Can Putin be stopped?

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

As the vi­o­lence be­tween Rus­sia and Ukraine es­ca­lates, po­lit­i­cal battle lines are be­com­ing more deeply en­trenched – not only be­tween Rus­sia and the West, but also be­tween the United States and the var­i­ous Euro­pean coun­tries. Can ex­ter­nal in­volve­ment solve the cri­sis diplo­mat­i­cally? And is there an­other choice?

As it cur­rently stands, over 5,000 have been killed in the con­flict in Eastern Ukraine af­ter Rus­sia pro­vided armed sup­port to sep­a­ratist groups and sent its own troops across the bor­der. The cri­sis poses a risk to Euro­pean sta­bil­ity and is un­set­tling world lead­ers who pre­vi­ously sought to bet­ter re­la­tions with Rus­sia and work with the global power on top­ics of com­mon in­ter­est such as a nu­clear Iran.

While Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin al­leges that the con­flict is the re­sult of Amer­ica and its al­lies try­ing “to im­pose their will” af­ter the Cold War, it looks like West­ern in­ter­fer­ence may be nec­es­sary to re­solve mat­ters. But how? Three cour­ses of ac­tion are cur­rently be­ing dis­cussed: the US and EU could con­tinue im­pos­ing sanc­tions on Rus­sia to force them into sub­mis­sion; they could ne­go­ti­ate a peace agree­ment; or, they could sup­port Ukraine’s re­sis­tance ef­forts. This is where the divide creeps in.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of voices in Congress, along with Eastern Euro­pean coun­tries who feel threat­ened by Rus­sia, are en­cour­ag­ing the White House to send mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine. It is cer­tainly no se­cret that Wash­ing­ton has a deep dis­trust of Putin and will be wary of any peace plan that grants him con­ces­sions. US Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den was keen to as­sert that the US prefers a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion but made clear that Wash­ing­ton is not op­posed to mil­i­tary force, ar­gu­ing that in the past, “Pres­i­dent Putin has promised peace and de­liv­ered tanks.”

Yet many West­ern Euro­pean coun­tries doubt the abil­ity of Ukrainian forces to de­feat the Rus­sian army, even with as­sis­tance. Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Philip Ham­mond has ac­cused Putin of act­ing like a tyrant and spoke in favour of re­new­ing or in­creas­ing the eco­nomic sanc­tions on Rus­sia. Com­bined with the low oil prices that are dam­ag­ing the Rus­sian econ­omy, he hopes that fur­ther sanc­tions will force Putin to re-think his tac­tics. For Ham­mond, it is sim­ply “not a prac­ti­cal propo­si­tion” for Kiev to beat Moscow on the bat­tle­field

France and Ger­many agree. The two coun­tries have out­lined a peace agree­ment which will grant Rus­sia more ter­ri­tory than it was awarded in Septem­ber’s cease­fire but will al­low eastern Ukraine greater au­ton­omy than in Rus­sia’s pro­posed plan. Lead­ers Fran­cois Hol­lande and An­gela Merkel will meet Putin along with the Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko on Wed­nes­day to dis­cuss the terms of a long-term cease­fire.

If they suc­ceed, Wash­ing­ton will be keep­ing check on whether Putin ad­heres this time round. Fail­ure to re­spect a new agree­ment would leave lit­tle doubt that Rus­sia is play­ing a po­lit­i­cal game and would add fuel to the claims that Putin will not will­ingly cease from fight­ing in Ukraine so long as he views a thriv­ing Western­ised neigh­bour as an ide­o­log­i­cal threat. That could give the US greater in­cen­tive to in­ter­vene with force.

If Wed­nes­day fails to bring an agree­ment, then Euro­pean lead­ers will have to con­sider their op­tions when they meet at a sum­mit later in the week. Fur­ther sanc­tions would likely prove more popular than arms, de­spite the re­sul­tant neg­a­tive im­pact on the Eu­ro­zone’s econ­omy. Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers will be con­scious that Europe could pay a greater price if it does noth­ing at all.

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