Rus­sia play­ing with fire, which could spread

Tillsonburg News - - OPINION - Jars Balan Jars Balan is di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian In­sti­tute of Ukrainian Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Al­berta.

rus­sia’s vi­o­lent seizure of three ukrainian naval ves­sels sail­ing to ukrainian ports on the sea of azov is but the lat­est act of the Krem­lin’s brazen ag­gres­sion di­rected to­ward its neigh­bour and for­mer colony.

The rote de­nials and false claims ac­com­pa­ny­ing the at­tack have the same cred­i­bil­ity as rus­sia’s in­sis­tence it was not a rus­sian mis­sile that shot down malaysia air­lines flight mh 17 over ukrainian ter­ri­tory; that rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives had noth­ing to do with the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tions of the skri­pals, or the killing of a grow­ing list of other crit­ics of the Putin regime; that the on­go­ing war in ukraine’s don­bas re­gion is not be­ing fi­nanced, supplied, partly staffed and led from moscow; and that Crimeans freely voted to ac­cept the stealth takeover and an­nex­a­tion of their penin­sula.

There are sev­eral rea­sons why Pres­i­dent vladimir Putin has de­cided to up the ante in his un­de­clared war against in­de­pen­dent ukraine, hav­ing first in­creased rus­sia’s naval forces in the sea of azov while at the same time ratch­et­ing up the base­less ha­rass­ment of ships go­ing to and from eastern ukraine.

First of all, Putin is tak­ing full ad­van­tage of sev­eral crises that rus­sia it­self helped to cre­ate by skill­fully work­ing to sub­vert elec­tions and un­der­mine democ­ra­cies through­out the west.

The rus­sian leader knows full well the re­port soon to be is­sued by Fbi di­rec­tor robert mueller is likely to wreak havoc with the ad­min­is­tra­tion of u.s. Pres­i­dent don­ald Trump and ef­fec­tively crip­ple, if not par­a­lyze, any amer­i­can re­sponse to rus­sia’s grow­ing bel­liger­ence.

he also is well aware the bri­tish are pre­oc­cu­pied with their exit from europe, just as mem­bers of the euro­pean union are strug­gling to deal with the rise of rad­i­cal and ex­trem­ist el­e­ments, many of them fu­elled by anti-eu sen­ti­ments partly stoked by rus­sian pro­pa­ganda.

as for ukraine, there can be lit­tle doubt Putin is seek­ing to pun­ish ukraini­ans for a whole host of rea­sons, such as re­cently tak­ing steps to canon­i­cally re­store the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal in­de­pen­dence of the lo­cal ortho­dox Church; ir­refutably es­tab­lish­ing that the 1932-33 famine­holodomor was an act of geno­cide; and for­mally declar­ing rus­sia an ag­gres­sor state.

most im­por­tantly, Putin wants to sabotage ukrainian ef­forts to im­ple­ment the re­forms that bring the coun­try into line with other euro­pean states. he wants rus­sia to be able to dic­tate to ukraine its do­mes­tic poli­cies in ar­eas such as the econ­omy, cul­ture, lan­guage, and ed­u­ca­tion, and most im­por­tant of all, to de­ter­mine ukraine’s for­eign pol­icy — specif­i­cally to pre­vent ukraine from ever join­ing NaTo.

but rus­sia also has other ob­jec­tives in es­ca­lat­ing its bul­ly­ing of ukraine. Putin wants Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko and his gov­ern­ment to look weak, given that ukraine will not re­spond to rus­sia’s lat­est act of vi­o­lence with its own ag­gres­sion, for fear of start­ing a full-blown war with its much more pow­er­ful neigh­bour.

at the same time, the Krem­lin wants to show that in­ter­na­tional bod­ies rang­ing from the or­ga­ni­za­tion for se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in europe (osCe) to the united Na­tions are al­most pow­er­less when it comes to deal­ing with moscow’s in­creas­ingly hos­tile be­hav­iour to­ward ukraine.

Fi­nally, Putin is pun­ish­ing ukraine for the dam­ag­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sanc­tions levied against rus­sia, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously strik­ing another blow toukraine’s econ­omy by thwart­ing ukraine’s ef­forts to get coal and steel to in­ter­na­tional mar­kets.

it is time the world rec­og­nized rus­sia for what it is: a rogue dic­ta­tor­ship and a state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism that is play­ing with fire which could eas­ily spread far be­yond the vi­o­lated bor­ders of ukraine.

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