Pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Ukraine
Pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Ukraine

Although President Obama has repeatedly pledged that the standoff with Russia over Ukraine will not lead to military action, Poland’s defense minister yesterday indicated that the U.S. will be sending ground forces to Poland as part of an expansion of NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe in response to events in Ukraine.

After visiting the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Poland’s defense minister Tomasz Siemoniak said the decision has been made on a political level and that military planners are working out details.

He said the two nations will work together in such areas as air defense, special forces and cyberdefense, with Poland playing a leading regional role “under U.S. patronage.”

Siemoniak said the U.S., having announced that it was executing a “pivot” to Asia in terms of its priorities, needs to “re-pivot” to Europe—just as  Obama is about to leave for a weeklong trip to Asia. He added that European countries who have cut back on defense spending need to reverse the trends.

“The idea until recently was that there were no more threats in Europe and no need for a U.S. presence in Europe any more,” Siemoniak said through an interpreter, according to the Washington Post. “Events show that what is needed is a re-pivot, and that Europe was safe and secure because America was in Europe.”

As Siemoniak and Hagel were planning a strategy to combat Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, the pro-Russian militants occupying cities in eastern Ukraine indicated they have no intention of abiding by the agreement that was signed Thursday in Geneva by officials from Ukraine, the U.S., the European Union and Russia.

The separatists have shown no interest in acceding to calls for them to leave the public buildings they occupied in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine and lay down their arms.

They say they have not signed any agreements, nor do they intend to unless the pro-Western government in Kiev steps down.

Denis Pushilin, self-declared leader of the militants, said those who are aligned with the Kiev-based national government should vacate all public buildings, not the militants in Donetsk.

“Lavrov did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation,” said Pushilin, the head of a group called the Donetsk People’s Republic, referring to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to CNN.

Pushilin wants to hold a referendum by May 11 to ask residents whether they want sovereignty from Ukraine. Many Ukrainians believe Ukraine’s interim authorities—who took power in February after the ouster of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych —are illegitimate.

But though they haven’t laid down their arms, the militants at least have not seized any new buildings or infrastructure sites since the agreement was signed.

On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended Moscow and sharply criticized the United States and European Union for their “hypocrisy” for siding with “illegal, armed groups (who) won a so-called revolution.”

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t back down in the face of Western demands and under the threat of sanctions.

“Russia should not be addressed or treated like a schoolgirl with a checklist of things to do,” Peskov said in an interview on a Russian website.

 

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