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Mindy BelzVoices Mindy Belz

While Washington fiddles

Ukraine’s Donbass region faces life-and-death fallout over impeachment

A column of Russian trucks rolled to the border with Ukraine on Feb. 5 as U.S. senators in Washington prepared to vote on whether to remove from office President Donald Trump. The Russian convoy carried ammunition, weapons, and military equipment—all to reinforce Russian-backed rebels and Russian units that in 2014 took control of eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry officials report the trucks crossed into the Eastern European nation, which gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, near the village of Diakove in Luhansk. Much of Luhansk and Donetsk, a region known as Donbass, essentially has become Russian territory, with Ukraine’s military forced to hold a 280-mile front line for six years.

Moscow has tested some of its latest weaponry in Donbass, while Ukraine’s army relies on Soviet-era aircraft and outdated weapons. A January video clip showed one Ukrainian unit using the M1910 Maxim machine gun, a once-revolutionary weapon used in Imperial Russia before World War I.

That disparity is the forgotten centerpiece of Trump’s controversial decision last year to withhold $400 million in military aid from Ukraine. Trump’s willingness to condition that aid to Ukraine investigating  his domestic political opponents threatened Ukraine’s security. Democrats, by leaping to open an unbounded campaign to remove Trump, also showed their willingness to risk Ukraine’s future.

No one looking seriously at the Russian threat can cheer the Democrats’ hapless conduct of impeachment proceedings. Nor can anyone applaud Trump’s victory lap once the Senate acquitted him on Feb. 5—within hours of fresh Russian armaments rolling into Ukraine.

Ukraine lost much during the five-month Washington debacle. The Russian convoy signals that momentum toward a bilateral pullout from Donbass—spearheaded by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—has ended. Republicans and Democrats’ bipartisan effort to maintain sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Russia may also be finished. Zelensky emerges from the impeachment melodrama a weaker leader, even though he was elected in a landslide last year. Trump and his lawyers have seen to that, touting Ukraine as a bad actor who let the United States down.

This emboldens Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose expansionist aims extend into other former Soviet states. Putin is likely to redouble efforts to control Ukraine and extend the Kremlin’s reach into Europe.

Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Ukrainian soldiers near Odradivka in eastern Ukraine. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Ukrainians already have paid a high price for Russian occupation in Donbass. More than 14,000 have died in the conflict. The region’s economy has never recovered. To cash a monthly check, elderly pensioners take buses to cities outside the zone, as no banks have reopened since 2014. Authorities have outlawed non-Orthodox religious groups, forcibly closing churches, seizing property, and making many religious activities illegal. “You cannot serve a soup kitchen. You cannot spread or receive humanitarian aid. There is no place to complain. There is no one to stand for them,” said Mission Eurasia President Sergey Rakhuba.

Ukraine as political theater isn’t going away. Despite the vote against Trump’s removal, at least 17 Republican senators say the president committed “an improper-but-not-impeachable offense,” according to a morning-after survey by The Dispatch. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who made a decided move against impeachment, was clear in his statement to call Trump’s actions “inappropriate.” Those views are important because they stand at odds with what Trump and his legal defense team claim. A conclusive impeachment vote hasn’t resolved those differences.

Further revelations are likely, including from former national security adviser John Bolton, whose book covering Trump foreign policy is due out mid-March. Bolton, while controversial, has a reputation as a straight shooter. Critics won’t easily be able to dismiss his account. Alexander and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who voted for one count of impeachment, are former governors with long records in public life. Voters weary of Democrats’ grandstanding also tire of Trump treating serious critics with public contempt. Demeaning the office one holds becomes self-defeating.

Playing with foreign policy, too, can cost lives. Ask the Ukrainians in Donbass.

Comments

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  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Fri, 02/07/2020 08:02 pm

    I see Mindy is now an expert in Ukraine, and apparently we should be sending the 3rd Armored Division over there, and the Ukraine / Russia conflict is all a fallout from impeachment.

    Mindy says "Nor can anyone applaud Trump’s victory lap once the Senate acquitted him on Feb. 5—within hours of fresh Russian armaments rolling into Ukraine"
    /Well, I for one applaud his victory lap. What the he** is wrong with that, after three years of b.s. (to quote Trump) of treasonous, seditious, vile, evil behavior by the Democrats and the main stream media. For one day the man can't bring his team together and celebrate their hatd work?

    I suppose Mindy would scold Jay Sekulow, Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, Mitch McConnell, Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy, and about 100 others for attending this celebration of victory of good over evil. I think Mindy hates Trump more than Joel Belz or Marvin Olasky.

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Fri, 02/07/2020 08:03 pm

    So I just read this a little closer - - - Mindy Belz is blaming the Russian invasion of the Ukraine on Trump, for "withholding" aid to Ukraine, and for Trump conditioning the aid so that "Ukraine [would] investigat[e] his domestic political opponents"

    So Mindy is on board with impeachment. I don't have all the details at my fingertips, but I'm pretty sure the aid was NOT withheld, and it was barely delayed. And what exactly is wrong with investigating corruption of US officials?

    I'm disgusted by Mindy Belz constantly bashing Trump and acting like she's the arbiter of US foreign policy. I'm wouldn't be surprise if she was a consultant to "Jane's Information Group".

    And, no, Mindy, don't speak for me with your silky voice and your sanctimonious, categorical statement that "Nor can anyone applaud Trump’s victory lap once the Senate acquitted him on Feb. 5". I cheered him on Tuesday at the SOTU, and I cheered him at his celebration talk the next day.

  • Tabitha
    Posted: Sat, 02/08/2020 12:04 am

    Thank you Mindy for your thoughtful research into global effects of political games in Washington.  Neither Democrats nor Republicans are winners in the impeachment mud-fest, and Ukrainians have paid a personal price for the show.  I am grateful for the commitment of WORLD to tell the truth without blinders of individual prejudice.

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Sat, 02/08/2020 04:36 pm

    Thank you Tabitha

  • BradB
    Posted: Mon, 02/10/2020 01:14 pm

    I thought the aid was delayed a few weeks only and more was added to it. And aid denied by the prior administration was given this time.

  • NBrooks
    Posted: Mon, 02/10/2020 02:36 pm

    It is so refreshing to read an analysis of the situation that looks at both sides of the issue and makes us remember the human toll in Ukrain. Thank you, Mindy Belz!

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Wed, 02/12/2020 12:15 am

    Thanks, Mrs. Belz, for this article.  I have gradually come under the impression that both parties in Washington, D.C., are indeed fiddling while at least parts of the world burn.  Our country needs to get more serious about dealing with tyranny in foreign lands - in places such as Russia, China, Venezuela, Syria, and others.  Your article is timely.  

    Also, a previous commenter questions Mrs. Belz's expertise on Ukraine.  Mrs. Belz has, for years, covered international news and issues for WORLD; she is more of an expert on such matters than most of us readers will ever be.