On Thursday Ukrainian military forces completed a military offense in the pro-Russian separatist controlled city of Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine and killed as many as five separatists. Russia responded by conducting military drills near the border area, raising concerns that Moscow was on the verge of ordering troops into eastern Ukraine.
Although the West has accused Russia of supporting the pro-Russian separatist recent seizure of government buildings across several cities in eastern Ukraine, Moscow has repeatedly denied playing any active role in fomenting division and unrest in Ukraine.
However, an estimated 40,000 Russian troops are still massed along the Ukrainian-Russia border.
Secretary of State John Kerry offered some remarks about eastern Ukraine from the State Department Press Briefing Room on Thursday where he talked tough towards Russia but still fell short of issuing a new round of sanctions on Russia which has already paid an economic price for its military incursion into Crimea and antagonizing actions in eastern Ukraine.
Kerry remarked about the lack of commitment that Russia has demonstrated following the signing of the Geneva Accord a week ago between Russian, Ukraine, United States, and the EU which put into motion a plan for deescalating the situation in eastern Ukraine through a series if steps including constitutional reforms protecting minority populations in Ukraine and disarming illegal groups operating in Ukraine, such as the armed pro-Russian separatists who haven’t accepted the terms of the new accord and remain defiant.
“The simple reality is you can’t resolve a crisis when only one side is willing to do what is necessary to avoid a confrontation. Every day since we left Geneva – every day, even up to today, when Russia sent armored battalions right up the Luhansk Oblast border – the world has witnessed a tale of two countries, two countries with vastly different understandings of what it means to uphold an international agreement” Kerry said.
“We agreed that all sides would refrain from violence, intimidation, and taking provocative actions. We agreed that illegal groups would lay down their arms and that, in exchange for amnesty, they would hand over the public buildings and spaces that they occupied” Kerry added.
Kerry said that Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk was doing his part to abide by the terms of the Geneva accord and complied with actions requested by Russia such as removing the barricades in the Maidan, cleaning up the square, and ensuring that all ongoing demonstrations in Kiev are actually government-approved and peaceful.
Kiev was also pledging to support a special status to the Russian language and the protection of the language.
Sharp criticism was given to Russia for failing to defuse the volatile situation in Ukraine.
“Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons, and get out of the Ukrainian buildings. They have not called on them to engage in that activity” Kerry emphasized.
Kerry pointed out that both NATO and the U.S. intelligence community have arrived at the same conclusion regarding Russia’s direct role in supporting the pro-Russian separatists.
“As NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe wrote this week, ‘What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.’ ” Kerry said.
“Our intelligence community tells me that Russia’s intelligence and military intelligence services and special operators are playing an active role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine with personnel, weapons, money, operational planning, and coordination” Kerry continued.
Kerry said that the “window to change course is closing” and President Putin and Russia must face a choice.
“If Russia chooses the path of de-escalation, the international community – all of us – will welcome it. If Russia does not, the world will make sure that the cost for Russia will only grow” Kerry explained.
President Obama will hold a conference call with European leaders on Friday to encourage them to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.
Some of the potential economic sanctions that the United States may push for includes sanctioning Gazpram Bank, Russia’s third largest lender, and Vnesheconombank which has close ties to the Kremlin, according Bloomberg’s Pulse.
Russia has already paid an economic price for its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Approximately $70 billion in capital has fled the Russian financial system in the first quarter of 2014, more than all of last year with growth estimates for 2014 being revised downward by two to three percentage points.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Central Bank has spent more than $20 billion to defend the ruble.
Today credit rating firm S & P cut Russia’s credit rating from BBB to BBB – , which is barely above above junk level.
It is the first credit cut for Russia in five years. Russia’s economic growth slowed to 0.8 percent in the first quarter of 2014.
Russia’s economy is approximately the same size of the state economy of California.