to move equipment to those countries. The first task of the new headquarters, officials said, is to try to tackle those logistical problems.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenbergsaid the new headquarters, formally known as NATO Force Integration Units, will improve the alliance’s ability to reinforce
American and others’ training forces in Lithuania and the other Baltic states, he said.
Coupled with other measures like the new rapid-reaction spearhead force and stepped-up exercises, the new headquarters will help increase the collective defense of the alliance.
“All this together makes sure we have credible deterrence,” he said.
Yes, and "all this together" also makes sure that the tension between the West and Moscow has virtually no hope of subsiding and will continue to approximate that seen during the Cold War. But don’t listen to us, just ask Moscow:
The Russian ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, said the opening of the new units will feed “an artificially created confrontation” with Russia. He accused the alliance of fomenting tensions with Moscow and following “the logic of the Cold War.”
“It runs counter to genuine interests of the European and regional security,” he said in a statement.
So in sum, NATO continues to open forward command posts along Russia's border as Ukrainian ultra-nationalists who were originally emboldened by John McCain's high profile presence at Maidan are now lobbing grenades at parliament, while Putin is in Beijing attending Xi's military parade and the Chinese navy is operating off the coast of Alaska for the first time in history.
Thank you Nobel Peace Price winning Commander in Chief.
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