KERRY TELLS RUSSIA OF ‘DEEP CONCERN’ OVER UKRAINE

KERRYUS Secretary of State John Kerry boards his plane to return to Washington after a day of talks between representatives of Ukraine, the European Union, Russia, and the United States in Geneva on April 17, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jim Bourg )

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Washington (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of his “deep concern” Tuesday over Moscow’s failure to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine, a senior State Department official said.

Kerry also warned that a lack of Russian progress on a deal struck in Geneva last week would lead to more sanctions, the official added.

The latest flurry of US diplomacy came as Ukraine relaunched military operations against pro-Kremlin separatists, while Russia already has tens of thousands of its troops massed on Ukraine’s eastern border.

Those moves underscored the severity of the crisis that has brought East-West relations to their most perilous point since the end of the Cold War.

In a phone call to Lavrov, Kerry “expressed deep concern over the lack of positive Russian steps to de-escalate, cited mounting evidence that separatists continue to increase the number of buildings under occupation and take journalists and other civilians captive,” the senior official said.

“He urged Russia to tone down escalatory rhetoric, engage diplomatically in the east with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) and Ukrainian government, and issue public statements calling for those occupying buildings to disarm and stand down in exchange for amnesty.”

The official added that Kerry “also reiterated that the absence of measurable progress on implementing the Geneva agreement will result in increased sanctions on Russia.”

The top US diplomat also spoke with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and praised the “important steps” the interim government in Kiev has taken to quell tensions.

OBAMA’S TOUR TO REINFORCE “PIVOT TO ASIA”

By Peter Symonds

Amid the on-going confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, President Barack Obama arrives in Japan tomorrow on the first leg of a tour of Asia that will also take in South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. Obama’s overriding aim is to signal his intention to press ahead with the “pivot to Asia,” which seeks to ensure US hegemony throughout the region.

Last October, Obama cancelled his trip to Asia, including his attendance at two key Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits, citing the government shutdown in Washington. His decision to proceed with the current tour, despite the escalating Ukraine crisis, is intended to reassure American allies that the US remains committed to its diplomatic offensive and military build-up in Asia against China.

Obama’s trip follows those by Vice President Joe Biden in December, Secretary of State John Kerry in February and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier this month, all of which deliberately intensified regional tensions with China. Biden’s trip coincided with Washington’s provocative response to Beijing’s declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea—the Pentagon dispatched nuclear capable B-52 bombers unannounced into the zone.

During Hagel’s trip to Japan then China, the defence secretary drew a direct parallel between Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, in response to the fascist-led coup in Kiev engineered by the US, and China’s territorial disputes in the South China and East China Seas with its neighbours, including Japan and the Philippines. While the US claims to be neutral in these maritime disputes, Hagel nevertheless accused Beijing of attempting to “violate territorial integrity” by force. Standing next to his Chinese counterpart, Hagel reaffirmed that the US was “fully committed” to its military alliances with Japan and the Philippines—in other words, would wage war against China should fighting break out.

Obama will land in Tokyo for the first full state reception for a US president since that of Clinton more than a decade ago. During the course of three days, Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will undoubtedly declare their complete commitment to the post-war security treaty between the two countries. The Obama administration has since 2009 pushed Japan to take a more aggressive stance in its dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, boost its military and ease constitutional and legal restrictions on the operations of its armed forces.

As the US seeks to reassert its dominant position in the Indo-Pacific, especially over China, tensions have begun to emerge in the alliance with Japan. Both countries are mired in a worsening economic crisis and are seeking to extricate themselves at the expense of their rivals. At this stage, the right-wing Abe government remains supportive of the US “pivot” but is exploiting the opportunity to remilitarise and mount its own diplomatic offensive in South East Asia, to prosecute Japanese strategic and economic interests, which do not always coincide with the US agenda.

