Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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What defense of freedom?

Ukraine‘‍s new president, Petro Poroshenko, got a pledge of support from President Obama this week. But in the struggle over Ukraine’s future, Russian President Vladimir Putin looked like the day’s winner.

As Mr. Obama made a speech in Warsaw about defending freedom, Russian-backed forces staged an offensive in the Ukrainian province of Luhansk, where they overran a border command-and-control center and a national guard base. U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s supreme commander, said the insurgents were “very well led, very well financed, [and] very well organized” by Russia.

Mr. Putin’s proxies are tightening their grip over Luhansk and the adjacent province of Donetsk in fighting that has escalated since Mr. Poroshenko’s election. Yet Mr. Putin not only has paid no price for the aggression — U.S. and European Union sanctions remain on hold — he was on his way to D-Day celebrations in France, where he was invited to meet with the leaders of Britain, France, and Germany.

Mr. Putin has a foothold in eastern Ukraine and is in control of Crimea. A large number of Russian troops are still camped on Ukraine’s borders, and irregular fighters and arms are pouring across. But the Russian leader is back to being courted by Western leaders, who are pushing Mr. Poroshenko to satisfy the Kremlin’s demands.

And what of the defense of freedom about which Mr. Obama spoke? The President and his European partners are going only so far as they perceive they can without upsetting Mr. Putin.

Mr. Obama announced a $1 billion initiative for additional military maneuvers with Polish and other Central European countries and the pre-positioning of equipment. But he sidestepped Poland’s request for permanent U.S. or NATO bases on its territory.

Mr. Poroshenko said he hoped for a “lend-lease” program from the United States that would supply Ukraine’s ragtag army with the weapons and training it needs to defeat Russian-backed forces. He got a promise from Mr. Obama of $5 million in nonlethal equipment, including radios and goggles. It would have been less insulting to offer nothing.

Mr. Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned last month that if Russia disrupted Ukraine’s elections, it would be subjected to sanctions aimed at key sectors of its economy. When Russian-backed forces prevented voting in most of Luhansk and Donetsk, which include 15 percent of the Ukrainian electorate, the Western leaders decided their line had not been crossed.

This week, Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel set a new test: Mr. Putin must recognize and negotiate with the Poroshenko government, stop the flow of weapons from Russia into Ukraine, and induce the rebels to lay down their arms. Otherwise, they warned, sanctions would be applied.

Mr. Putin will no doubt judge the latest threat according to the rigor with which the last one was enforced. He has not given up his strategy of using force to undermine Ukraine’s stability and to compromise its independence. Given the West’s wobbly response, why would he?

— Washington Post

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