The Woolwich Observer

Left unchecked, Russian aggression will only get worse

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Having maintained his hold on the illegally annexed Crimea for almost eight years, Russian president Vladimir Putin may have had similar aspiration­s for other areas of Ukraine when launching an invasion. If so, things aren’t going to plan. The invading force has met with more resistance than expected from the Ukrainian military and the general public. The blowback against Russia has been global, turning the country into an economic and cultural pariah.

Though clearly there is more to that can be done to tighten the screws on Putin and his supporters – not just his fellow kleptocrat­s, but also those who help him remain in power – the West has been quick to inflict at least some pain on Russia. From largely symbolic banning of Russian vodka – count the LCBO on that long list of retailers – to banking restrictio­ns, there has been an effort to punish the country for going rogue.

Beyond chest thumping (a favourite of the preening president) and some notion of ‘making the Soviet Union great again’ (Putin worked for the KGB), the invasion’s endgame appears up in the air. Did Putin really think Ukrainians would welcome his forces with open arms? That (financiall­y supported) friendly types such as those found in the Donbas region represente­d wider public sentiment for rejoining the Russian sphere? If so, it was a grave miscalcula­tion.

That’s true, too, if the goal is to restore some kind of Soviet-era buffer zone between Russia and NATO countries.

Such trappings of the Cold War remain a considerat­ion today, both in terms of analyzing Russia’s actions and in strengthen­ing NATO’s readiness, particular­ly in the Baltic states. That Putin has his sights set on areas beyond Ukraine is cause for concern.

Putin has certainly railed against NATO membership for Ukraine, and indeed against any Europeaniz­ation of that country. It’s a stance that has involved manipulati­ng the Ukrainian electoral system and, of course, direct invasion.

That Ukraine is leaning westward rather than kowtowing to Moscow chafe’s Putin, and at least partly explains the West’s quick action to condemn and punish the invasion. Russia and US, among others, have invaded and occupied other countries and regions without this kind of response, but this time it’s an authoritar­ian regime terrorizin­g a Europeaniz­ed nation.

Moreover, 20th century history shows us the risks of appeasing similar acts of annexation among European neighbours for often dubious reasons backed by spurious claims.

European nations have been quick to act, joined by

Western allies and others. It’s a list that includes not only sanctions, but Russia’s exclusion from events such as internatio­nal soccer, The Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Eurovision song contest.

Canada too has backed statements about protecting Ukraine’s sovereignt­y with policy moves designed to hurt Putin and the oligarchs that support him. Along with others, Canada has joined in with support for banking restrictio­ns and sanctions such as banning the import of Russian oil, which remains one of that nation’s largest exports.

As a net exporter of crude oil, Canada hasn’t imported oil from Russia since 2019, but other countries have implemente­d bans of their own. It’s all part of a plan to hit Putin and his supporters where they live.

Efforts to hobble Russian’ central bank have been effective thus far, sending the ruble into a freefall. More of that will be needed, with the goal of making life uncomforta­ble for everyone in the country such that they question the actions of the decidedly authoritar­ian government.

There will be costs associated with efforts to stem Putin’s aggression, but they will only grow if his authoritar­ianism is left unchecked. Nipping it in the bud is the best course of action right now.

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