Special to WorldTribune.com
U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy in Ukraine of threatening Russian President Valdimir Putin but taking no substantial action has failed miserably, lawmakers and analysts say.
Two years after protests toppled Ukraine’s pro-Moscow government, Obama’s policy languishes amid Putin’s heavy-handed determination, the headline-stealing conflicts in Syria and Iraq and wavering support from European allies.
“There is just no push back” from the Obama administration, Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told POLITICO. “Putin has paid no price.”
While Obama’s rhetoric casts Russia’s presence in Ukraine as a grave threat to European security, critics say the U.S. president has balked at taking action. Obama has rejected calls from several top advisers to provide Ukraine with weapons to fight off Moscow-backed separatists.
“Syria has really taken the focus off of Ukraine,” Corker said. “It feels to me like its going to be difficult for Europe to stay together and continue to pressure Russia with sanctions.”
Fighting in eastern Ukraine, where nearly 10,000 people have been killed, has spiked in recent weeks to the highest levels since last summer.
“Nothing has happened to suggest that the Russians are any more willing to give up control of Ukraine than they were before,” said Ivo Daalder, Obama’s first ambassador to NATO and now President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “In some ways, Syria became a distraction for us because it led us to work with Russia to try to address the Syrian crisis and to ignore what’s happening in Ukraine.”
The White House insists its strategy of implementing a February 2015 peace accord signed in Minsk that calls for Russia to withdraw forces from Ukraine’s east is still on track.
“We are pressing hard to see Minsk fully implemented by the time the president leaves office,” said a senior administration official. “We’re aiming for implementation during the second half of 2016.”
The Minsk deal requires Russia to first withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine and end its support for separatists. Secondly, Kiev must allow elections and greater autonomy for the country’s pro-Russian east. Under the Minsk accord, the U.S. and Europe will lift sanctions on Moscow.
With the Kiev government seen on the verge of collapse, U.S. officials say implementing the Minsk accord — initially slated for the end of 2015 — may be impossible before the end of Obama’s final term.
“Minsk is now in tatters. Western attention at the highest level is gone due to the migration crisis and the Obama administration’s priorities lying elsewhere,” said Andrew Weiss, a former Clinton White House national security aide now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The whole thing just looks really messy.
“The Russian bet here is that we have ADD, won’t be able to keep the sanctions regime together, and will find other stuff to worry about,” Weiss added.