Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Putin just doesn't get it

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Last month, Ukrainians succeeded in defending their human rights on Maidan against a corrupted and discredited leader, ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and his mentor, Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Last week, Ukraine's passive resistance brought them victory against the same invader in Crimea.

Unprovoked, President Putin declared war on Ukraine on March 1. He moved planes, helicopters, military vessels and trucks full of special forces and military personnel hoping to bring about capitulation. It did not happen. Ukraine's forces in Crimea did not rise to the bait. They did not precipitate a defensive response, a battle President Putin would have liked to have had. It would have provided him with a cover to attack Ukraine on the pretext of defending the Russian population.

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The scenario failed. Despite the blockage of Ukraine's naval base and two naval ships; despite a self-proclaimed puppet acting on Russia's orders in Crimea's parliament; despite "Russians" with newly issued passports and parachuted "tourists" from Russia demanding Russia's protection and Ukrainian uniforms worn by Russian soldiers, the Ukrainian side stayed calm and prevailed. Putin recalled his soldiers to the Russian base and halted war games on Ukraine's border claiming, at the same time, he has no control over "self-defence volunteers."

Even the lure of money failed to convince Ukrainians to cross over. A stirring video clip shows some 200 Ukrainian naval officers blockaded in their base by Russians touting machine guns, breaking into Ukraine's national anthem when former admiral Dennis Berezovsky tries convincing them to defect to Russia with him to get "Russian Black Sea Fleet pay."

He was pushed out of the compound, told he is a little man unable to withstand Russia's pressure, and stood down. The applause was thunderous. He has since been put on a "wanted" list. If caught and convicted, he stands to spend up to 15 years in prison for treason.

Putin's words raced; he was nearly shouting when he appeared in a television broadcast on March 4. Small wonder. Despite the costly image-making of the Sochi Olympics, he is failing. First, his puppet -- Victor Yanukovych -- abandons the presidential office. Now he's looking foolish with his attack of Crimea.

He had no reason to invade it in the first place. Ukraine was not seeking the removal of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, nor expelling Russians out of the peninsula. Even the repeal of Russian as one of Ukraine's official languages was withdrawn from parliament for being too divisive for this time. He created a false scenario to justify his invasion and the world saw it for what it was: a lie. The man is, as U.S. President Barack Obama said, on the wrong side of history.

And herein lies the problem: Putin does not get it. To be a great leader today is not a function of brutality, invasions, bullying and sniper executions. Influence in the neighbourhood is bought with trust, concessions, trade, working toward common interests for the good of the citizens. He is playing with fire: He must stop or get burned.

It is vital for the West to let him feel the pain for having violated the territorial integrity of a peaceful neighbouring state. Isolation, removal from the G8, cancellation of events -- military exercises, trade discussions are important gestures. They are not, however, adequate to counter the escalation of Russia's military incursions in Crimea and in the Black Sea ports and southern cities.

Perhaps, at long last, the West is recognizing with whom it is dealing: a megalomaniac. Europe and global security needs western powers, including NATO to stand up to him. The signatories guaranteeing Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity -- Great Britain and the United States -- must hold firm and assure the brave Ukrainians this is happening. It is not in the free world's interest for Russia to advance its global objectives by brazenly dismembering Ukraine. If not stopped now it will continue.

There must be no bowing to Russia's claims of "former greatness" or "right to its near abroad." These are bizarre positions in light of today's reality.

Those who argue against bringing Putin's Russia to heel are collaborating with the wrong side.

 

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, former director with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, writes on Ukraine.

 

PITY THE TATARS

In human terms, Crimea's Tatars are the reason to care, Marc Champion argues at wfp.to/comment

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2014 A7

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