By Patricia H Kushlis
Over the past several months, I’ve been trying to figure out what the Kremlin’s policy toward Ukraine is. Does Moscow have a long term objective or is it, in reality, winging it?
Is the Putin regime foremost playing to nationalist grievances at home while causing as much chaos in the neighborhood along the way? What does Vladimir Putin think he’s accomplishing by parking 40,000 troops near the Ukrainian border for months, threatening to invade Ukraine, then promising to remove his forces multiple times but failing to do so. What does he think - that the US and Europeans don’t use satellite imagery to verify his pronouncements – remember Reagan’s “trust but verify” mantra that has become a cornerstone of US foreign policy since the 1980s?
Is the fourth time the charm?
Will Putin’s promise to withdraw the troops for the fourth time turn out to be the charm? Will he turn his back on those very separatists his henchmen turned loose to terrorize the local populations in what seemed like an organized plot to make the region vulnerable to an easy Russian takeover as happened in Georgia’s Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2006? But Ukraine is much bigger than and a different story from Georgia. It is among other things, also next door to Poland which has experienced an economic miracle since joining the EU. Ukraine’s west at the very least would like a chance at closer economic ties to Brussels.
Are we just supposed to forget about the Kremlin’s takeover of Crimea which started this year’s illegal Russian land grab and where the Kremlin used the very same tactics and operatives it subsequently shifted to Eastern Ukraine – a region the Russians have effectively managed to destabilize through the combination of Genghis Khan style terror and information warfare - but much of the region has not succumbed as readily as Moscow likely hoped.
Has the Kremlin not read the polls indicating that 70% of the population in the East does not want to separate from Ukraine let alone become part of Russia? Or does the Kremlin not understand that as a new Gallup poll indicates, “the majority (of Ukrainians) in all regions agree that no government outside of Ukraine has a right to be involved in decisions about Ukraine's future.”
Without Eastern Ukraine, is Crimea to become another of Putin’s Russian atolls like Kaliningrad –between Lithuania and Poland? A small piece of formerly militarily strategic land annexed to make the home-crowd ultra-nationalists not feel the pain at the start of another economic downturn now being accelerated by US and European economic sanctions? If the Baltic and Black Seas rise as a result of global warming – what will happen to these islands or peninsulas? Dikes are expensive to build and maintain. Of course, in the meantime, so are the care and feeding of the people and troops who make such atolls home.