Green men cross red line

“Green men” — armed gunmen wearing green — were at the vanguard of Russia’s Crimea takeover. Now they are stirring the pot in Eastern Ukraine. Russia claims they are local protesters. In reality, as Max Boot says, they are Russian soldiers and intelligence operatives.

The evidence is conclusive. According to the New York Times:

Photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

Thus, Russia’s position that it isn’t behind the unrest being stirred up by the green men is a fiction.

But when it comes to fiction, Washington takes no backseat to Moscow. Consider this statement by our Secretary of State:

We fully expect the Russians . . . to demonstrate their seriousness by insisting that the pro-Russian separatists who they’ve been supporting lay down their arms [and] leave the buildings [in eastern Ukraine]. I made clear to Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov today that if we are not able to see progress . . . this weekend, then we will have no choice but to impose further costs on Russia.

As the Washington Post editorial board observes, the weekend has come and gone and neither the pro-Russian separatists nor the “green men” have stood down. The government buildings remain occupied. And in Slovyansk, where Russian military operatives appear to be headquartered, a shooting incident has become the pretext for threats from Moscow to intervene in order to “save southeastern Ukraine from chaos.”

Another crisis; another Obama-Kerry red line disregarded.

What will the Obama administration do now? It will continue to dither (to use the Post’s word).

What should it do? It should (1) send lethal military aid to Ukraine so that it can defend itself; (2) send U.S. army brigades, not just companies as is being discussed, to Poland and the Baltic States; and (3) impose the broad sanctions against Russian banking, energy and mining sectors that Kerry, cliche-ridden as ever, has said were “on the table.”

These measures would change Moscow’s Ukraine calculus. Would the new calculus deter Putin from dismembering Ukraine? Maybe yes, maybe no.

But even if they didn’t, they would put U.S. relations with Russia on a proper basis instead of one dominated by colorful fictions.

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