Ukraine and US to flex Western muscle in joint army exercises
UKRAINE'S new government last night said it would be conducting military exercises with the United States, in a move intended to warn Russia off further seizures of Ukrainian territory.
Kiev said the manoeuvres would be conducted under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.The calls for a show of Western strength come as Europe appeared last night to be at odds over how to respond forcefully to Vladimir Putin's military annexation of Crimea.
While maintaining a united stance in public, Britain, France and Germany's individual responses are all conditioned by the degree to which their economies are vulnerable to Kremlin retaliatory measures. Britain is keen to minimise damage to the City of London, Germany frets about Russia cutting off gas supplies, and France has valuable Kremlin defence contracts.
It is understood that Britain will also take part. The Memorandum is a document signed by Britain, America and Russia to guarantee Ukraine's territorial integrity after it gave up its share of Soviet nuclear bombs. A Downing Street source, however, said Britain had not "committed" itself yet to the exercises, and declined to elaborate on whether they would involve sending British forces to the Black Sea region. The differences were exposed yesterday when British Prime Minister David Cameron, with French support, said world leaders should consider excluding Russia permanently from G8 meetings when they convene in The Hague on Monday.
Chancellor Merkel, with Italian support, has backed the suspension of a showcase G8 summit hosted by President Putin in Russia this June. But she is resisting moves to expel the Russians outright on the basis that it would close the door to an important diplomatic forum. Signs of the splits in Europe emerged as Russia moved to decisively evict Ukrainian forces from the annexed Crimean peninsula.
Pro-Russian militias backed by Russian soldiers overran at least two Ukrainian military bases yesterday. Rather than face a fight in which they were outnumbered, the Ukrainian troops packed their uniforms and belongings up and quit their bases, seemingly for good. However, despite the brazen nature of Crimea's military annexation, Mrs Merkel insists that only Russian military incursion into east Ukraine, beyond Crimea, counts as escalation.
The different approaches mean that next week's two-day meeting of EU leaders will be divided over when to begin an arms embargo or energy and financial sanctions to "change Russian behaviour". Germany and Italy are heavily economically dependent on Russian gas and oil imports, while countries such as Britain are not. Britain has introduced an arms embargo on Russia, but France has held back because it has a £1bn (€1.2bn) contract to supply two warships to Russia.
France has urged Britain to support financial sanctions that would hit the City of London, demands that also rattle German and Italian companies. Diplomats are working on sanctions that could take weeks or months to ensure the impact is "equitably shared" across the EU.
Meanwhile, the pro-Western government in Ukraine angered Moscow further yesterday by announcing it would withdraw from the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) alliance, which replaced the Soviet Union. The move means all Russians coming to Ukraine need visas. Critics said it risked backfiring, not just by jeopardising trade relations, but by giving Russia an excuse for a reciprocal visa requirement for Ukrainians visiting Moscow.(© Daily Telegraph, London)