Today in an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin dropped a bombshell: President Viktor Yanukovich had sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting Russian military assistance to restore law and order in Ukraine.
Churkin read the letter from Yanukovich to Putin:
People are being persecuted for language and political reasons. So in this regard I would call on the President of Russia, Mr. Putin, asking him to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine.Yanukovich, for his faults, weaknesses, incompetence, etc., is nevertheless the legitimately elected president of Ukraine. He was not legally impeached according to the Ukrainian Constitution and he has asserted that he remains Ukraine's legal president.
The US and EU claim that Russia has "invaded" Ukraine (never mind that we have seen no signs of any significant Russian military activity at all). However, if assistance was requested by a legitimate leader to put down what it viewed as an extremist coup and that assistance was given by a willing ally, the charge of illegal invasion becomes much more dicey. The US has deployed its military repeatedly overseas (invited and uninvited) to assist local governments in fighting terrorism.
Ever the tin-ear, however, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power followed Ambassador Churkin's bombshell with one of the US's most aggressive statements to date:
It is a fact that today Russian jets entered Ukrainian airspace. Russia military action is a violation of international law. Russian military bases in Ukraine are secure. Russian mobilization is a response to an imaginary threat. Military action can not be justified on the basis of threats that haven't been made or aren't being carried out. Russia needs to engage directly with the government of Ukraine.Perhaps it was too late to ask for a new draft speech, or perhaps the US will simply ignore this significant new development.
Whatever the case, the Europeans are "going wobbly" on the US administration's demands for punishing action against Russia. The Germans are beating a retreat from early calls to kick Russia out of the G8. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier yesterday argued against kicking Russia out of the G8, and according to the Wall Street Journal the German government is opposed to any sanctions on Russia
And the BBC is reporting that:
The [UK] government will not curb trade with Russia or close London's financial centre to Russians as part of any possible package of sanctions against Moscow, according to an official document.The Chinese, who have major business interests in Ukraine, have expressed agreement today with Russia's recent actions.
These latest revelations are unlikely to shore up the already lagging enthusiasm in the EU for significant punishment to a Russia that is both a significant supplier of European gas and a significant customer to German industry. Unless cooler heads prevail in the US, the Obama administration may soon find itself standing alone, its demands for obedience falling on deaf ears. Such events are often of historic importance.