Ukraine Peace Talks Circling by Doves and Hawks

February 9, 2015 4:51 am

It was a day of bluster and speeches, but also paralysis over how to end the bloodshed in eastern .
On
one side, hawks in Washington favoured supplying “advanced weapons” to
Ukraine’s Government in Kiev. On the other, cautious European leaders
warned it is easier to provoke Vladimir Putin than to scare him.
“I
am firmly convinced this conflict cannot be solved with military
means,” said Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, at the Munich
Security Conference.
Merkel, who is the only major Western leader
to have a working relationship with Putin, said a flow of American arms
to Ukraine would not intimidate the Russian leader.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo / AP
“I cannot
imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army
leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will
lose militarily.”

She added that force had not proved to be the solution in the
past when dealing with Russia. “I grew up in East Germany, I have seen
the Wall. The Americans did not intervene in the Wall, but in the end we
won.”
More than 5300 people have died in the conflict so far,
many in devastating artillery barrages, and Kiev warned yesterday that
rebel troops were massing for a fresh offensive.
An increasing
number of US politicians and senior officials have suggested countering
the rebel troops by supplying “defensive weapons” such as Javelin
anti-tank missiles, small arms and ammunition to allow Ukraine to strike
back at the tanks, artillery and troops that Russia appears to be
sending to the east of the country.
General Philip Breedlove,
Nato’s top military commander, insisted yesterday that the option should
remain on the table. “I don’t think we should preclude out of hand the
possibility of the military option,” he said, adding: “There is no
conversation about boots on the ground.”
President Barack Obama
has remained silent so far, but Ashton Carter, his nominee for Defence
Secretary, told a Senate committee last week that he is “very much
inclined” to provide arms to Petro Poroshenko’s Government.
A day
after five hours of talks in Moscow between Merkel, Francois Hollande,
the French leader, and Putin yielded no public agreement beyond a
commitment to a further phone call.
All the major players in the
crisis met at the Munich Security Conference. There was no mistaking
where the sympathies of the audience, made up of international leaders
including 20 heads of state, lay. When Merkel mentioned in her speech
that she was glad to see Poroshenko present, the Ukrainian President
stood up and took a bow, to rapturous applause. Brandishing the
passports of Russian soldiers allegedly seized on Ukrainian territory,
he said they were the “best evidence for the aggression and for the
presence of Russian troops”.
Hollande has said he is against
arming Ukraine and Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, said Britain
also supported a diplomatic solution, while he denounced Putin’s
“bully-boy” tactics.
“At the moment we do not feel that the
supply of arms would be a helpful contribution,” said Hammond. “And so
long as there is something approximating a military stalemate, the focus
must be on finding a political solution to resolve it.”
But
Malcolm Rifkind, the former British Defence and Foreign Secretary, was
one of several delegates who pressed Merkel on how Putin could be
tackled without bolstering Ukraine’s army. “Frederick the Great said
that diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.”
Joe
Biden, the US Vice-President, appeared to leave a route open for
weapons supplies to Kiev, saying: “We do not believe in a military
solution to the conflict, but we do not believe that Putin has the right
to do whatever he wants.” He added: “Too many times, Mr Putin has
promised peace and delivered tanks.”

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