Meeting Russian belligerence

Last updated 05:00 04/03/2014

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The ugly side of Vladimir Putin's leadership of Russia, seldom far from the surface, has lumbered into Crimea.

It's a move that carries chill reminders of a discomforting past.

US President Barack Obama is now being sourly mocked for his contention, delivered as a slapdown to presidential contender Mitt Romney, that the Cold War was 20-years dead.

What we have here may be more of a revival of old tactics rather than the very worst old prejudices, but even on that basis it's alarming.

The pretext that Ukrainian Russians are under threat from the new administration that has overturned the corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych is, to Western eyes anyway, entirely unconvincing.

Much as there is a deep division between the catchment represented by the Ukrainean nationalists and those in the fiercely pro-Russian Crimea, this has essentially provided Putin with little more than a pretext for a wider tactical ambitions around the strategic usefulness of a peninsula that had served Russian navies for hundreds of years prior to Ukrainean independence.

In an act of international illegality, Russian troops have traipsed in, ostensibly to protect the lives of Russian-speaking citizens.

It's a simple violation of sovereignty and in response some of the more hawkish simpletons in the international community - such as some of the US Republicans - want missiles to be menacingly mobilised.

But there's no sane military solution to the existing situation, either to correct the present injustice or to prevent an escalation of conflict.

Providing military assistance to the Ukrainian forces would be the worst sort of tokenism because they lack the numbers to prevail.

Russia must be chastised - and more effectively and ardently than in when Georgia was punished for looking to the west for its future - but the methodology needs to be as US Secretary of State John Kerry has floated. Like excluding Russia from the G-8 group, asset freezes and travel bans.

Such measures are not symbolic. Truth to tell they aren't gratifyingly emphatic, either, but then this is a sore test of international discipline.

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says the United Nations Security Council is the appropriate body to take the lead. So it is, much as it's not an outfit celebrated for its alacrity.

The UN's sometimes bedraggled collective integrity, and operational effectiveness, is on the line in seriously scary circumstances.

For his part, Putin has options.

He won't necessarily try to annex Crimea. Quite possibly he doesn't need to. He may demand it be given more autonomy.

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And he also has non-military sanctions of his own to exert.

Ukraine's economy is in a right mess and it's vulnerable to Russian malice through increased gas prices and restrictive border controls.

But Putin can be pressured from within as well as internationally. Russian pride can work in more than one direction. Putin is behaving in a manner that invites the status of an international pariah. He must be reminded what that entails and as vividly as possible, and ideally by his own people as well as the international community.

- The Southland Times


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