Thursday

14th Dec 2017

Opinion

Ukraine: Something bad in the air

  • Every rouble the EU sanctions cost Russia equals fewer dead bodies (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Russia’s massive deployment of troops in east Ukraine in recent days indicates an upcoming escalation in Putin’s covert war against Ukraine and the West.

Ever since a Russian military-led offensive in August captured the town Novoazovsk in south-east Ukraine, few had doubts about what would come next.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Novoazovsk is a bridgehead in the direction of Mariupol, a port town and a Ukrainian stronghold, which prevents Russian leader Vladimir Putin from securing a land corridor to Crimea, which he annexed in March.

Only two questions remain: When will the Mariupol offensive begin and on what pretext?

With winter coming, it is increasingly clear that Russia cannot supply Crimea’s economic needs by sea deliveries alone.

This is precisely why the Soviet Union in its time allowed Crimea - a depressed and heavily-subsidised region - to be part of Ukraine.

Russian nationalists always hated it. But they can no longer ignore the practical realities.

Propaganda getting louder

This is why Russian state media is now amplifying propaganda on “Novorossiya” - Putin’s concept of a new state, which, he claims, is deeply Russian in historical and cultural terms, but which can only come to be if his forces seize around 40 percent of Ukrainian territory.

The Kremlin needs to sell its actions to the Russian people.

It needs to get them ready for their sons to die for a “greater” Russia and to endure in silence the economic hardship caused by Western sanctions.

This is why Putin’s propagandists are not just denying Ukrainian people’s right to have a nation. They are also de-humanising them as fascists who murder civilians only because they speak Russian.

These days in Russia you can be arrested just for wearing clothes in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag.

At the same time, Russian politicians are openly saying that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are justified because the West orchestrated “colour revolutions” in former Soviet states and in Yugoslavia.

Naturally, it was nothing to do with the legitimate aspirations of people to live in free, sovereign countries.

Well-financed, multilingual Russian media are pumping out anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western hysteria without any repercussions.

The Baltic states have introduced some curbs on Russian hate-TV. But elsewhere, Russia is getting away with its brainwashing in the name of media pluralism.

In Slovakia, for instance, the media regulator recently complained that the country’s national TV station, RTVS, was not objective in its coverage of the annexation of Crimea because it did not give the Russian point of view.

It did not give the point of view of an administration which has positioned itself to be, once again, one of the world’s top security threats.

Sociology reveals a bitter truth: a more aggressive foreign policy translates into higher domestic support for Putin.

The Russian leadership wants to be feared by international actors and wants the Russian people to fear the outside world.

It is working: The West has refused to give arms to Ukraine and Russian people, according to recent polls, support Putin more than ever.

Russian society never healed itself of its Soviet sickness. Stalin is still feted as a national hero despite his genocides.

At the same time, Western leaders have, for years, ignored Russia’s slow transformation back into a totalitarian state.

They smiled and shook Putin’s hand at summits, they called him a “partner”, and they negotiated treaties despite his crass statements, his crackdown on Russian liberals, and his military intimidation of neighbouring countries.

The smiles paved the way for the rise of Russian revanchism, chauvinism, xenophobia, and imperialism.

Europe’s blind greed of putting economic interests before liberal principles helped bring us to where we are today: the brink of war in Europe.

Eyes wide open

But Ukrainian leaders have their eyes wide open.

Their UN and EU envoys recently warned that Russia is preparing a full-scale invasion. Most politically-literate people in Ukraine see it coming.

For a moment - the ceasefire accord on 5 September in Minsk - the Ukrainian government thought it had seen something else: the chance of a peaceful end to the Russian invasion.

The moment was fleeting.

When the Russia-controlled forces in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” elected themselves into power in breach of the Minsk protocols the illusion of peace vanished.

The rogue elections sent the message: “We are here to stay and the Russian troops are here to stay to make it so”.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko paid a hefty price for advocating that illusion.

His eponymous bloc won just 22 percent of votes in October parliamentary elections - a big fall from his 54 percent support in presidential elections in May.

Ukrainians punished him for his “peace plan” amid a “ceasefire” which saw Russian forces launch 2,700 attacks, kill more than 100 Ukrainian soldiers, and snatch more land.

It wasn’t Poroshenko’s fault, of course. Poroshenko cannot stop Putin unless the West helps him. But the West told him to sign up to Minsk out of fear of war.

Despite the blood the Ukrainian people shed for their euro-integration dreams, too many EU capitals see Ukraine as a buffer zone rather than as a strategic partner.

The West’s moveable red lines, the leniency of its sanctions, its refusal to arm Ukraine did nothing but feed Putin’s appetite.

Its original sin was its late reaction to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

Ukraine was too weak to fight back alone, but the West played dumb when little green men - balaclava-wearing Russian soldiers with no insignia - took control.

The outcome is that Russia - according to credible reports - is now moving parts of its nuclear arsenal to the Ukrainian peninsula.

When the conflict re-escalates, as it will, it is imperative the West imposes tougher sanctions and gives arms to Ukraine.

Every rouble counts

Every rouble the Russian economy loses from EU and US sanctions means fewer dead bodies in the east and south-east of the country.

Even for the cynics who see Ukraine as a buffer zone, the Ukrainian military can only stop Putin if it has Western weapons.

Let us have no doubts that Putin’s plan goes not just beyond Crimea, Novorossiya, and Ukraine. It goes also to the Baltic states and even further.

His aim is to debilitate the EU and Nato because they are the only obstacles against Russian hegemony in Europe.

It is no accident that his best friends in Brussels, Berlin, London, and Paris are anti-EU parties on the far right and left.

The costs of stopping him grow every day. He escalates in order to improve his bargaining position.

The way to counter Putin is to sacrifice Western economic interests for the sake of defending Western values. It is to step up diplomacy to get non-Nato countries in Europe and non-aligned states around the world to isolate his regime.

But let’s not pray for miracles while he stays in power.

He has left himself almost zero political space to step back on his gains in Ukraine. His machine is stuck in forward gear.

Instead of talking about respect for international law, or territorial integrities, perhaps it's time to start sending a new message to Russia: “If you want to get back to business as usual on civilised terms then Putin must go”.

Roman Sohn is a Ukrainian activist and columnist, who also contributes to Ukrainska Pravda, an investigative news agency in Kiev

Interview

Kasparov: Stop Putin now or pay the price later

Twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kasparov, a former Soviet chess icon, tells EUobserver that Europe risks entering a dark new chapter in history.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Estonia completes two out of three priority digital bills
  2. EU countries are not 'tax havens', parliament says
  3. Tech firms' delays mean EU needs rules for online terror
  4. Slovak PM: Human rights are not a travel pass to EU
  5. British PM limps to EU capital after Brexit defeat
  6. US pleads for clarity on Brexit aviation 'black hole'
  7. Tusk migration note prompts institutional 'hysteria'
  8. Migration looms over summit, as Africa pledges fall short

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  6. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  8. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  9. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  10. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  11. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  12. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'