Since taking office in December 2012, Abe has increased the Japanese military budget for the first time in a decade, established a US-style national security council, re-oriented military strategy to the country’s southern island chain opposite the Chinese mainland, and begun to revive the reactionary traditions of Japanese militarism. In just over a year, Abe has personally visited all 10 ASEAN members, and boosted security relations with them, particularly the Philippines.

The Financial Times yesterday commented: “It has been a rocky year for the US-Japan relationship, the bedrock of Asia’s security and the region’s half-century-long economic rise. Irritants range from stalled trade talks to the habit of senior Japanese leaders of dredging up wartime history.”

Obama is expected to put the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) high on the agenda for talks with Abe. An agreement on the TPP, which Washington regards as the means for reasserting American economic supremacy in Asia, was meant to be finalised by the end of last year but became bogged down, especially by disagreements between the US and Japan over agriculture and the auto industry.

A Washington Post opinion piece by former US national security adviser Tom Donilon highlighted the TPP’s central role as “the most important trade deal under negotiation today.” It would enforce US demands across the board, from trade and investment to intellectual property rights and corporate law. “A deal would solidify US leadership in Asia and, together with the negotiations over a free trade pact in Europe, put the United States at the centre of a great project: writing the rules that will govern the global economy for the next century,” Donilon stated.

On the eve of Obama’s visit, Abe again aggravated regional tensions over historical issues, by sending a religious offering on Monday to the Yasukuni Shrine to Japan’s war dead. Today, senior cabinet minister Yoshitaka Shindo further fueled the debate by heading a group of 147 lawmakers to visit the same notorious shrine. In December, Abe provoked protests from China and South Korea by making a personal visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which is a symbol of Japanese militarism. His visit gave the green light for a growing campaign in the media, by figures like Naoki Hyakuta, appointed by Abe to the board of the NHK public broadcaster, to whitewash the atrocities carried out by the Japanese military such as the Nanjing massacre.

The US State Department cautiously expressed its “disappointment” with Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine. In part, the Obama administration is concerned that relations between its two allies in North East Asia—Japan and South Korea—have effectively broken down. South Korean President Park Geun-hye, installed in February last year, has refused to meet with Abe, citing suggestions that Japan would revise its apology for the treatment of “comfort women,” including many South Koreans, who were forced to work in military brothels in the 1930s and 1940s. Obama was forced to act as mediator last month, bringing Abe and Park together for the first time, on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague.

More fundamentally, however, the tensions between the US and Japan reflect a widening gap between the interests of the two imperialist powers. The Financial Times commented: “Underlying these frictions is the question of how committed the two nations are to a partnership that looks like the remnant of a bygone era, forged when the US was the unchallenged regional power after the Pacific war.”

While Abe is not about to make a break with Washington, he has described his agenda as “escaping the post-war regime”—that is, a post-war order in which Japan relied on the US militarily in Asia and was prepared to play the role of loyal subordinate. The “post-war regime” was only established after a full-scale war, in which millions died, between the US and Japan over who was to dominate Asia, particularly China.

Obama’s aim in Tokyo will be to ensure continued US hegemony in every area—from the TPP’s economic agenda to the marshalling of Japanese rearmament to the interests of US imperialism in Asia.

CHINA DEFIES OBAMA’S SLOW ASIA PIVOT WITH RAPID MILITARY BUILDUP

By David J. Lynch – Bloomberg

President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia this week will be dominated by a country he’s not even visiting: China.

Each of the four nations on the president’s itinerary is involved in territorial disputes with an increasingly assertive China. And years of military spending gains have boosted the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army faster than many defense analysts expected, casting a shadow over relations between China and its neighbors and sparking doubts about long-term prospects for the U.S. presence in the Pacific.

“There are growing concerns about what China is up to in the maritime space,” said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There’s a widely held view in the region that the U.S.-China relationship is tipping toward being much more confrontational.”

Obama arrives today in Japan, the start of a weeklong journey that also will take him to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. On display throughout will be the challenge of managing the uneasy relationship with China, the U.S.’s No. 2 trading partner and an emerging rival for global influence.

