Hours after the U.S. State Department on Thursday claimed (though failed to describe) new evidence that Russia's military was both increasing the flow of arms to rebel fighters in eastern Ukraine and firing artillery at Ukrainian Army positions across its border, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey elevated the rhetoric against Russian President Vladimir Putin and directly invoked the idea that a new Cold War-like posture is now being taken by the U.S. military.
Speaking from the Aspen Security Forum, a defense industry conference in Colorado, Dempsey said Pentagon planners are now looking at military options “we haven’t had to look at for 20 years" and warned that Putin—whom he characterized as escalating the crisis inside Ukraine—“may actually light a fire” he cannot control. And not just in Ukraine or eastern Europe, Dempsey said, but globally.
Drawing a dramatic historical comparison, Dempsey equated Putin's alleged involvement in eastern Ukraine to the Soviet Union's invasion of Poland in 1939.
“It does change the situation. You’ve got a Russian government that has made a conscious decision to use its military force inside another sovereign nation to achieve its objectives. It’s the first time since 1939 or so that that’s been the case,” Dempsey said. “They clearly are on a path to assert themselves differently not just in Eastern Europe, but Europe in the main, and towards the United States.”
In a separate caustic charge, Dempsey blamed the "rising tide of nationalism" in parts of Europe on "Russian activities” in Ukraine — a strange accusation given that the key Ukrainian nationalist parties are represented in the new Ukrainian government that is opposed by Moscow, but backed by the U.S. government and many in the European Union.
Earlier in the day, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said, “We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions.”
The charges became instant headlines in the U.S. media, though it remains unclear what level of evidence exists to support the claims.
When pushed by reporters at the briefing to give any details about the source of the intelligence or evidence to support the news charges against Russia, Harf would provide none. From the briefing transcript:
QUESTION: I would like to know what you’re basing this new evidence that the Russians intend to send any heavier equipment.
MS. HARF: It’s based – uh-huh. It’s based on some intelligence information. I can’t get into the sources and methods behind it, but I was able to be able to tell you that.
QUESTION: Is there a YouTube video or something that you can point us to --
MS. HARF: Do you have any other questions?
QUESTION: -- that would show? I’m just wondering if you – what it is. I mean --
MS. HARF: I just said I wasn’t going to give you the underlying source for it.
QUESTION: Marie, did you --
QUESTION: But that --
QUESTION: So look, it’s not – the question is --
MS. HARF: So if you prefer – if you prefer I don’t give you more information and just say nothing if I can’t give you the source --
QUESTION: I’d prefer --
MS. HARF: No, I’m actually asking you a question here. If I can’t give you the source and method, would you prefer I not give you the information?
QUESTION: Marie, I think that it would be best for all concerned here --
MS. HARF: Are there any other questions?
QUESTION: -- if when you make an allegation like that, you’re able to back it up with something more than just “because I say so.”
MS. HARF: Okay. That’s not what I said. It’s based on intelligence, it’s not because I said so.
QUESTION: Well, it’s not me that’s making these allegations. I mean, you guys get up at the UN Security Council and make these allegations. The Secretary gets on the Sunday shows to make these allegations. And then when you present your evidence to back up those allegations, it has appeared to, at least for some, fall short of definitive proof. Do you --
MS. HARF: I would strongly disagree with that.
In a separate development on Thursday, the founding coalition of the Ukraine parliament in Kiev collapsed on Thursday as Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned alongside the withdrawal of other key parties that came together as a block after the overthrow of the previous Ukraine government earlier this year.
"I announce my resignation in connection with the dissolution of the parliamentary coalition and the blocking of government initiatives," Yatsenyuk said in a statement before parliament. "The coalition has fallen apart, laws haven’t been voted on, soldiers can’t be paid, there’s no money to buy rifles, there’s no possibility to store up fuel. What options do we have now?”
Meanwhile, heavy fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, forcing an increasingly dire refugee crisis along the border as eastern Ukrainians trying to escape the fighting—which includes heavy shelling in civilian areas—are surging over the Russia border in search of safety from the Ukraine Army.
According to the ITAR-TASS News Agency, citing the Russian Federal Migration Service Sergei Kalyuzhny, "at least 2.7 million Ukrainian citizens have come to Russia from the conflict-torn eastern regions."
The ongoing violence and international political tensions over Ukraine continue to boil in the wake of last week's tragedy surrounding Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 which is widely believed, though not confirmed, to have been shot down "mistakenly" by Ukrainian rebels in the east.
Appearing on Democracy Now! on Thursday, editor of The Nation magazine Katrina vanden Heuvel expressed frustration over the continued poverty of U.S. media coverage of events in Ukraine that often lack context and a full understanding of the dynamics that are driving the ongoing conflict.
"I think the big story that has gone unreported in the kind of one-sided media narrative that Americans have been given in these last months is the unreported war in the southeast of Ukraine," vanden Huevel said.
She went on to criticize overall U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine, with particular criticism for both Secretary of State John Kerry and the continued push by the Obama administration to isolate Russia instead of engaging with it.
"Kerry often sounds like he’s the secretary of war, not the secretary of state," she said. "We have allied ourselves, tethered ourselves to the Kiev government in a way that may make it very difficult to find a way beyond a new Cold War, if not a hot war."
Watch the entire interview: