Europe

Ukraine crisis: War of words offers little hope

  • 25 April 2014
  • From the section Europe
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to press about the situation with Ukraine and Russia - 24 April 2014
John Kerry's most recent comments show the tensions of the Cold War are returning

Day by day the language of diplomacy is being replaced by words of confrontation and recrimination, as the US and Russia manoeuvre in the escalating crisis over the future of Ukraine.

The statement by John Kerry on Thursday took the rhetoric to a new level as he accused the Russian government of failing to do anything to defuse tensions in eastern Ukraine, as required under the terms of the agreement reached in Geneva last week.

"Having failed to postpone Ukraine's elections, having failed to halt a legitimate political process, Russia has instead chosen an illegitimate course of armed violence to try and achieve with the barrel of a gun and the force of a mob what couldn't be achieved any other way," Mr Kerry said.

The US secretary of state went on to describe Russia's action as a "full-throated effort to sabotage the democratic process."

Not since the Cold War ended more than 20 years ago, have such angry words been fired at the Kremlin by the state department.

Ukrainian soldiers at a newly erected checkpoint on the outskirts of Sloviansk - 25 April 2014
Ukrainian troops are trying to regain control of the east - but Russian troops are just across the border

And this under the presidency of Barack Obama, who in his first term attempted to reset relations with the Kremlin to create an atmosphere of constructive engagement and co-operation.

In what seemed a highly significant move in 2010, the two countries even signed a treaty to cut their nuclear arsenals.

But that brief period of optimism that Russia and the United States could normalise relations, has now become a distant memory.

Frustration and anger in both capitals have risen sharply since the revolutions of the Arab Spring spread across the Middle East three years ago.

Russia, instinctively wary of revolutionary movements, was alarmed by the West's military intervention in Libya, which led to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi.

Since then Moscow has persistently backed the Syrian regime in the civil war there, blocking all moves by Western powers at the UN Security Council aimed at pressurising President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a media meeting in St Petersburg - 24 April 2014
Ukraine's interim leader has accused President Putin of wanting "to start World War Three"

But the rhetoric deployed in these earlier diplomatic crises between Russia and the West now seems mild in comparison with the gloves-off approach over Ukraine.

All vestiges of normal diplomacy have been abandoned and replaced by an escalating war of words.

The path to war?

The leader of the pro-Western government in Kiev, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has even accused Russia of wanting to start another world war.

"Attempts at Russian military aggression on Ukrainian territory will lead to a military conflict in Europe," he said.

"The world has not yet forgotten World War Two, but Russia already wants to start World War Three."

Inevitably there's been a rapid and forceful reply to all this from Moscow, which accuses Western powers of creating the crisis in Ukraine by supporting the revolutionary movement which overthrew President Yanukovich in February.

"The West wants - and this is how it all began - to seize control of Ukraine," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "because of its own political ambitions, not because of the interests of the Ukrainian people."

Pro-Russian separatists stand guard inside a barricade constructed around the Donetsk Regional Administration building following its recent takeover by the separatists on April 25, 2014
Pro-Russian separatists are angry at being branded "terrorists" by Kiev and show no signs of giving in

So the tensions of the Cold War are returning and with great speed.

Russian troops are now massed in their thousands along Ukraine's eastern border poised to invade if given the order by the Kremlin.

While to the west and north of Ukraine, contingents of US soldiers and extra warplanes have been sent to bolster Nato member states nervous about Russia's broader intentions.

And meanwhile Washington is threatening to impose sanctions which could cause significant damage to the Russian economy.

The alarming rhetoric reflects just how dangerous the situation has now become.