Friday, August 29, 2014

Putin Lashes Out at Kiev

At the Wall Street Journal, "Putin Lashes Out at Ukraine Over Failure of Talks: Comments Come as Ukraine Says It Wants to Join NATO":

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused Kiev and its allies of backing peace talks only as a smoke screen to continue military operations, sidestepping allegations that Russia is funneling troops into eastern Ukraine to fight alongside separatist rebels.

Hopes for a diplomatic solution to the crisis have dimmed significantly in recent days. Putin's claims came as Ukraine's government proposed repealing a law banning membership in military blocs and moving toward joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Russia considers a threat to its interests.

"The Ukrainian authorities must be forced to substantively start talks" with separatists in the east on greater autonomy, Mr. Putin told a youth forum in northwest Russia. He didn't specify how that would happen, but he blasted the West for allowing Kiev to continue fighting.

"You know what our partners' position boils down to?... 'yes, we must sit down at the negotiating table, but we need to let the Ukrainian government shoot a bit first,'" he said. "But that's not working. That has to be recognized."

Moscow has long called for Kiev to stop its military operation unconditionally, but previous cease-fires have fallen apart almost as soon as they were announced amid allegations from both sides of violations. Ukraine has said it is open to a truce but only if it is observed by both sides.

NATO said Thursday that more than 1,000 Russian soldiers are fighting in Ukraine in an incursion that appeared to be aimed at preventing Kiev from defeating the separatists on the battlefield.

Mr. Putin didn't specifically address the allegations from Kiev and the West, which other Russian officials denied. He said only that border violations by troops have happened on both sides and are a "technical" matter.

In unusually harsh language, Mr. Putin compared Ukrainian forces' tactics to those used by the Nazis in their invasion of Russia. "Sadly, it reminds me of World War II, when German fascist forces surrounded our cities, like Leningrad, and shelled population centers and their residents," he said. Kiev has denied those allegations.

Keeping up his defiance, Mr. Putin said that Russia wasn't involved in major conflicts, but would be ready to repel aggression. "Russia's partners...should understand it's best not to mess with us," he said.

Ukraine's proposal wasn't discussed at a Friday meeting of NATO ambassadors called to discuss the crisis, though the alliance's chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO would "fully respect" any decision by Ukraine to try to join the alliance.

Ukraine had been seeking NATO membership under its previous pro-Western government in 2005, but the subsequent pro-Russian leadership passed the law banning bloc membership in 2010.