Thursday, October 09, 2014

What game is the US playing in Iraq and Syria?

What strikes me about the role of the US air force in Iraq and Syria is that its role is so restricted. It only drops very expensive precision bombs. It never carpet bombs areas, it never strifes hostile forces from a plane with machine guns and it never drops supplies on allied forces that are surrounded. Coordination with allied forces seems to be minimal. The first days when the US air force operated in synch with the Kurds were an exception. Nowadays it seems to fulfil its own program of targets that has hardly any relationship with the needs of the allied troops on the ground.

Kobane's chances would much improve if the US supplied the Kurdish fighters there with anti-armor arms.

The Yazidi's are still fighting against the IS and complain that they hardly get any support from the US air force.

Soldiers from the fallen Iraqi base of Camp Saqlawiyah complained of lack of food and water - things that easily could have been supplied from the air.

The allies
Formally The Gulf States and Turkey are allies in our fight against ISIS. I don't believe it for a moment. They just have concluded that - as the US will attack anyway - they better be involved so that they can minimize the "harm" (as they see it) that the US is doing. Erdogan has gone as far as saying that he considers the PYD (the ruling Kurdish party in Kobane) equally harmful as ISIS.

There are lots of theories about what Turkey and the Arabs want to achieve. They keep pushing for more active US involvement against Assad. They might well believe that a massacre in Kobane would be beneficial to draw the US closer into the Syrian conflict.

Turkey wants now a buffer zone inside Syria that would give the rebels a home base. Conveniently it would also allow Turkey to crush the zones that are now controlled by the PYD. Predictably the Kurds oppose the idea.

One can only hope that one day Obama will realize that his whole Arab Spring project was madness disguised as policy. And that he finally will bring up the courage to say that regime change is not inside his job description. Unfortunately until now he is behaving like a servant to the belligerent anti-Assad rhetoric from the Gulf States and Turkey.

Many have noticed that Obama only became interested in attacking ISIS after it had killed some American journalists. This suggests that Obama is more influenced by opinion polls than by a clear vision in such an important issue - a devastating conclusion that suggests incompetence.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Israel's colonial repression

Anyone who has read about the fighting in Gaza will have noticed that Israel is defending the massive number of civilians killed by claiming that the Hamas fighters are hiding behind civilians.

That claim is right. However, hiding among civilians is standard guerrilla strategy. Yet most countries fighting a guerrilla uprising will not use the kind of methods Israel is using. A good example is how the US reacted to the guerrilla it faced in Iraq and Afghanistan: although it's behavior was far from perfect it took considerable effort to avoid civilian casualties. That was not totally altruistic: they were aware that winning "hearts and minds" is an important part of subduing a guerrilla war.

Yet Israel's strategy is not new. It was often used in colonial wars. It was also how the US dealt with insurgent Indians in the 19th century. It shows an attitude where the other side is seen as subhuman.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Israel's futile battle against Hamas

Israel cannot eradicate Hamas. In fact every Palestinian it kills now in Gaza is a justification for the existence of Hamas and will drive more Palestinians to support Hamas.

If Israel wants to be seen by the Palestinians as a reliable partner that is prepared to let them live and prosper it should behave as such. It should stop stealing Palestinian houses and land. It should stop suffocation the Palestinian economy and it should take a murdered Palestinian just as serious as a murdered Jew.

Just as the English in Northern Ireland they will still have to suffer terrorism for a while. But that will gradually decrease and in the end stop when it follows an appropriate policy.

Problem is that Israel is in the same position as the whites in the US in the 19th century when they largely exterminated the Indians. They too have a large lobby that is growing rich by stealing land. They too have politicians who know that there is a group against which they can safely indulge in hate mongering. And they too are largely left off the hook by the world public opinion.

But given Israel's geographical position among a sea of Arabs it is a dangerous strategy that well may go wrong in the long term.

Obama makes it hard not to believe conspiracy theories

Sometimes Obama makes it hard not to believe conspiracy theories.

If he really cared about the MH17 he would long ago have released his satellite data and pressured Kiev to release conversations of the plane with the control tower. Instead he hides data and evades questions about why the plane followed an alternative route and was forced to fly lower and whether there was an Ukrainian fighter jet near the plane.

If he really cared about Ukraine he would have pressed for real negotiations. Putin could live with the Orange revolution. He won't ask too much now. Instead the US is pressuring Kiev not to negotiate at all.

Putin is fully aware that sanctions are a kind of blackmail and that ceding to them will only result in more blackmail. So if Obama wants him to change his behavior he will have to negotiate and make concessions.

So my guess would be that Obama is playing for two audiences:
- for the neocons he is going to extremes to look how far he can humiliate Russia. Obviously he doesn't care about the casualties.
- for the oil lobby he doing what he can to raise the oil price.

Once I hoped Obama would be a capable president. Nowadays I consider him a fool who very well might start World War III.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Questions remaining about the MH17 disaster in Ukraine

As the US seems to jump to the conclusion that the pro-Russian rebels were responsible for the downing of the MH-17 there are still quite a few questions that should be answered:
- the Ukrainian government initially claimed that the plane had been shot down by Russian fighter jets. Where did that come from?
- According to Russia the Ukrainian Army had recently sent some Buk units to the East. Russia claims it caught their radar signal when the plane was downed. Given that the rebels have no air force this raises the question: why? The investigation should have a look at this subject. Russia has suggested that Ukraine should provide an inventory of its Buk missiles.
- There is the Twitter account of "Carlos" who claims to be a Spanish worker at Ukrainian Air Control. He claimed that the MH17 was accompanied by two Ukrainian fighter jets and that immediately after the shooting down of the plane all foreign employees there were put non-active. These claims should be checked and the man who has since disappeared - should be heard. Russia also claims to have seen at least one fighter.
- the communication between the control tower and the MH17 should be published - as was the communication between the MH370 and its control tower.
- Radar images of the last minutes/hours of the plane should be published by the Ukrainian government.
- the Ukrainian government published some fragments from telephone conversations of the rebels that should prove their guilt. These were fragments that were carefully selected by the Ukrainian secret service. It may very well be that none of those involved was aware whether their side had shot some missiles and that they were just assuming. So we should have access to the full conversations and other conversations that have been intercepted. And of course they should be checked by experts: Russian experts claim they were falsified.
- On previous flights on the same route Malaysian Airlines used a more southern route over the Sea of Azov. This raises the question why this time it followed a more northern route that went straight over a war zone. Where they ordered by Air Control? It has also been claimed that Air Control ordered them to fly at the lowest allowed height instead of 1 km higher as they wanted. Another point for investigation. Russia has also claimed that the war zone is not completely covered by radar.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Who enabled ISIS to capture Mosul?

Most news reports bring the fall of Mosul to ISIS as something sudden and unexpected. My interest was triggered by a (Dutch language) report from some people with local connections. The report paints a landscape of were most people are against the government, the army is seen as an occupational army and the police isn't very popular either. The sectarian politics of Maliki, widespread unemployment and the army attack on the protest camp in Hawija have led to a broad coalition where local tribes, the (underground) Baath Party and ISIS all work together against the government.

The big question is whether this is only local. The protest camp in Hawija showed the kind of color revolution tactics that suggest foreign involvement. It is well known that the Saudi's would love to turn Iraq back into a Sunni dictatorship. It is also well known that ISIS is well funded and rumored to be supported from the Gulf States. So I suspect that the Saudi secret service has a hand in what is now happening in Mosul. And very likely at this very moment Saudi diplomats are active in Washington to prevent US support for the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIS.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reaction to the ICG on Ukraine

The International Crisis Group has published a report ("Ukraine: Running out of Time") on the Ukraine crisis. I found it rather lacking so below you will find a refutal of some of the claims and recommendations they make. Quotes from their report are in italic.

The first thing that strikes the attention is the selective history. Victoria Nuland isn't mentioned once. Neither is the controversy on who did the Maidan shooting.

The report talks about the protests as if the Maidan protests were a single thing. In fact the forever changing subject of the protests (first the treaty with the EU, then new legislation regulating protests, then violence by the government and finally - mainly after the takeover - corruption and economic mismanagement) lends support to the claim that the desire to topple Yanukovich - probably funded by the US - was the real motive.

The separatists’ objective seems to be to provoke sufficient disruption and bloodshed so that President Vladimir Putin can assert, if he chooses, what he says is Moscow’s right to protect Russian speakers anywhere.
Most of the bloodshed came from the government. Putin doesn't seem very enthusiastic about annexation. It looks like he will only take that step if government repression from Kiev becomes so fierce that there is wide demand for it among the population.

