Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NATO summit must deal with Putin bully

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The so-called diplomatic solution to end Russia-led terror in Ukraine is a disaster. The West's mild sanctions failed to stop Russia's overt military invasion, but NATO's powers still have a unique chance to deal with Russia's disdain of international law and agreements at their summit this week.

Will they do so? Or will they allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to ride roughshod in Ukraine. Instead of relying on words of condemnation, what is needed is a robust response to Putin's behaviour.

There is a colossal human tragedy in Ukraine. So far, nearly 1,000 freedom fighters have died, with another 4,000 wounded and about 350,000 citizens displaced. The infrastructure of Luhansk and Donbas -- airports, roads, water and electricity stations, hospitals, schools and apartment residences -- are destroyed.

Putin's ideologue Alexander Dugin, the one lobbying for a reconstituted Soviet Union, is calling for a genocide of Ukrainians and the occupation of the entire country. Given the Kremlin's deliberate famine-genocide against Ukraine in 1933, this is no idle threat. The reason then is the same as now -- Russia's occupation of Ukraine.

Some western leaders are still mollycoddling Putin instead of dealing with his behaviour. Chief among them is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose determination to deal with Russia's "humiliation" and save the bully's face has put the brakes on meaningful responses to his aggression. Consequently, sanctions are moving at a snail's pace and are taking time to have an impact, while the war in Ukraine rages on.

Russia's president threatens the West with military weaponry it "has never seen" and publicly reminds the West Russia is a nuclear power and the West has only itself to thank for that. It insisted Ukraine and Kazakhstan give up their shares of the decentralized nuclear capacity of the former Soviet Union to Russia.

Ukraine caved in favour of Russia then and must not do so again as Russia sets terms for what it wants for having invaded Ukraine. No NATO membership, no EU, and no Maidan-like protests. NATO must not allow Putin to dictate its membership.

NATO was created after the Second World War as the world was emerging from what most wanted to never happen again. Yet, it is happening again and this forces the alliance to choose -- come to Ukraine's military aid or lose its purpose. The fact Ukraine is not a member is insurmountable only to those who want it to be an obstacle.

The Russian-created havoc has resulted in extraordinary times. On Thursday, NATO must take aggressive measures: Bring Ukraine into its orbit and stand up to Putin.

The summit gives the alliance the opportunity to make a brave and historic stand in support of its values and stated purpose to be "an active and leading contributor to peace and security on the international stage." It must convince member countries providing tacit support for Russia by obstructing such a choice to favour Nato's values -- peace and security.

As things stand, Russia is neither capable nor willing to fight NATO now. It's pushing its luck because no one is stopping it. If unchecked, Russia just might press on. And NATO's perceived helplessness acts as encouragement to other despots.

For its part, Canada must operationalize the words used by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his pre-summit release calling for a "strong and co-ordinated response to Russia's efforts to destabilize Ukraine and undermine the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity." Canada needs to work hard with fellow members to admit Ukraine and in doing so deal adequately with the greatest security challenges facing the trans-Atlantic community and its very existence.

Ukraine joining NATO is a good move. If NATO fails in this at the summit, its words "to act as a positive force for change and... meet the security challenges of the 21st century" are worthless.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is an international opinion writer specializing in Ukraine.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 3, 2014 A7

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