In comments made at the Trilateral Commission last week, Secretary of State John Kerry dubbed Russia a “thug” responsible for stirring unrest in eastern Ukraine, claiming it was a plot to take the region over.
Kerry’s comments echo those of other US and Western officials, who have been claiming Russia is trying to create a pretext for invasion. Yet with Ukraine overtly invading the protester-held east, it seems like Russia has all the excuse it would need, and isn’t acting.
It’s not an oversight, according to Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who insists Russia simply doesn’t want to take over the eastern portion of the country, and has no inclination to try to repeat the Crimean annexation there.
It’s not hard to see why. While Russia was eager to retain its naval base in Crimea, it has no such strategic interests in Ukraine’s east. Like Crimea, the area around Donetsk and Luhansk is also extremely poor, and already committed to a pricey set of subsidies in Crimea, there is no reason why Russia might want to start throwing money at cities with crumbling, out-dated industrial bases.
The NATO assumption seems to be that Russia is seeking territory for its own sake, but as the largest country on the planet by far, it isn’t clear why Russia would be looking to absorb neighboring regions.