President Putin appears to consider that a West-leaning Ukraine government born of mass protests would set a dangerous example at home and thwart his ambition of establishing dominant Russian influence over as much of the former Soviet republics as possible.
This is a standard claim from State Department propaganda. There is not a shred of evidence for this claim. It seems designed to divert the attention from the demands that Putin did make: no NATO on his doorsteps, continuation of the economic ties between East Ukraine and Russia, decent treatment of Ukraine's Russian speakers and reduction of the influence of right extremists.
In fact it is the US that has destabilized Ukraine by sponsoring two "revolutions".

A mid-April four-party – Russia, Kyiv, U.S., EU – Geneva agreement to calm the situation was ignored by the separatist forces, so is a dead letter.
In the report it is mentioned that this agreement should also cover end of occupations by Right Sektor. However, it fails to mention how the Kiev government has tried to circumvent the agreement, enlisting Right Sektor fighters in the National Guard and "legalizing" the occupation of buildings in Kiev. In the recommendations it is suggested that only the "separatist forces" were at fault. It is a common problem in ICG reports, where the summary and recommendations often look like they were censored by the State Department.

So too [high on the governments agenda] should preparing the population for the inevitable pain of deep reforms required to save an economy wrecked by two decades of endemic corruption and incompetence.
This is mixing things up. Under Yanukovich the country lived beyond its means, so it now needs urgent budget cuts. The Maidan revolution didn't help either: unrest is bad for the economy. But these are all recent problems, not 20 years old.
Other reforms are needed too but that is another story.

Although conditions for the election are far from ideal, it is vital it takes place as planned and nationwide. The polls are needed, above all, to produce a new leader with enough public support to steer the country through a process of national reconciliation and painful economic reform.
Turchynov has turned out to be a divisive president, so replacing him could turn out to be beneficial. However, any look at the threats and violence directed at those parliamentarians and presidential candiadtes who don't agree with the Maidan revolution should be enough to destroy any doubt that these will not really free elections.
There is also the problem that the main candidates are all oligarchs. The fact that some see Tyahnybok as the only serious politician says enough.

The government inherited security, police and defence structures that had by accident or design almost ceased to exist under the deposed president.
Again a myth enthusiastically spread by Kerry and Yatsenyuk. It ignores the demonization of the police by the Maidan protesters. It ignores the dissolution of Berkut. It ignores that the government is asking the police to use much more violence against protesters than they did under Yanukovich.
As for the army, according to the constitution it can only be employed against civilians under a state of emergency. The government has tried to circumvent this rule by painting the protesters in the East as "terrorists".
What doesn't help is that the government refuses to negotiate with the protesters in the East and instead has sent Right Sektor thugs to impose "order".

Right Sector emerged directly from the Maidan demonstrations
This claim is simply wrong. Right Sektor is primarily a confederation of existing right extremist organizations. That this was connected to the Maidan protests is only of secondary importance.

The most recent polls do not indicate widespread fear among the majority of Russian-speakers or ethnic Russians.
This selective quotation of opinion polls ignores the main problem for the government in Kiev: that most people in the South and East consider the Turchynov administration illegal.

10. Express support for a post-election government of national unity
This is one of the recommendations. Interestingly the report mentions that the West of the country is overrepresented in the government but fails to mention that as a problem. I think it is. Before the takeover a national unity government had been promised. It is also usual rather usual in situations like the present one.

4. Distance itself publicly and as rapidly as possible from the extremist and anti-democratic ideology of the Svoboda (Freedom) Party and Right Sector.
This recommendation suggests a light disconnection from reality:
- the government is increasingly relying on Right Sektor fighters
- the report completely ignores the militia of Kolomoysky that has been accused to have played a major role in the violence in Odessa and Mariupol.
- Western leaders are meeting with those guys and lending them credibility.

A successful, democratic Ukraine, substantially integrated economically in the West, but outside military alliances and a close cultural, linguistic and trading partner mindful of Russian interests would benefit all.
It is not clear what the ICG really wants. At one moment they ask for economic integration with the West while at another they talk about a bridge function between Russia and the West.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Obama's misdirected foreign policy

When leaders get a lot of criticism it is often because people have the impression that they don't know what they is doing. That is my impression of Obama's foreign policy too.

The Far East
The Far East is probably the best example. It is well known that East Asians are very sensitive to loss of face. So the classical saying of "talk softly but carry a big stick" makes here extra sense. A good starting point when reacting to Chinese transgressions might be: what would we do if Israel did this?

Instead we saw a very noisy "pivot" to the East. This amounted to a public declaration that the US is now in a low level state of cold war with China. Very few troops were actually moved to the Far East, but the damage to the relations with China was done.

