Putin's tactics an affront to all

Putin's tactics an affront to all


W ITH the Crimean parliament voting for independence ahead of a sham referendum on joining Russia, whose results are a foregone conclusion, the Russian fait accompli in Ukraine is all but sealed.

It is a disgraceful bullyboy tactic by a superpower leader who has been described by a Western counterpart as someone who "lives in another world".

Unfortunately for other countries, and smaller states in particular, President Vladimir Putin's world of zero- sum games is being steadily thrust upon the global stage and threatening to change the geopolitical status quo.

Events in Ukraine's Crimea region are a replay of the Russian-facilitated sequence in 1990 that led to Georgia's loss of its South Ossetia region. Mr Putin's playbook might look limited but it could prove effective if the Western response fades.

The West has threatened sanctions and President Barack Obama said he has spoken with Mr Putin. But, at the end of the day, the blunt truth is that a large, nuclear-armed power is about to succeed in redrawing international borders without the consent of the country concerned and without the international community being able to do anything.

It is this blatant disregard for sovereignty that would worry even countries that have nothing to do with the dispute. International order depends on certain fundamentals being observed, and nothing is more fundamental to a state than its independence. If Russia gets away painlessly with its adventurism in Crimea, potential land-grabbers elsewhere would be emboldened.

Also, it is extremely worrying that Moscow has used the ethnic issue to justify intervening in Ukraine. Given that many large countries have ethnic links with minorities in neighbouring nations, small states in particular would be keen on seeing to it that the Russian action does not set an acceptable precedent.

In terms of geopolitics, it is ironical that Russia, which lost the Cold War, appears to be returning to its spirit while the West, which won it, has left it behind.

The inability of the West to effectively resist Russia suggests a weakening of the collective will and American influence in particular. This retreat is likely to encourage egregious acts of territorialism, which will be of concern to America's allies and partners. Zones might be unilaterally created and claims doggedly maintained to wear down any resistance.

The lesson is that while it is good to invest in strong relations with others, one cannot count on good sense and goodwill to always rise above a worldview captured by the Russian phrase "kto kovo?" - who dominates whom? It will take credible deterrent abilities and joint action to ensure everyone plays by the agreed rules. 

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