For almost three years, Obama has sought to reorient U.S. foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region after more than a decade consumed by war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though the president says the change isn’t aimed at containing China — Sino-U.S. trade last year topped $562 billion, a 38 percent jump from five years earlier — administration officials recently toughened their response to China’s muscular foreign policy.

‘Aggressive Growth’

Danny Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, in February labeled China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea, hundreds of miles from its shoreline, as “inconsistent with international law.”

Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told an Australian audience on April 9: “I am concerned by the aggressive growth of the Chinese military, their lack of transparency, and a pattern of increasingly assertive behavior in the region.”

The statements signaled mounting U.S. alarm following China’s establishment in November of an “air defense identification zone” in the East China Sea, which overlapped with Japanese and South Korean airspace.

China’s growing strength in recent years has spawned a welter of territorial conflicts. The most serious involve uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which Japan controls as the Senkakus and China calls Diaoyu.

Expansive Claims

Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia are among the countries disputing China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea and its energy resources, while the Philippines last month filed a complaint against China with an international arbitration panel.

China and South Korea also have tussled over rights to a submerged formation that China calls the Suyan Rock and South Korea knows as the Ieodo.

Even as tensions in East Asia remain high, U.S. officials insist they can toggle between cooperation and confrontation in their dealings with the world’s second-largest economy.

“There doesn’t need to be tension and conflict,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser. “An emerging power like China does not inherently have to come into conflict with an established power like the United States.”

Still, during his visit to Manila, Obama is scheduled to give a speech to an audience of American and Filipino service members and veterans intended to showcase “our security cooperation in the current environment in the Asia Pacific,” Rhodes said.

New Agreement

Earlier this month, the U.S. and the Philippines agreed on the draft of a new accord that would give American forces their broadest access to Filipino bases in more than 20 years. The deal, which doesn’t involve the permanent stationing of U.S. troops in the Philippines, is likely to be announced when Obama reaches Manila on April 28.

Ely Ratner, a former State Department China analyst, said the deal is “significant as a symbol of the degree to which the Chinese have scared the region.”

As China has prospered, it has lavished resources on the military in a manner exceeded only by the U.S., which will spend $572 billion on defense this year. In March, China said it plans to increase the PLA’s budget by 12.2 percent this year to 808.2 billion yuan, about $130 billion.

“China’s military modernization has moved more quickly than most experts had predicted,” says Ratner, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Rising Outlays

While China spends on its military less than one-quarter what the U.S. will devote to the Pentagon this year, China’s outlays are rising as the U.S. cuts back. This year’s Pentagon budget is less than in fiscal 2007 and is probably headed lower as Congress seeks to curb federal deficits.

Rising spending over more than a decade has transformed China’s once-primitive military into a more capable, though still limited, force. And even as China’s economic growth slows, the military expansion is likely to continue.

State-owned Xinhua News Agency reported last month that Yin Zhuo, director of the Chinese navy’s expert-consultation committee, said China’s military spending remained “far from the level it needs to be as the country faces increasingly severe security challenges.”

Though China’s rearmament has stretched from ballistic missiles to new jet fighters, the defense buildup may be having the most immediate impact at sea. The PLA navy is being transformed from a coastal defense force into a fleet increasingly able to operate in distant waters.

Modern Vessels

China is replacing older ships with modern vessels capable of more ambitious operations, the U.S. Navy’s top China intelligence specialist told the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Jan. 30.

The U.S. Navy now regards about 65 percent of China’s destroyers and frigates as “modern” and expects that figure to increase to 85 percent by 2020, said Jesse Karotkin, senior intelligence officer for China in the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel toured China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, the first foreign military boss to board the warship. The invitation, a nod to U.S. demands for greater transparency about the Chinese buildup, may have provided limited intelligence gains.

“The Chinese did not allow the Americans to take any photos at all,” said Glaser, a former consultant for the U.S. departments of Defense and State.