All this comes from a misguided look at foreign policy that constantly looks for the next threat to US dominance. That country is then treated as an enemy. It would be much more fruitful to aim for a role for the US as world leader. The US could have transferred troops to East Asia without much noise - using natural disasters and other incidents as convenient excuses. The end result would still have been a larger US presence and that would still have led people to pay more attention to what the US was saying.

Obama's recent Asia trip that very explicitly left out China was another example. Such an open declaration of conflict with China demanded a reaction from China and that we saw in the form of the employment of a drilling vessel to Vietnamese waters. The Chinese very cleverly managed to expose Obama as a phony who makes nice promises but can't deliver.

Obama doesn't understand this kind of subtle diplomacy. Take the case when the Chinese unilaterally expanded their Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Obama made a very noisy public declaration against it, sent a few planes through it and then basically started to respect it. His predecessors would have done that differently. The would have condemned the declaration, but only softly, so as not to cause their adversary too much loss of face when it retreated. They would know that the louder they condemned the zone, the harder they it would make for the other side to retreat. Yet they would have been very consistent in not respecting the zone.

Or take the gradual expansion of the Chinese occupation of islands claimed by the Philippines. The US has a lot of ways to react. It can expand some bases in South East Asia. It can provide some advanced weapons or training to Taiwan or other countries in the region. It can take some measures obstructing Chinese exports to the US. Etc. Such moves don't need to be published at all: the Chinese leaders will know and connect the dots. And if they occasionally don't there are diplomats to help them discretely.

If such indirect retaliation might not help there could be a next level of escalation. Again to be done discretely.

This is how soft power works. Unfortunately Obama is a former community organizer. That is: he organized people with little power against people with much more power. In such a position there is no soft power and naming and shaming is a major part of the strategy.

Unfortunately the US doesn't understand sanctions. They make a big show of them. And then they are surprised that the other side resists in order not to look weak and not to raise the impression that they are vulnerable to blackmail (sanctions are a form of blackmail).

Wars of choice
Iraq was a war of choice. But so are Libya, Syria and Ukraine now. Obama believes that he is smart for keeping U.S. soldiers out so that he can't be blamed for dead soldiers. But for the local population there is hardly a difference.

Take Syria. Obama believes that he is smart for keeping Russia, Iran and Hezbollah forever bleeding on Syria's battle fields. Very probably he got the idea from his mentor Brzezinski who did something similar with Afghanistan in 1979. But in the end the US paid for that act of cynicism with 9/11. Most people - both inside and outside the US - consider the lack of respect for human life that this strategy shows disgusting and immoral.

Obama's "red line" on Syria's chemical arms was another example of ignoring "talk softly but carry a big stick". A superpower like the US shouldn't make big statements like this. When chemical arms are used it should send in investigators and slowly escalate the issue - without committing itself to any course of action. Unfortunately it looks like Obama never cared about the issue: he just wanted a pretext for intervention.

Since the testimony of Kubic we know that the war in Libya was not necessary and that openings from Gaddafi's side to negotiate about his departure were deliberately ignored by the Obama administration.

After Gaddafi had been driven out America's main activity in Libya seems to have been its failed Benghazi mission that is more and more rumored to have been an operation buy weapons that had been given to Libyans Islamists and to give transport them to Syria. In the mean time there was little attention for turning Libya into a working state.

Ukraine first saw a US sponsored "revolution" and now we see the US doing its best to keep the conflict going by obstructing all dialogue. It looks like Obama believes it is in the American interest to create as much hostility as possible between Ukraine and Russia.

Obama is listing the withdrawal from Iraq and the partial withdrawal from Afghanistan as achievements. But withdrawal was a logical consequence when there was nothing more to get for the neocons. Given that there were to be withdrawals it is hard to claim that Obama has done them particularly well.

The negotiations with Iran are about the only spot of light. But they are constantly under fire from interest groups.

Obama's obsession with sneaky methods is becoming proverbial. Whether NSA snooping, color revolutions, CIA waterboarding or killing by drones, intervening under false pretexts: he is in favor.

He seems to miss the harmful effects of these policies. Internally they have the effect of driving out all the honest people. What remains are organizations dominated by opportunists who can't be trusted to defend America's interests. Externally they destroy the image of leadership and responsibility that the US once had and replace it with an image of a bully on steroids.

Contact with reality has been lost
The State Department is in a sorry state. It has been underfunded for decades and as a consequence it has often had to play second fiddle to the Department of Defense. Things became even worse under Bush Jr when many senior diplomats left in disgust because they disliked being forced to defend Bush's undefendable aggressive foreign policy. Obama brought in the amateurs with his unprecedented level of appointments of campaign contributors to diplomatic posts.

