Sunday

26th Mar 2017

Opinion

Putin's real war

Just how many unmarked tanks, rocket systems, and fighters have to cross the Ukrainian/Russian border before the international community calls it an “act of war”?  

How many tonnes of bullets, guns, and cash have to be fed to pro-Russia rebels before Russia is recognised as “a state sponsor of terrorism”?

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  • Putin (r) on a recent visit to Austria: Austrian and Cypriot banks are in thrall to Russian investors (Photo: kremlin.ru)

How many innocent men, women, and children - whether Ukrainian or non-Ukrainian - have to die for the sake of Russian territorial expansion?

The precise number of weapons and combatants which Russia sent across the Ukrainian border is hard to count. But it is enough to warrant a full mobilisation of the world’s 21st largest standing army - the Ukrainian armed forces - and the formation of 10 more volunteer divisions. 

When a military machine of this scale is needed to counter a foreign-backed insurgency, it is dishonest to call it anything but an undeclared war.  

Today, for the first time since 1945, Europe is seeing a new type of soft, but ruthless, invasion of a sovereign state. And, while the US applies real pressure, European leaders wag fingers and hold talks in hope of cajoling the Kremlin to refrain. 

The net effect of the EU debate is to provide Russia with a platform to divide EU countries.  

It’s time for EU leaders to wake up: Russia’s Vladimir Putin is not attacking Ukraine, he is attacking the very principles that bind Europe together. 

His “democracy”, or “elections”, are a farce designed to hoax Russian people into thinking their rights have some meaning.

His “rule of law” is that he writes rules and laws which suit him, the Duma rubber stamps them, and the courts enforce them.

It is a deception which also helps his friends in the West to claim respectability for Kremlin-friendly policies.  

Over the past decade, he has infiltrated the Western establishment with overpaid lawyers and lobbyists to twist European law and politics to suit his ends. 

It is ironic that Europe is financing the whole thing.

The market price for Russian gas should be $200 per thousand cubic metres - more or less what Beijing recently negotiated with Moscow. But EU states pay close to $400, filling Putin’s treasury with our gold. 

It is equally ironic that while the EU has failed to export democracy to Russia, it has imported Russian corruption in vast quantities. 

We are not talking about brown envelopes. We are talking about Russia’s penetration of strategic European industries - energy, finance, defence, engineering - in order to make the cost of real EU sanctions hard to bear.  

We have bowed to his resistance to collective EU buying of Russian gas. He bought off Hungary with an atomic plant. He bought off the UK by investing £26 billion in the City of London. He bought off France with a €1.2 billion warship contract. German engineering firms are up to their necks in Russia. 

In a time of fragile economic recovery, his tactics are working as planned: He has set partner against partner, degrading EU foreign policy. 

On the domestic scene, it is fair to ask the question: Is it a coincidence that the rise in right-wing, anti-EU populism has moved in lockstep with the rise of right-wing nationalism in Russia? In the Cold War, Russia forged partnerships with the European far-left. Are new partnerships now being forged?

A vivid example of Putin’s long-term planning is the TV channel Russia Today. 

Over the past 10 years, the broadcaster has been invited into most EU capitals in the name of media pluralism and cultural links. But six months ago the Kremlin flicked a switch on one of the most aggressive, not to mention disturbing, propaganda campaigns in living history. 

Russia Today is pumping out content which does not conform to any Western standards of journalistic decency. 

If the BBC, TF1, or DW fabricated stories of “genocide” and “crucifixion” of children, media regulators would throw the book at them. But Russia Today is getting carte blanche. 

Since the Ukraine crisis erupted, Russia Today has broadcast more than 80 stories libelling the Ukrainian military by using material which was demonstrably copy-pasted from other conflicts in other parts of the world.

The stories are endorsed by Russian ministers and ambassadors. But when the lies are exposed, there is no retraction, let alone apology.   

At the same time, Russia-friendly op-eds by Western pseudo-intellectuals are being published by our best newspapers. 

Online media which publish Russia-critical content are being flooded by Moscow’s 50-cent army of trolls. 

Why?

Why is Putin doing all this?

For those who believe that Santa Claus exists, it’s because he cares so much about the alleged abuses of Russian-speakers in Ukraine. 

Others say he is trying to crush Ukrainian independence in case it inspires Russian opposition movements, that he wants revenge for the West’s victory over the Soviet Union, or that he wants to go down in history for rebuilding Russia’s imperial glory.  

In fact, it’s not about ideology. It’s about energy and money. 

Ukraine poses a threat to Putin’s Russia not as a model of democratic transition, or as a new Western ally, but due to oil and gas. 

Even discounting shale resources, Ukrainian figures show it is sitting on energy reserves which dwarf those of Qatar. Most of them are in Crimea, Crimean waters, and in the Donbass basin - the very areas under Russian attack. 

Putin knows that if he loses control of these assets, Russia’s days as a world power are gone for good. 

If the Ukraine conflict is to be stopped before it gets worse, the West must confront him. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Europe may have to choose between principles and business [interests]”. 

Going round in circles in Putin’s game of fake peace talks and compromises will have one outcome. 

Once he gets what he wants in Ukraine, he will try to use the same methods to dismantle the EU piece by piece.

The tactics are clear. The strategy is emerging. The objective is to make sure that Russia is, once again, the only real power on the European continent.

The writer is an advisor to the Ukraine's National Defence and Security Council

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