Saturday, August 02, 2014

Ukraine’s War of Independence

Vladimir Putin has unleashed forces that even he can’t control

By Lucian Kim, Slate

The latest round of economic sanctions against Russia is an act of desperation by Western leaders, baffled by Vladimir Putin’s intransigence over the conflict in Ukraine. Pleas and threats—voiced in backroom meetings and countless phone calls with the Russian president—failed to move Putin to publicly disown the pro-Russian rebels. Even the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine didn’t sway the Kremlin leader. The sanctions announced by the U.S. and European Union on Tuesday are an admission that the diplomatic toolkit is officially empty.

The West has miscalculated Putin’s machinations ever since his Ukrainian proxy, then-President Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Russia in February after three months of pro-EU protests ended in a massacre on Kiev’s Maidan square. To most Western Europeans at the time, Ukraine was an annoyingly large, poor country whose aspirations for EU membership caused more headaches than jubilation. But to Putin, Ukraine signified a strategically vital buffer zone whose sovereignty came only second to Russia’s national security. He was playing the highest stakes from the very start.

When pro-Western politicians formed a provisional government in the power vacuum that Yanukovych left behind, Putin was convinced that a U.S.-funded regime change had returned to Russia’s doorstep. Without hesitation he annexed Crimea—home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet—to forestall any future NATO expansion. Then Putin encouraged pro-Russian protests in eastern Ukraine in an effort to throw the new Kiev authorities farther off balance.

(More here.)

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