Though the refurbished Ukrainian-made vessel is a visible symbol of China’s modernization, the carrier won’t be fully operational for several years, Karotkin said.

Even then, the Liaoning will be no match for the American Nimitz-class carriers, which are longer, bigger and carry more warplanes.

Peaceful Settlement

For now, U.S. officials aren’t emphasizing such comparisons. The U.S. hasn’t taken sides in the disputes between China and its neighbors, saying only that conflicts should be settled peacefully. Some in China worry that Obama may use the trip to endorse the stern language his aides have used and deal a blow to Chinese hopes for a stable relationship, Glaser said.

Jeff Bader, former head of Asian affairs for Obama’s National Security Council, told reporters at an April 17 briefing that the tougher administration statements reflect a “tactical” adjustment rather than a fundamental rethinking.

For now, both the U.S. and China appear determined to keep the relationship from deteriorating. Since October, Chinese naval patrols around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands have dropped from an average of a little more than one per week to one every couple of weeks, according to an analysis of Japanese Coast Guard data.

And this summer, the Chinese for the first time are scheduled to participate in a U.S. Navy-led exercise. The PLA navy is expected to send three ships to RIMPAC 2014, the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, which occurs every two years off the Hawaiian Islands and is billed as the world’s largest naval warfare demonstration.

A PUTIN AFFILIATE EVOKES HITLER. THE WEST SHOULD BE WORRIED

By Richard Cohen | The Washington Post

Is Andranik Migranyan right?

The head of a think tank associated with Vladimir Putin wrote the following in response to critics who liken the Russian president to Adolf Hitler and what he did so long ago: “One must distinguish between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939. The thing is that Hitler collected [German] lands. If he had become famous only for uniting without a drop of blood Germany with Austria, Sudetenland and Memel, in fact completing what Bismarck failed to do, and if he had stopped there, then he would have remained a politician of the highest class.”

Migranyan’s comment, published in a Russian newspaper, has received quite a bit of attention, both because of his position and for its chilling content. There is no doubt that Hitler crossed a line in September 1939 when he invaded Poland, finally forcing Britain and France to go to war. (Maybe Migranyan remembers that the Soviet Union also invaded Poland.) Up to then, Hitler had mostly satisfied himself with collecting the lands of German-speaking peoples — Austria, the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, etc. — although Poland also had a substantial German minority.

If something like this is what Putin has in mind — gathering Russian-speaking people under his rule — then Migranyan seems to be saying: What’s the big deal? What he does not mention, though, is that by 1939 Hitler was already engaged in killing Jews, dissidents, communists, homosexuals and, that year, the mentally and physically feeble. Kristallnacht, a government-sanctioned pogrom, occurred in 1938; the Nuremberg laws, depriving Jews of their civil rights, were promulgated in 1935; and Germany was rapidly re-arming, in violation of its treaty obligations. It was, way before 1939, an outlaw state vigorously engaged in murder.

For anyone, least of all a think-tank director, to overlook this record is frightening. Maybe, though, Migranyan did not overlook it. Maybe he was simply reciting a fact: What Hitler did to his own people disturbed the West but did not stir it to action. Indeed, many argued that Hitler had a point: Germans belonged in Germany. As for the Jews, they were often blamed for their own plight.

You hear similar arguments now about Putin and Russian-speaking peoples: Crimea is Russian. Eastern Ukraine is Russian. Maybe some of the Baltic states are Russian, too. Who knows?

I would never compare anyone to Hitler. He remains in a category of one. And I would not, either, get too carried away about Russian rhetoric at the moment. The denunciation of dissidents as “traitors” may just be the Russian version of Fox News excess of the type we heard in the run-up to the war in Iraq. (Check YouTube to see what I mean.) At the same time, there are contrary signs — the election of Putin critics to this or that office and the distinct lack of Nazi-style rhetoric regarding minorities. Specifically, Putin seems free of anti-Semitism.

