Ukraine, U.S. and Russia: red lines and red lines
Words can describe actions, they can indicate future actions or they can just be words.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba recently responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s suggestion to his Ukrainian opposite number, Volodymyr Zelensky, that he talk directly with the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic with words that were clear and unambiguous. With what was once known as le mot de Cambronne.
The report on his comments places the initials of the two above republics, DPR and LPR, in quotation marks. As in “Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Dmitry Kozak said Moscow had offered Germany and France to hold a Normandy meeting in Donbas with the participation of Ukraine and the ‘LPR/DPR’ terrorist organizations.” Zelensky himself also rejected talks with “terrorists.” To make sure there was no lack of clarification regarding Kiev’s position on the matter.
The foreign minister tossed this in for good measure: “We all know that it was Russia who attacked Ukraine. We all know that the key to the resolution of this conflict is in Moscow, and we are not going to talk with their proxies.” Those are the words of a person who entertains no over-subtle, multifaceted, nuanced understanding of the situation. They are the words of a man who knows where he stands and is assured of the support of forces far mightier than any his country possesses.
As indeed he should be confident.
Today Joseph Pennington, Acting Deputy Chief of the U.S. Mission to Ukraine, is cited in the Ukrainian press under the title United States to act firmly in response to Russia’s actions that harm them or their allies, partners – diplomat. That appears suitably unequivocal. No confusion possible there.
His comments were further paraphrased in these words: “Russia started the conflict in the east of Ukraine, and it bears full responsibility for its end, and the United States has showed its determination to hold Russia accountable for its reckless actions.” It’s impossible to be more exact, uncompromising and perspicuous than that.
He, a lower-ranking envoy, also ordered Russia to withdraw troops and weapons from any part of its own territory deemed too close to Ukraine as Washington determines that proximity, and to “return Ukraine full control over its internationally recognized borders.” In short it should abandon the “terrorist organizations” in the Donbass to the tender mercies of Ukraine’s NATO-trained army and its Azov Battalion-type mercenaries and paramilitaries. And get the hell out of Crimea and take their Black Sea Fleet with them. That’s plain speaking. Those are red lines you can see.
To make doubly sure his candid message couldn’t be misunderstood even by the stubborn-minded inclined to do so, Pennington vowed that U.S. European Command would increase bilateral and multinational military exercises “to demonstrate their common readiness and determination.” Precise. Graphic. Transparent. A model of clarity. A red line as red as it can be.
“Looking ahead, we need to continue to pass coordinated messages of a steadfast support to Ukraine. I will participate in the Summit on the Crimean Platform [to demand the “non-recognition of the temporary occupation of Crimea”] this August. We should also stand ready to look into options for additional response, should Russia re-escalate or cross red lines.”
He continued in a lengthy and rancorous diatribe, accusing Russia of aggression, appropriation of another nation’s territory, provocation, duplicity – in general “completely unacceptable” behavior. Borrell was blunt, to-the-point, brutally clear in delineating his red lines.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said this in an address to the Federal Assembly on April 21:
We really want to maintain good relations with all those engaged in international communication, including, by the way, those with whom we have not been getting along lately, to put it mildly. We really do not want to burn bridges. But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn or even blow up these bridges, they must know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift and tough.
Those behind provocations that threaten the core interests of our security will regret what they have done in a way they have not regretted anything for a long time.
At the same time, I just have to make it clear, we have enough patience, responsibility, professionalism, self-confidence and certainty in our cause, as well as common sense, when making a decision of any kind. But I hope that no one will think about crossing the “red line” with regard to Russia. We ourselves will determine in each specific case where it will be drawn.