Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Russian menace

West should prepare for Putin's next outrage

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Western leaders are scrambling to adjust to a new world order where Russia is no longer a partner, but instead a threat to international security.

Despite the enactment of new sanctions by Canada, the United States and the European Union (EU) last week, Russia has responded tit-for-tat by banning imports of agricultural products from EU member states. According to BBC news, Russia buys fruit and vegetables from the EU worth $2.7 billion annually.


These sanctions are a small price to pay if Russia launches a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in the coming days under the guise of a peacekeeping mission. Photos of Russian military personnel wearing "peacekeeping" uniforms near Ukraine's border have already surfaced. Coupled with recent statements by Russia's UN representative and minister of defence regarding the readiness of Russian "peacekeepers" to intervene, these actions and words should raise major concerns. As the Ukrainian army is making territorial gains in insurgent-held territory, a Russian "peacekeeping" mission would likely further destabilize eastern Ukraine and turn the region into another "frozen" conflict zone similar to Transdniestria and Abkhazia. Russia has never remained neutral in these conflicts and, in fact, has a vested interest in sustaining the status quo in preventing their resolution. If the West doesn't stop Russian aggression now, Russia will pose a direct threat to the West.

The United States and the EU should start following Canada's lead in taking a strong stand against Russia's disregard for international law and sovereignty of its neighbours. Led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada has supported Ukraine by imposing sanctions against individuals and assisting in the co-ordination of western responses. The EU's slow response can partially be attributed to its economic interdependence with Russia. In particular, Germany and France voiced verbal warnings and enacted a few travel bans and asset freezes in response to Crimea's annexation. This weak response was interpreted by Russia as a green light to push farther into eastern Ukraine as EU "red lines" were greeted with Russian-backed insurgents and arms flowing across the border.

Both Germany and France have built close ties with Putin's regime despite high levels of corruption in Russia. According to Transparency International, Russia ranked 127th in a corruption perception index out of 177 countries and 123rd out of 144 in judicial independence in 2013. Nevertheless, roughly 6,000 Germany companies are doing business with Russia while the French government is proceeding with plans to deliver Mistral-class warships to the Russian navy in a deal worth $1.6 billion. Last week, the EU enacted its most comprehensive round of sanctions against Russia by targeting several sectors of the Russian economy, including the oil industry. However, significant loopholes are evident.

The interconnected crises in Ukraine have demonstrated the power of people against the corrupt former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who is currently hiding out in luxury in Russia. Although many believed the story ended with Yanukovych fleeing the country, the saga has continued with Ukrainian territory being annexed, Ukrainians holding a democratic presidential election and Ukrainian servicemen and civilians being killed in the Donbas. According to various sources, Putin's regime is complicit in the flow of weapons and fighters from Russian territory into eastern Ukraine. As Ambassador Lyall Grant of the UK Mission to the UN said to the Security Council meeting on Aug. 5, Russia "has been equipping separatists with sophisticated heavy weaponry -- including GRAD rocket launchers and artillery, tanks and surface-to-air missiles. It has been recruiting and training fighters and waging a propaganda war on their behalf. There has even been direct shelling of Ukraine from Russian territory." Moreover, U.S. intelligence has confirmed what the Ukrainian military has been documenting for weeks -- Russia's military is firing at the Ukrainian military from its territory. The shooting down of MH17 and the loss of nearly 300 innocent civilians from around the world should serve as another wake -up call to those doubting Russian involvement in the armed conflict. There is overwhelming evidence suggesting the aircraft was brought down by a surface-to-air missile launched from the territory controlled by the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine.

According to the polls, Putin's approval ratings top 80 per cent. Unfavourable views among Russian citizens of the United States are also at an all-time high at 74 per cent, according to the Levada-Center based in Russia. The same poll shows only three per cent of Russians blame the Russian government for the deteriorating relations between Ukraine and Russia. Most Russian media are either directly or indirectly state-controlled, which explains how this Soviet-style propaganda affects the mood of ordinary people. High support at home, combined with the anti-western sentiments, gives Russia's president a chance to invade Ukraine at any time. How will the West react if Putin pulls this card from his sleeve? The warning signs are all too apparent as Russian troops are massing on Ukraine's borders. Western leaders must unite and unite now.


Denys Volkov is a political analyst on Ukraine and holds a Masters degree in public administration from the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 8, 2014 A11


Updated on Friday, August 8, 2014 at 8:55 AM CDT: corrects headline and byline placement

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