Russiaagain appeared on the verge of invading Ukraine over the weekend,this time in the guise of a "humanitarian operation." PresidentObama and other Western leaders sounded the alarm, warning that theprospective intervention "is unacceptable, violates internationallaw and will provoke additional consequences," as a White Housestatement put it. For his part, Ukrainian President PetroPoroshenko agreed to a non-military relief operation under theauspices of the Red Cross that would allow for Russia'sparticipation, writes The Washington Post
Whetherthat would be enough to deter Russian ruler Vladimir Putin wasn'tclear on Monday. According to NATO Secretary General Anders FoghRasmussen, tens of thousands of Russian troops remained poised onUkraine's border; he said "there is a high probability" ofinvasion. Though a vacationing President Obama is alreadyoverseeing U.S. air strikes in Iraq, the United States and itsallies must be prepared to act quickly if Russian military forcescross the frontier.
Themotive for another escalation in Russia's ongoing meddling is clearenough: not the "humanitarian crisis" the Kremlin claims isoccurring in areas held by its surrogate forces but the threat thatthe Ukrainian army and allied militias will win a military victory.Government spokesmen say Kiev's forces have succeeded insurrounding the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, where the remainingRussian-backed forces are concentrated, after recapturingthree-quarters of the territory they held. So Mr. Putin faces thecollapse of his proxy force, a development that would not onlyloosen his hold on Ukraine but also potentially lead to politicaltrouble at home - where state propaganda has whipped up anationalist fervor over Ukraine.
Totheir credit, Western leaders who once pressed Mr. Poroshenko toaccept a cease-fire deal tilted toward Russia have not tried veryhard to stop the Ukrainian military offensive. In a phone callMonday, Mr. Obama urged Mr. Poroshenko "to continue to exerciserestraint and caution in military operations in order to avoidcivilian casualties," according to a White House statement, but didnot say the operations should stop. The continued fighting risksproviding Mr. Putin with a pretext for "humanitarian" intervention.Western leaders, though, appear to accept Mr. Poroshenko's argumentthat the military operation is not about defeating Russia butsaving Ukraine. If Mr. Putin's forcesare able to hold onto a piece of territory, the Russian presidentwill be able to block Ukraine's stabilization indefinitely, just as he has used "frozenconflicts" to sabotage other Russian neighbors.
Mr. Poroshenko is stilloffering a peace plan that involves a cease-fire and politicaldialogue on the condition that Ukraine's border is sealed tofurther infiltrations of Russian weapons and fighters. That couldperhaps provide a face-saving exit for Mr. Putin,but it's one Moscow is unlikely to embrace unless its proxy forcesare on the verge of defeat. That's why the Ukrainian militaryoperation should continue with Western support, including fresh aid for the army,and why the United States and its allies should do everythingpossible to deter Mr. Putin's "humanitarian" invasion. What"additional consequences" can Moscow expect if it crosses the line?A robust package should be readied and telegraphed to theKremlin.
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