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Dismembering Ukraine

The Putin invasion.

Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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Impartial observers have dismissed the absurd fiction that the thousands of Russian troops in Crimea who have removed their flags and unit insignia are “self-defense forces” with no connection to Moscow. Putin has thus violated the most cherished precept of modern international law by occupying territory of a neighboring state and then attempting to ratify that annexation with a rigged election, whose date was moved up to assure that there would be no time for monitors to be put in place to prevent irregularities in the voting.

The hastily installed Moscow-backed leader in Crimea is not a popular figure. Sergei Aksenov and his Russian Unity party polled a whopping 4 percent of the vote in the last elections and have only 3 seats in the 100-seat Crimean legislature. For his part in attempting to subvert the rule of Ukraine in Crimea, Ukrainian authorities have charged Aksenov under Part 1 of Article 109 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine that forbids “actions aimed at the violent overthrow, change of constitutional order, or the seizure of state power.”

Out of the collection of Western politicians pushing for actions to be taken against Moscow, the one standout personality who understands how dangerous it is to give even an inch to Russia’s KGB president is Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski. He said plainly on March 10, “We cannot let Putin get away with this. By annexing Crimea, Russia is forcing a major change of boundaries on Europe. It means the breaking of the post-Cold War consensus. That is verboten.”

Back in Russia, not even the suggestion that Putin could be dragging the world into another war is tolerated. On March 7, Russian police detained a 75-year-old survivor of the Nazi siege of Leningrad and fined him 10,000 rubles ($275) for attending an antiwar rally and holding a sign that read “Peace to the World.” A pro-Kremlin lawmaker, Vitaly Milonov, who denounced the elderly man as a supporter of “fascism,” took a placard from his hands and ripped it into pieces.

When asked what provoked Milonov, who represents the pro-Putin United Russia party, the elderly man, Igor Andreyev, said, “I was telling him that I was a child of the siege, that I know what war is like.”

Sadly, there appear to be not enough Sikorskis outside of Russia or enough Andreyevs inside the country to remind Putin of the horrendous consequences if the two sides in Crimea start shooting at one another. Most of the Western diplomats and intelligence officials in Kiev believe that hostilities could begin at any moment. Russia’s naked aggression and takeover of military bases is beginning to grate on the nerves of the Ukrainian military units in the Crimea, and if Kiev does not order its military force to be used soon there may not be enough combat-effective units left to offer any credible resistance.

Reuben F. Johnson writes frequently on defense issues for The Weekly Standard and IHS Jane’s Information Group in London.

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