In Kiev, Biden Tells Russia To Pull Back

“It is time for Russia to stop talking and start acting—act on the commitments they made. We need to see these kinds of concrete steps,” Vice President Biden said in Kiev today. “Time is short in which to make progress.”

Biden is in Ukraine to meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and make a determination as to whether Russia is abiding by the terms of the pact they signed on Thursday in Geneva.

Under the agreement, Russia vowed to remove pro-Russian troops from government buildings in eastern Ukraine. As of this writing, it is not clear that they have done so or, for that matter, have any intention to do so.

In an interview for the Washington Post, Lally Weymouth spoke with Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s internal affairs minster. Weymouth asked Avakov if he thought the Russians would actually release the government buildings.

It was clear from Avakov’s reply that the Ukrainian government isn’t holding out hope for a compromising Russia. When Weymouth pressed as to whether Ukraine has the means to take back the government buildings, Avakov said, “Yes, no doubt. We have special troops of the Interior Ministry called Jaguar and Omega. They are special troops trained to carry out such operations…But we have a priority that the peaceful citizens should not suffer.”

Official portrait of Vice President of the Uni...

Official portrait of Vice President of the United States . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The priority should always be that peaceful citizens do not suffer. But it is also clear that not much has changed since Thursday – or, in fact, since Russia took Crimea over a month ago.

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk had harsh words for Russia. He accused it as behaving “like an armed bandit.” Yatsenyuk continued, “Russia should stick to its international commitments and obligations. They should not behave as gangsters in the modern century.”

As I have argued in my work over the last few months, there is no reason to believe that the Russians will behave as anything but gangsters. The same messages of unity, peace and reconciliation have not proffered the type of results we have hoped. And they’re not going to.

Indeed, in a New York Times piece, Michael Gordon argued that we are witnessing a whole new era in Russian Military prowess in Eastern Ukraine.

While the notion of annexing Crimea is an old-fashioned one, Russia is a new, empowered force using all types of warfare at their disposal. This goes well beyond “boots on the ground” to include cyberwarfare, special operations and a modern propaganda campaign.

“It is a significant shift in how Russian ground forces approach a problem,” said James G. Stavridis, the retired admiral and former NATO commander. “They have played their hand of cards with finesse.”

Russian forces of today are a far cry from those that was saw in 2000 when they used artillery, airstrikes and surface-to-surface missiles to retake Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. Today, the priority is given to special forces, airborne and naval infantry.

“It is much more sophisticated, and it reflects the evolution of the Russian military and of Russian training and thinking about operations and strategy over the years,” said Stephen J. Blank, a former expert on the Russian military at the United States Army War College who is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

All this adds up to the fact that we are fighting an emboldened and well-equipped enemy with little more than words and tired rhetoric. The diplomatic route should always be the first option – I am not interested in conflict.

And though 58 percent of Americans say the United States should leave the Ukraine situation alone according to the latest Rasmussen numbers, this is not the time for the US to disengage. To be sure, we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes that we made in September when President Obama shied away from the conflict in Syria, a move that has proven to only strengthen Assad’s grip on the country.

Putin remains in the driver’s seat whether we are looking at eastern Ukraine or diplomatic conventions in Geneva. It’s time to take control.