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Itching for a Fight

The Senate and Ukraine

by RENEE PARSONS

After awaiting the late arrival of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on “Russian Intervention in Ukraine” and by its title you might guess exactly where that hearing was headed.   No doubt only a complete acquiescence to NATO, acceptance of the IMF and its austerity ‘reforms’ and the dismantlement of Russia itself would satisfy the majority of Committee members who appear to be itching for a fight.

With no Democrat willing to publicly break with a mediocre President who has exceeded Bush’s capacity for military conflict, committee members resemble little more than an impotent collection of angry white men who don’t know what else to do with life’s disappointments but to stumble into another colossal foreign policy blunder.  Leading the bunch is Committee Chair Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), no relation to Obi Wan Kenobi, who opened the hearing with comments that defied the facts and were so totally devoid of the historical complexity of the region only confirm that he became Chair of the Committee based solely on seniority.

Almost as if in response to the Committee’s belligerence, Putin announced a huge step back that confounded many pugnacious westerners as well as angered some pro-Russian factions in east and south Ukraine.  Putin’s proposal of pulling troops back from the border with Ukraine, urging support for the May 25th vote and daring to suggest that the May 11th votes in Donetsk and Luhansk be cancelled were met with ice cold silence by the US.

Putin’s further suggestion that the US-appointed Kiev government enter into dialogue with the protesting citizens, who now claim victory at the polls, should have been a no-brainer weeks ago for President Obama, Nobel Peace Prize winner, to have announced and would have been a perfect project for our go-getter Secretary of State in his pursuit of peace.

Now that those votes have been completed, both regions having refused to recognize the legitimacy of the February coup, announced their status as sovereign states with Donetsk stating it would apply to Russia for secession and Luhansk will apply for designation by the UN, the US can count on the anti-Kiev citizens of east Ukraine to continue their protests while Vladimir Putin monitors the furor as IMF demands for ‘austerity’ creates more turmoil and misery.  With no lull in the fighting after the votes, there is every reason to fear the next move from  Kiev – an increasingly desperate and dysfunctional entity.

What members of the Committee and Administration are really distraught about is not only that Putin clearly understands  the US game and has proven to be a compelling adversary or that the plan to put NATO on Russia’s border and bring the EU and IMF into Ukraine has not proceeded as smoothly as anticipated but that there have been no welcoming roses or brass bands in the streets from ordinary citizens who have instead dared to challenge and outwit the greatest economic and military power in the history of the world.

While the Committee heard testimony from the profane Tori Nuland (her friends call her Tori) and Daniel Glaser, Assistant Secretary of  Treasury for Terrorist Financing, each offered little of anything new with an emphasis on the same stale rhetoric.

However, Evelyn Farkas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Ukraine and Eurasia, did provide some moments of enlightenment regarding heretofore obscure details including a 20 year US-led International Military Education and Training (IMET) program in Ukraine.  Her testimony also described how the US is bolstering its military presence in the region under the title of ‘De-escalating the Situation with Russia” which might seem contradictory to some literary nitpickers.  Farkas informed the Committee that 330,000 MRE’s (meals ready to eat) had already been provided to Ukrainians in the field (but not to America’s 20 million homeless children) and  funding of “$50 million for new programs to address emerging needs in Ukraine” in addition to the  already announced $1 billion loan guarantee and $18 million “security assistance.”

Some of the non-lethal assistance going to Ukraine includes water purification units, electric generators, shelters, vehicles, medical and engineering equipment, binoculars, hand held radios, fuel pumps, concertina wire, vehicle batteries, spare tires, and communication gear – all of which would have been welcome by those Americans, some of whom lost everything they owned due to tornados or other extreme weather events.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) ranking minority member of the Committee, the irascible Sen. John McCain (R-Az) and other Republicans expressed serious crankiness that Russia’s ‘little green men’ continue to ‘foment problems’ within Ukraine and that sanctions to date have not been effective.   Apparently US intelligence has not briefed the Congress that in the early days of the coup, the interim government disbanded the elite Berket police force which refused to fire on civilians and that many of those unemployed, professionally trained police have joined the protestors.   Corker may, however, be confusing his “little green men’ with 400 American mercenaries that the German Intelligence Service reported to the Merkel government in late April are now in east Ukraine. In addition, a recent NY Times story “Behind the Masks” with two of its reporters in east Ukraine, reported nary a Russian to be found.

Echoing Menendez, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) sounded like a cold warrior as she distressed about what other tactical gear the Ukraine government had requested and how much more should the US be providing.   Suggesting she was not sure if the votes were there for an emergency supplemental package, Boxer indicated she ‘would vote for it.”  Boxer inquired why Slovakia isn’t providing more gas to Ukraine and Tori responded that Gazprom controls the codes that opens the spigots thereby controlling the flow from Slovakia adding that reverse gas is an “essential piece” of a “strategic priority … to make reverse-flow more available”.

Boxer’s comment that “we’re not sending troops in there, they’ve been told they have to defend themselves” raises a different set of complications, not the least of which is the aforementioned private contractors.  However, no US troops on the ground make it easier for ‘liberals’ to be pro-war – as long as it’s not ‘our war’.  But, in fact, it will always be ‘our war’ with the IMF and NATO, neither of which could exist without US funding, acting as camouflage for US intentions.  Any rational person might find it worrisome that with neo-Nazis who have already proven their brutality in the National Guard, a seemingly insignificant melee in some obscure location might trigger an unintended consequence and voila – war.

If in fact the Kiev government has been told that ‘they have to defend themselves’ then let’s get the hell out.   And let’s hear a hurrah for former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s recent opinion that “Putin’s demonization [is] not a policy but an alibi for the absence of one’ and that claims that Putin inflicted the Ukraine crisis “makes no sense” are right-on acknowledgements that the Obama Administration has massively screwed up in such a way that it  has no clue how to extricate itself.

But Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) who was naïve enough to accompany Sen. McCain to Kiev last December (you know that was not going to end well) and stood with neo-Nazi coup-supporters, has other ideas. As if the current disaster is not sufficient warning of the potential for a military conflagration throughout eastern Europe, Sen. Murphy proposes that the US sponsor Georgia for membership into NATO.   Without taking the necessary time here to lay out why this is a horrendously bad idea, Murphy reasons that membership would “send clear message” to Russia that the US is “not going to allow his [Putin’s] tactic where Russia tried to invade half a country.“  Ai yi yi – would someone donate some current event-history books on the Caucasus to Committee members before they screw up?

The closest three Democrats could come to avoiding a ride on the War Horse to glory was Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md) who questioned the May 25th presidential vote and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va) who reiterated that there would be no US troops on the ground and that “Congress has made that very clear” not for moral reasons but since military aid costs money and the Pentagon is stretched thin under the Sequester budget.  Kaine’s idea, however, that stopping Visa and Master Card transactions would “blitz” the Russian economy failed to take into account the impacts on a global economy.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) followed up on Tori’s earlier comment regarding reverse gas flow suggesting that if energy conservation efforts were pursued in Ukraine, the second least energy efficient country in the world, its dependence on Russian exports would lessen.  Markey was right-on with his analysis that wishful thinking is not a substitute for an energy policy pointing out that there are no LNG terminals on either side of the Atlantic and that a commitment to energy efficiency could be accomplished sooner – assuming there is a country left standing.

Renee Parsons was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and a lobbyist on nuclear energy issues with Friends of the Earth.  in 2005, she was elected to the Durango City Council and served as Councilor and Mayor.  Currently, she is a member of the Treasure Coast ACLU Board.