Without a functioning national bureaucracy that keeps track of the issues involved and best practices US foreign policy has become a free for all feast. Lobbying groups fund "research" institutes that publish quasi-scientific articles promoting the policies they want. Loudmouth politicians like McCain profile themselves as warriors by anointing whoever they want as an enemy.

The invasion in Iraq was a good example. Iraq was not an enemy of the U.S.. No American interests were involved. Instead the main motives for the Iraq invasion were outside the area of America's national interests: Bush taking "revenge" for his father, greedy oil and defense companies and a climate where people feel empty when the U.S. is not involved in some foreign military adventure.

The lack of attention to the rebuilding of Libya and Iraq fits in this pattern. Although such attention would be crucial to turn those countries US friendly - what the interventionists saw as their goal - it doesn't get any attention from the US administration as it no political points can be scored inside the US with such unsexy work.

Kerry is very much a product of this system. He doesn't see the world as a group of collaborating countries. He doesn't have a vision of how the world should work. Instead he goes around the world trying to bully every country to support what is the newest fashion in U.S. foreign policy.

From the perspective of the common American this doesn't make sense. Their prosperity would be much better served by a stable world shaped and supported by a capable U.S. diplomacy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ukraine's revengeful revolution

It is not exactly clear what the Ukrainian government wants in the East of the country. At the one hand Yatsenyuk is asking for dialogue. At the other hand he is sending troops, including locally despised Right Sektor guys, has called the protests "terrorism" and has announced draconian anti-terrorism laws, has flatly rejected calls for federalism and has announced a harsh crackdown on the Eastern protests.

It is a pattern that the Maidan revolution has shown from the beginning. The talk never really covered the action.

The Maidan uprising

The uprising started as a protest against the refusal of Yanukovich to sign the DCFTA Treaty with the EU. Yet opinion polls showed that only 43% of the population supported signing that treaty. There were good reasons to oppose the treaty: it would open the Ukrainian market for EU products but did not offer any financial help or visa liberalization. That meant that Ukraine would face a wave of factory closings at the same time it faced an IMF "cure". The treaty would also open the EU market for Ukrainian products, but to make use of that opportunity many industries will first need to make major investments so that they can produce according to EU standards. Hard to do in a time when there is little money available. And it unlikely that there will be much foreign investment given Ukraine's reputation for corruption. So it was not surprising that after some time the protests subsided.

The next wave of protests came after Yanukovich announced some legislation that regulated protests. Although minor parts were rather restrictive and probably inspired from the Russian example, most of it was just common sense and common in Western countries. In no Western capital, for example, it would be accepted that protesters kept the main square occupied for months.

A third wave arose after during a shooting on the Maidan dozens of people had been killed. The protesters accused Yanukovich, who has always denied. His denials got some support due to the leaked Ashton-Paet telephone conversation where Estonian minister of foreign affairs Paet tells that during a stay in Kiev he was told by a doctor that victims from both sides had the same type of gun wounds - what raised the suspicion that one shooter had targeted both sides. Paet called for an investigation. There is an investigation but it seems very partial and refuses even to keep the family of those who were shot informed. Instead the new government in Kiev has destroyed evidence by cutting bullets-ridden trees in central Kiev.

In the end the focus of the protests came on the corruption of Yanukovich and the lack of economic growth under his reign. This resonated well with the population, who is disgusted by the corruption. However, as the Maidan protesters are dominated by oligarchs too, it is a rather weak argument. Yatsenyuk tried to make it a major issue by claiming that his government would commit "political suicide" by taking a lot of unpopular but necessary measures. Close to two months after he rose to power we have yet to see anything beyond announced IMF measures. Instead of efforts to make the state more efficient so that the budget cuts can be less severe we see the opposite: a boycott of Transdniester that costs Ukraine money, extra expenses for the army and a confrontational policy with the East that keeps tension high and investment low.

The one thing that remained constant during the protests was that it was against Yanukovich. They protested against someone, not for something. This and their methods showed great similarity with the color revolutions. And indeed it has been reported that many of the people involved in the Maidan Revolution were also involved in the 2005 Orange Revolution. And just as in 2005 now too there have been claims that the uprising was coordinated from the US embassy.