Still, what are we to make of Migranyan? He did not write in a vacuum. The Kremlin is stifling dissent. The Russian foreign minister is either lying with abandon or blithely passing lies on — or both. So-called green men, troops with their faces shielded and their identifying insignias missing, have circulated through eastern Ukraine, as they did in Crimea. Ukrainian and some Western intelligence agencies identify them as Russian, even down to providing the names of certain individuals. These are similar to the techniques Hitler used to provoke intervention in neighboring countries. He was forever coming to the rescue of embattled German minorities.

Migranyan and presumably Putin live in a different era. They think the line they must not cross is one that will provoke a truly punishing Western reaction — such as seizing parts of the Baltic states. But they have already crossed a line. The West, including Barack Obama, knows that Putin cannot be trusted. He is a liar — and not a very good one. (He once said no Russian troops went into Crimea but later admitted they had.) He is at heart an autocrat who wants to re-create as much of the old Soviet empire as he can.

The consequences of all this are not yet clear. It is clear, though, that the Russia of Gorbachev and Yeltsin is gone and something new and yet familiar has taken its place. The Obama administration recognizes the new reality and is appropriately dusting off Cold War playbooks. Russia, it seems, may be turning its back on Europe — but not, ominously, on some of its ugly 20th-century history.

Read more on this topic: Anne Applebaum: A need to contain Russia James Jeffrey: U.S. should send troops to quell Ukraine crisis David Ignatius: Putin steals the CIA’s playbook on anti-Soviet covert ops George F. Will: Russia’s brutality with Ukraine is nothing new Madeleine Albright and Jim O’Brien: The West’s obligation to Ukraine The Post’s View: The West should not be shutting out Ukraine.

U.S. TO MOVE TROOPS TO ALLIES NEAR RUSSIA AS TENSIONS FLARE IN EASTERN UKRAINE

Pentagon Seeks to Reassure NATO Allies as Kiev Accuses Pro-Russian Forces of Killings

Hundreds of U.S. troops are headed for maneuvers in Eastern Europe through year’s end, the Pentagon announced, new deployments intended to reassure allies on Russia’s borders as violence took a sinister turn Tuesday in embattled Ukraine.

Vice President Joe Biden, in a visit to Kiev, warned Russia to pull back its troops and abide by last week’s international agreement or face the certainty of swift new sanctions. Mr. Biden also urged Ukraine’s leaders to adhere to democratic principles and respect cultural differences, reassuring them, “You will not walk this road alone.”

Despite Washington’s efforts, tensions flared as Kiev accused pro-Russian separatists of torturing and killing two people and of shooting at one of its military planes, prompting a call by the country’s interim president for a resumption of what he termed counterterrorism actions to uproot militants.

The Kremlin didn’t comment on the developments but has complained that Western military moves only serve to raise tension in the region.

Mr. Biden, who met in Kiev with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and other Ukrainian officials, said the U.S. won’t allow last week’s Geneva deal, intended to immediately begin easing tensions, to instead become “an open-ended process.”

“It is time for Russia to stop talking and start acting—act on the commitments they made,” Mr. Biden said. “Time is short in which to make progress.”

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry reinforced the message in a call to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, expressing what the State Department said was “deep concern over the lack of positive Russian steps to de-escalate.”

Meanwhile, U.S. defense officials described plans to send 600 troops to four North Atlantic Treaty Organization member countries for exercises close to Russia.

Four U.S. military companies from the Italy-based 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, each numbering about 150 troops, will begin arriving this weekend in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.

The move is latest in a series of relatively small deployments this year to showcase the U.S. commitment to European defense. The U.S. previously has sent F-16s to Poland and Romania and F-15s to Lithuania, as well as assigned small groups of Marines to train in Romania and Latvia.

The deployments have fallen well short of demands by some members of Congress and Eastern European allies for a larger, more-permanent buildup of American forces in Europe, and for the shipment of arms to Kiev.

