For weeks, Washington and Moscow have waged a bitter war of words over the
fragile situation in Ukraine. But on Tuesday, the tenor of the discussion
turned tantalizingly conspiratorial.
On the Russian side, Moscow accused the U.S. of plotting a fascist crackdown in
eastern Ukraine with the help of an obscure American contractor and a far-right
On the American side, Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian special
agents of orchestrating riots in eastern Ukrainian as a pretext to war.
With no way to substantiate either claim, the press was left collecting denials from
the various cast of characters ensnared in the two conspiracy theories -- an effort
that raised more questions than answers.
The verbal food fight began with Kerry's fiery testimony at the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee Tuesday, which reflected the Obama administration's
growing concern that the unrest raging in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv,
Luhansk and Donetsk could offer Russian President Vladimir Putin an excuse for
an armed incursion there.
Pro-Russian demonstrators seized an array of government buildings in recent days and demanded the right to secede from Ukraine,
leading Kiev to send troops to retake the compounds. On Tuesday, Kiev forces reclaimed a regional administration building in Kharkiv
from pro-Russian forces while armed men retained control of a security-service building in Luhansk. U.S. officials worry that Putin is
trying to force Ukraine into a clash with the protesters so Moscow would be able to justify an invasion on humanitarian grounds.
That was the same playbook the Russian strongman used before invading and annexing Ukraine's Crimean peninsula earlier this year.
"No one is fooled by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea," Kerry said.
"These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, and quite simply what we see from Russia is illegal and illegitimate effor
t to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary."
The State Department did not offer evidence to back up Kerry's claim. And Kerry's counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, didn't take the accusations sitting down.
In a retaliatory press conference, the Russian Foreign Minister dismissed claims that Russia played a role in the disturbances in southeastern Ukraine.
"One shouldn't lay one's own fault at somebody else's door," he said at a press conference in Moscow.
The Kremlin proceeded to propagate a separate conspiracy of its own: That the private American security contractor Greystone had joined forces
with the far-right Ukrainian group Right Sector to neutralize pro-Russian residents in eastern Ukraine. The allegation came in the form of a statement
from the Russian Foreign Ministry, but "experts" in Russian media quickly began amplifying the allegation. "We are talking about the continuation of the
U.S. policy of military intervention in Ukraine and a preparatory stage for a massacre in southeastern Ukraine," said Igor Korotchenko, the
editor-in-chief of Russian National Defense Magazine, in an interview.