Another aspect of the revolution was treacherousness. First the insurgents used an armistice to occupy government buildings in other cities. And when an agreement was made for early elections they used the agreed withdrawal of security forces as an opportunity to grab power immediately. This didn't show much respect for the other side. More importantly perhaps, it created a climate of contempt and distrust that clouds the present situation.

Revolutionary revenge

When the revolution had acquired power it didn't start an extensive reform program. Neither did it make any effort to make up with those it had vanquished so that the situation stabilized and the country could refocus again on its economy. Instead we saw a revengeful revolution. Many people have been fired from their jobs for being pro-Yanukovich. And despite the fact that Yanukovich's relations with Russia were mediocre he was painted as a Russian pawn and the revolutionaries indulged in a number of anti-Russian measures. They initiated a boycott against Transdniester, adopted a law to degrade the status of the Russian language (stopped by the president) and fielded proposals to throw the Russians out of their Crimean bases on some flimsy pretext.

We are told that in May there will be presidential elections so that from then on there can be no doubt about the legality of the president. However, this legality will be doubtful when the elections take place in a climate of violence and intimidation. Do we really believe that the people from Right Sektor would accept it if of a candidate from the Party of the Regions wins?

Trouble in the East

In March came the annexation of Crimea by Russia. We still don't know what motivated this. Had the Russians intelligence that Kiev's new rulers were serious about throwing them out of their bases? Were they really worried about maltreatment of Russians?

Another interpretation is that Russia expects that the new rulers will make Ukraine a kind of de facto NATO member and want to limit the damage. There are some indications that this might be indeed the case. The cleansing of the Ukrainian security sector is advertised as removing Russian spies but the effect is also to create the framework for a de facto West-Ukrainian dictatorship and that might be the real goal. The DCFTA agreement contains a clause that states a desire for "convergence of positions on bilateral,regional and international issues of mutual interest, taking into account the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the European Union, including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)". This interpretation might explain the present events in East Ukraine. Full NATO membership is unlikely as that requires that a country has full control over its territory.

Another scenario is that Russia's primary goal is pressure to force Kiev to adopt a friendlier attitude. In that case Kiev's aggressive reaction in the East is counterproductive as it forces the pro-Russians to expand the building occupations in order to prevent them from being crushed. It antagonizes the population and might even force Russia to do further annexations.

The US plays an unclear role too. It could easily have encouraged Kiev to make a few small concessions to prevent the annexation of Crimea but it didn't. Except for some vague threats with sanctions it stayed calm. One explanation is that it may have wanted the annexation in order to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine. Given that the America's Russia policy is in the hands of known Russia haters that option cannot be excluded.

The government in Kiev shows some strange behavior too. It is under the influence of Russia hating extremists from West Ukraine so one can expect some anti-Russian policies. What is less easy to explain is why it never made any serious effort to make up with Russia. It gives me the impression that they are influenced by US advisers.

The armed operations of the Ukrainian government seems to me foolish. Even if they win they will leave the country so divided that it is de facto destroyed.


Kiev has shown very little desire for negotiations. Yatsenyuk has visited the East once and he has talked a bit about decentralization. But he hasn't produced any concrete proposals so he may well be just buying time. The fact that he simultaneously sent troops and even Right Sektor militia to East Ukraine seems to point to the latter. Neither does his talk about the protesters in the East as terrorists and the introduction of draconian anti-terror laws point to a desire for compromise. His flat rejection of federalization - that might help to limit the ethnic strife that helps the oligarchs to maintain control - doesn't show any openness to dialogue either.

The US claims that it wants negotiations too. But it says the same about Syria and we know how the US negotiates on that subject. Fact is that the US hasn't made a single move to push the Ukrainian government towards moderation. Its calls that Moscow should negotiate directly with Kiev sounded insincere as everyone knew that that implied recognition. It could easily have mediated initial contacts so that some common ground could be found on which such recognition could be based, but it didn't.

And so we have three parties - Russia, the Kiev government and the US - whose motives are not clear. That makes very difficult for the other parties to understand what they want to do. This opens the risk of misunderstandings and escalation.

If the Ukrainian government really wants to change the dynamics of the situation it should change its behavior:
- stop sending Right Sektor militia to the East and withdraw those that are there
- end the boycott of Transdniester
- involve the Party of the Regions in the government so that it becomes a national unity government
- stop firing people for being "pro-Yanukovich" or "pro-Russian"
- make a proposal for decentralization and introduce it now. Don't hide behind a referendum.
- stop introducing draconian anti-terror laws directed at those in favor of closer ties with Russia.