Republicans, while not proposing large-scale U.S. military action, have loudly criticized the Obama administration for failing to check Mr. Putin’s advances and have argued the White House policy on Russia has appeared weak. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), during an MSNBC television appearance Tuesday, ridiculed Mr. Biden’s warning to Russia that time for adhering to the Geneva agreement is running out. “Or else what?” Mr. McCain asked.

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said the deployment was a “small step” but still praised the move.

“By rearranging U.S. forces already deployed in Europe, the President is doing something, however incremental, to reassure our allies,” he said. “It might have more deterrent value if he included the Ukranian military in the exercises.”

Privately, Pentagon officials dismiss the likelihood of a larger or permanent buildup of forces in Europe, but say they would consider stepping up the tempo of force rotations temporarily if Moscow doesn’t move to de-escalate the Ukrainian crisis.

The new U.S. deployments would stand little chance of countering Russian forces in a head-to-head military engagement, but defense officials said even small deployments would provide a deterrent to Russia. American forces in any array represent a physical reminder of U.S. treaty obligations to defend Poland and the Baltic states, the officials said.

For now, the exercises won’t involve Ukraine, which isn’t a NATO member. The U.S. Army is planning to continue an annual NATO exercise in Ukraine this summer, called Rapid Trident. On Tuesday, Adm. Kirby said that planning is continuing.

In Kiev, interim President Oleksandr Turchynov called for a renewal of the government’s stalled military operation against pro-Russian forces that have taken over several cities in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. SENDING TROOPS TO EASTERN EUROPE

The U.S. is sending about 600 ground troops to Eastern Europe this week to “reassure” allies there as Washington resumes its campaign of pressure on Russia over the Ukraine standoff.

About 150 soldiers from the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), based in Italy, are heading to each of four countries — Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — in rotational deployments that the Pentagon says will be sustained until further notice.

The paratroopers will take weapons and ammunition for “infantry exercises” and be in place by the end of the week, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. The roughly company-sized units will remain in place for about a month, and then new ones will follow them until at least the end of the year.

While President Barack Obama has ruled out the use of force to resolve Russia’s military incursions into Ukraine, the Army deployments are a way to show America’s European allies, as well as Moscow, the level of its concern about what Kirby called “Russian aggression.”

“We take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe,” Kirby said.

He said the Sky Soldiers of the 173rd would take part in bilateral exercises with the militaries of their host countries, as opposed to having been deployed under the auspices of NATO. But he said that more deployments or operations involving NATO could be in the works and urged reporters against concluding that bilateral action by the Defense Department was a sign of some NATO members’ unwillingness to make deployments of their own.

The Pentagon will not send additional soldiers to Europe to replace the troops rotating into Eastern Europe, Kirby said.

The Obama administration appears to have all but concluded that a diplomatic agreement struck last week to try to deescalate the Ukraine crisis isn’t working. The White House already has announced more new non-lethal assistance to Kiev, and the next step could be new rounds of sanctions on Russian leaders.

The White House said earlier Tuesday the U.S. would provide another $50 million in aid “to help Ukraine pursue political and economic reform and strengthen the partnership between the United States and Ukraine.” Included in that package is more non-lethal military material, including bomb disposal equipment, radios, “vehicles” and “individual tactical gear,” such as armor or protective shields, for Ukraine’s border guard.

Vice President Joe Biden, who appeared in Kiev on Tuesday with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk make clear that Washington was prepared to continue its assistance and to keep up its isolation of Moscow.

“We call on Russia to stop supporting men hiding behind masks in unmarked uniforms, sowing unrest in Eastern Ukraine,” Biden said. “And we have been clear that more provocative behavior by Russia will lead to more costs and to greater isolation.”

But military action is off the table, the White House says. So this week’s ground troop deployments to Eastern Europe are only the latest example of the administration attempting to rattle its saber having said it would not draw it.

More Air Force fighters are rotating into Poland and the Baltic countries, and Kirby said the U.S. Navy’s presence in the Black Sea would also continue.

