Russian President Vladimir Putin is certainly making things difficult. With little progress after a 10- day cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has resumed the government crackdown on pro-Russian terrorist insurgents. He has every right to do so, to restore order and unity in his country. Putin should now start an honest effort to reach a peaceful resolution of the crisis, rather than continue his double-speak, promising to work to end the violence while at the same time helping to fuel the insurgency with military aid. It is clear, by the level of weaponry and sophistication of the insurgents that Russia is heavily, if not directly, involved in the fighting. Russia needs to accept that its neighbors have turned away; these countries want closer ties, integration, with the West, they look to Western values. Russia under Putin represents economic repression, and corruption.
But the Russian leader’s aggression threatens peace and stability to the wider region. Putin is playing off the West’s weakness, incoherent response and will only stop when he is confronted with force. Western leaders and others need to present a water-tight united front, and begin to implement the next round of sanctions. Not just to force an end to eastern Ukraine unrest, but to pressure a withdrawal of Russian occupation from the Crimea. Relations cannot return to business-as-usual until Ukraine’s sovereign borders also return to normal. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken the lead in discussing a new round of sanctions – the so-called ‘level three’ sanctions.
These need to target the families of all those currently under existing sanctions, withdrawing all visas and banning them from the EU. It’s absurd that some Russians can provoke and attack Western society, and then turn around and live, vacation here, and send their children to our schools. Sanctions should target businesses, industries critical to Russia’s economy. Another lever is to release, or threaten to release, bank account and financial asset information secretly held in Western banks by Putin and his cronies. Let the Russian people see how their political elite are enriching themselves, at the public expense. NATO presence in the Baltics should be beefed up, though not through a permanent presence. That would be seen as too provocative. Military exercises should continue.
And contingency plans for rapid and massive military buildup - within hours and days - need to be developed, to show that NATO is committed to defending allies in this region. Sanctions will hurt the West, that’s a fact of life; measures should be taken to assist those affected. But if Europe and the U.S. are unwilling to make sacrifices in the near term, they will face bigger problems down the road. As Viesturs Janis Drupa writes in this issue’s Outlook on page 16, Latvia’s ethnic Russian population could offer Putin an excuse to intervene physically here. It’s a hollow excuse Russia uses in the Ukraine, that it is just trying to protect its people.
He has broken international law. And the implication is that this opens the possibility for aggression elsewhere, wherever ethnic Russians reside. Putin has the right to evacuate Russian-speakers from the Ukraine, and bring them back to Russia. He doesn’t have the right to invade and occupy, on this pretext, another country. After last week’s commemorating the beginnings of World War I one hundred years ago, we don’t need to go down that path again. It is now up to Russia to show that it is serious in finding a solution to the conflict, through action, not more empty promises and lies. Until it does so, it has no place in the global order of civil society.