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Ambassador: U.S. Won't Stand By While Russia Destroys Peace

12 May 2014
Official portrait of Matthew Barzun (State Dept.)

U.S. Ambassador Matthew W. Barzun

This essay by U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Matthew Barzun was first published in the online version of the Daily Mail on May 10. There are no republication restrictions.

America Will Not Stand Idly By While Putin and His Cronies Destroy Peace in Europe
by Matthew Barzun

Standing up to violence does not require that we be violent ourselves – but it does demand that we stand up. This is precisely what America, in close partnership with Britain and our other allies, is doing in response to the mounting crisis in Ukraine.

We are standing up for the rights of Ukrainians to live freely in a stable and sovereign nation. And we are standing up to Russia’s indefensible duplicity, bullying and aggression.

Indisputably, Moscow is fomenting and directing violence in Ukraine. These actions are proof that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is playing by a different set of rules and that it seeks to change the security landscape of eastern and central Europe through force and intimidation.

Ukraine’s dismemberment by external forces would be a serious blow to the peaceful global order. We will not sit idly by and let it happen.

A lesson of the 20th Century was that peace demands that human dignity is protected and sovereign borders respected. It is a lesson we have not forgotten.

Our approach is driven by a determination to defuse the conflict and encourage dialogue. Our transatlantic alliance, which has guaranteed security in Europe for seven decades, is being tested. We must not falter.

As US Secretary of State John Kerry has said, the United States is prepared to do what we need to do to uphold it.

The first of our immediate priorities is to continue our strong support for Ukraine through constitutional reform, anti-corruption measures, and economic aid. This will help the people and increase their trust in government and faith in the political process.

We are also strongly supporting free and fair presidential elections on May 25 as the best route to political and economic stability.

The vast majority of Ukrainians, including two-thirds of the public in eastern Ukraine, want this election to proceed.

There are 100 independent observers on the ground to monitor the lead-up to the election, with up to 1,000 more being deployed to ensure that the poll meets the highest international standard.

This is how we want countries to determine their futures – through the ballot, not the bullet. And we call on Russia to endorse Ukraine’s democratic system – to support the right of all Ukrainians to participate in the elections, to refrain from any interference with election preparations, and to use their influence on the armed militants who are taking steps to interfere with that process.

Our second objective is to hold Putin and his Kremlin cronies to account. Some argue that Ukraine is experiencing only a domestic political crisis which has, regrettably, turned violent. Unsurprisingly, Russia has been the leading voice touting this narrative. The facts tell otherwise.

International observers confirm that there was no threat to Russian-speaking Ukrainians, the crude pretext for Russian involvement. Equally, violent separatists who have engaged in kidnapping, torture and killings have been carrying papers showing that they come from Crimea or from Russia.

They make little effort to pretend they are acting independently. Russia’s claim to have no influence over the violent separatists whom they are funding, arming and directing is not credible.

Others suggest that the actions of the Ukrainian government and the separatists are comparable. That is not the case. The post-Yanukovych government in Kiev has taken many steps towards de-escalation and is actively reaching out to all Ukrainians.

It has sent an amnesty bill to parliament to give extremists a chance to stand down. It has dismantled barricades and opened streets in Kiev to restore normality. It has guaranteed rights to use of the Russian language.

And it has offered solutions to the demands of those seeking a more decentralised Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists have offered nothing but continuing violence and destabilisation.

We expect to see another example of this today as pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk attempt to stage contrived and bogus independence referendums.

This latest development is very concerning. It is the Crimea playbook all over again. We will refuse to recognise the result of this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine.

Even Putin pulled his support for these referendums, perhaps because he too realised that they would be unconvincing Russian-sponsored political theatre.

Whatever the reason, this was a positive step. But it is not enough. Much more action is needed from Russia to reverse its destructive course.

It must call on separatists to put down their arms, and to join the international community in supporting presidential elections.

So far, Russia has chosen to intensify instability instead of working with us to defuse the crisis – notably by failing to fulfil the commitments that it made in Geneva on April 17.

From day one, Ukraine undertook to implement both the spirit and the substance of what was laid out in that agreement. Yet not one single step has been taken by Russia that seriously attempts to live by the spirit or law of what they signed up to.

The reaction of the US, Britain and the EU to Moscow’s malign interventions in Ukraine has been to introduce calibrated, comprehensive and co-ordinated sanctions. We are raising the economic costs on Russia.

And this week, John Kerry will be in London to discuss with William Hague and their EU counterparts what appropriate next steps might be. Were Putin to take steps that hinder or attempt to prevent the elections, he will bring more costs on Russia.

There has, however, been criticism of our response. One British paper belittled it by depicting a shirtless Putin on board a tank driving past a sign which said: ‘Stop. Or the West will put you on the naughty step.’

This characterisation of our approach ignores the potency of this 21st Century use of force. No longer is the choice between hand grenades or hand-wringing.

Sanctions are making Russia pay a steep price for its actions. Its credit rating has been downgraded to one step above ‘junk’ status, stock prices and economic growth are weakening, and the central bank has spent close to $30 billion (£18 billion) to prop up the rouble.

Unless Putin changes course, the current nationalistic fever in Russia will soon break. When it does, it will give way to a cold realisation of the profound economic costs of his policies.

This crisis is one of his own choosing. Now he faces another choice: to leave Ukraine in peace and work with us to create a strong Ukraine – one that is not a buffer between East and West, but a bridge to both.