The destroyer USS Donald Cook, which was buzzed by an unarmed Russian attack jet soon after its arrival, will be replaced by the frigate USS Taylor, he said.

American commanders originally sent the Taylor to the Black Sea to provide additional security for the Winter Olympics in Russia, but the ship ran aground in a port in Turkey and destroyed its propeller. Tugs moved it to a U.S. naval base in Crete, where the ship was repaired, and Kirby said it would take the Donald Cook’s place as part of the American desire to “reassure” allies there.

THE NEW YORK TIMES FINDS RUSSIAN SPIES IN EASTERN UKRAINE

By Alex Lantier

The New York Times has run a relentless campaign of lies and distortions backing US policy in Ukraine. This has included portraying the opposition in eastern Ukraine to the pro-Western regime in Kiev as proof of an aggressive Russian intervention threatening Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the world.

The newspaper’s article Monday, “Photos Link Masked Men in Eastern Ukraine to Russia,” purports to provide definitive proof that Russian spies are active in eastern Ukraine and manipulating events there.

The article begins: “For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as ‘green men’ have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces.

“Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces—equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February.”

There may or may not be Russian agents in Ukraine, a question the World Socialist Web Site is not in a position to answer. However, even if the Times article proved its charge that Russian spies are active in Ukraine—which, as we will see, it does not—the reader would have a right to ask: So what?

CIA Director John Brennan went to Kiev a week ago, though he sought to hide his visit from the public, as the Western-backed regime in Kiev prepared its crackdown on the eastern Ukraine protests. British intelligence has admitted that its agents are combing east Ukraine. Why is the dispatching of spies to Ukraine by Russia more threatening than the appearance of MI6 or of Brennan, who has played a leading role in running a global network of torture camps and a program of drone murder?

Leaving these questions unasked and unanswered, the Times can write a fear-mongering piece covering up both the imperialist interests driving US policy and the hypocrisy of the American position. Washington and its European allies installed an unelected, anti-Russian government in Kiev by backing a putsch in February spearheaded by the fascist Right Sector militia. During the protests leading up to the putsch, US officials boasted that they had spent $5 billion on building up Ukrainian opposition groups.

Unsurprisingly, given that the protests were led by fascist groups based in western Ukraine against pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political base was in the east, this led to opposition to the new regime in eastern Ukraine.

The US regime-change plan in Ukraine was part of a broader policy decision to isolate Russia and treat it as a “pariah state,” as the Times reported on Sunday—a designation previously reserved for countries targeted for US subversion or military attack such as Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Iran. This information is critical to enable the reader decide for himself whether it is Moscow or Washington, abetted by the New York Times, that is driving the Ukraine crisis.

The Times ignores all of these issues, focusing obsessively on the threat it claims Russian spies pose to Ukraine. Its approach to presenting the issue is indistinguishable from that of a state propaganda agency. It uncritically repeats, as “news,” talking points from the military and the Obama administration, largely gleaned from Kiev’s intelligence agencies, providing none of the political context necessary for readers to independently evaluate the claims of the generals and spies it quotes.

The Times extensively quotes General Philip M. Breedlove, the top military commander of NATO, who has pushed for a hard line against Russia in the crisis.

Breedlove argues that pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine “exhibit telltale military training and equipment,” including Russian Army issue, which is not gear “that civilians would be likely to be able to get their hands on in large numbers.” The Times writes that “General Breedlove conceded that such points, taken alone, might not prove much, ‘but taken in the aggregate, the story is clear.’”

Breedlove’s most significant comment is his admission that his own arguments do not prove anything. It is, of course, conceivable that the protests are driven by Russian army units that have infiltrated east Ukraine, even after Kiev sealed its border with Russia, somehow escaping detection by US spy satellites and electronic monitoring. The Russian army is hardly the only possible source of militarily trained manpower in east Ukraine, however. Units of Ukraine’s Berkut riot police and elements of its army, which has Russian-issue gear, have defected to the protesters.

