Last week masked men, in camouflage garb with no insignia, dressed and equipped like Russian special forces, started taking over police stations and other government buildings in the Donets basin in eastern Ukraine. They appeared to be working in tandem with local militias in defying the Ukrainian government.
This week the Ukraine government has responded by sending in military forces to counter these actions. There has been shooting and violence. But Ukraine's military doesn't seem capable of asserting control.
So Vladimir Putin's Russia, with some 40,000 troops massed just outside Ukraine, seems to have taken effective control of a significant chunk of that country -- or at least denying effective control to the Ukraine government.
Whether Putin will follow up with an explicit occupation and annexation, as he did with Crimea, is unclear. Polling and previous referendum results suggest much less support for absorption into Russia in eastern Ukraine than in Crimea.
What is clear is that Putin's actions violate the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by Russia, the U.S. and Britain, which guaranteed Ukraine's boundaries in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.
And what is just as clear is that the United States is unable or unwilling to do anything effective to enforce its commitment.
Barack Obama's response has been tepid. Ukraine authorities requested light arms, antitank weapons and intelligence assistance. Obama agreed to provide Meals Ready to Eat. And to have them delivered by commercial trucks rather than military transport planes, so Putin wouldn't consider it provocative.
But Putin surely finds provocative Obama's verbal condemnations of Russia's actions and the sanctions on a handful of Russian insiders imposed by the U.S. and Europe.
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- Judy Chaffee
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