The West must be firm with Russia

opinion March 23, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

2,156 Viewed

Moscow's takeover of Crimea begs the question: Where will Putin stop?

Citing Russian history that resonates among Russian-speaking communities in neighbouring countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, President Vladimir Putin hit the right nationalistic note when he announced his country’s intention to annex the Crimea region from Ukraine.
It may be too early to say if the annexation of this Russian-majority region marks the beginning of something new – the revival of Russian nationalism and a threat to nearby sovereign states.
As expected, the move was condemned by the West. But the rhetoric was not matched with action.  
The sanctions that the United States and Europe have proposed appear to be somewhat pitiful. 
The markets saw through it and reacted with a jump after the sanctions were announced. 
Senior Russian officials, who are not affected by the sanctions but could have been, must be tickled pink. 
The absence of a harsh response from the West could very well reflect the real feeling among Western leaders, which is reflective of what Putin had stated – that “In people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia”.
“This firm conviction is based on truth and justice, and was passed from generation to generation, over time, under any circumstances, despite all the dramatic changes our country went through during the entire twentieth century,” Putin said.
In his speech, the Russian leader wondered out loud why the Bolsheviks – “may God judge them,” he said – gave parts of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine while overlooking the fact the vast majority of people there were ethnic Russians.
Putin conveniently overlooked the treatment of the Tatars in the region. Some historians have used the word “genocide” to describe what happened when Russia forced them out of Crimea. 
And then in 1954, Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean region to Ukraine, possibly with a desire to win the support of Ukrainian political leaders.
Putin’s speech suggested he is indifferent to the reasons why these decisions were made by the former Russian leaders.
But he and the current crop of leaders should be reminded of how their action has violated a major taboo of post-World War II Europe. 
One can’t always turn the clock back to satisfy some romantic notion of a motherland.
And instead of orchestrating the situation towards a favourable political end, perhaps Moscow should work with Ukraine and other neighbours, like Georgia, to find ways for all sides to come to terms with the past. 
Ukraine didn’t have to be cut up. Its territorial integrity should have been respected.
The catch-phrase for post-World War II nation-states is sovereignty. Moscow’s actions beg the question: Where will Putin stop? 
The leaders in Moscow know that Russia is very much a part of the global community and that sanctions like those imposed on Iran would not be good for their country or the West. 
But if the West is not firm with its position, you can be sure that Putin will continue to push the limit in his quest to strengthen Russia’s sphere of influence.