Breedlove adds, “It’s hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities.”

This comment unintentionally underscores the Times’ boundless hypocrisy and the absurdity of its own presentation of the US-backed protests in Kiev that led up to the putsch. Only a few months ago, the newspaper depicted the groups of masked and armed fascist goons from Right Sector who stormed state buildings as the spearhead of a spontaneous popular uprising for democracy.

The heart of the Times’ article is its presentation of photos and transcripts of audio recordings collected by Ukrainian intelligence that supposedly show the role of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. What rapidly becomes clear, examining the paltry materials presented by the Times, is that they provide no hard proof of any of the newspaper’s claims.

The dossier of photos, the Times writes, “features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men, appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia.”

Examining the grainy, low-resolution photos published by the Times, one can only conclude that eastern Ukrainian protesters wear similar helmets, ski masks, and—occasionally—beards as do Russian soldiers. Like Breedlove’s arguments, the photos prove nothing to anyone who approaches the far-right Kiev regime’s claims with an ounce of skepticism. A Reddit user who examined the pictures released by the Ukrainian regime and the lower-resolution versions used by the New York Times concluded that the men in the Russian and east Ukrainian units are in fact different people (click here for the Reddit thread). This further raises the question of whether the Times was a party to a falsification of data, in order to prove a claim for which it has no evidence. It published images without doing the same level of fact-checking that was able to be carried out by someone with a few google searches.

In a comment posted to the paper’s site, one of the many disgruntled readers of the Times article wrote: “These photos look as convincing as the satellite footage of Iraq’s WMD [weapons of mass destruction] that CIA presented just before the invasion.”

This footage, of course, proved nothing, as Iraq had no WMD. The Iraq war was then launched based on lies which the Times aggressively promoted.

Finally, the Times presents a YouTube clip of a cell phone call between “Strelok” (whom Ukrainian intelligence claims is an alias for an ethnic Russian active in the protests, Igor Strelkov) and his anonymous Russian superior. The two reportedly discuss how to hold territory and how to discuss the armed protesters’ political positions with Russian media.

Since the release of this YouTube clip several days ago, a political analyst named Alexander Boroday has come forward and identified himself as the person on the phone with Strelok. He says he is a counselor for the pro-Russian government in Crimea and denies working for Russian intelligence. The Times, remarkably, does not report these developments to its readers.

It is conceivable that the Kremlin is running through Boroday a major operation on the scale of the US-backed Right Sector operation in Kiev. However, the Times offers no proof whatsoever to support such speculation.

One final point regarding the Times’ alleged evidence. The Russian government and media have intercepted and published damning material on the role of US and European imperialism in Ukraine, involving publicly known, high-level officials.

During the Kiev protests, they recorded US State Department official Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt plotting to install now-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk in power in Kiev. They later intercepted communications between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Latvian officials, discussing the fact that protesters in Kiev were shot not by Yanukovych’s forces, but by pro-Western forces.

Notwithstanding the massive electronic surveillance program it runs through the National Security Agency, the US government has manifestly been unable to discover material of even vaguely comparable significance.

The Times’ supposed proof of Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine is a red herring. Its immediate political purpose is indicated in the article itself. The Times writes: “The question of Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine has a critical bearing on the agreement reached Thursday in Geneva among Russian, Ukrainian, American and European diplomats to ease the crisis. American officials have said that Russia would be held responsible for ensuring that the Ukrainian government buildings were vacated, and that it could face new sanctions if the terms were not met.”

Washington has no interest in defusing the crisis. It entered into the Geneva agreement in bad faith, intending to use Russia’s supposed violation of the agreement to justify further sanctions and stepped up military provocations. By supposedly publishing “proof” that the protests in the east are manipulated by Russia, the Times is supplying the US government with propaganda to claim that the failure of the protesters to disband is Moscow’s doing, which is to become the pretext for further escalating the crisis.

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