Hard to stop Russia

May 16, 2014 - 4:50:42 am

Sanctions or their threat has failed to deter Russia from interfering in Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian crisis is unravelling in an interesting way. The West, led by the US, keeps slapping Ukraine’s tormentor — Russia — with sanctions. However, it is not affecting Russia, which is overly satisfied with the recent Crimean accession, in a significant way. Then there is the threat of sanctions by the West. If the sanctions themselves didn’t make much headway in preventing Moscow from interfering in its former Republic’s internal affairs, how does Washington think that a threat would work? 

Already criticised for its non-interference in the Syrian crisis, Washington seems to be trying to give the impression it’s doing its best. But have sanctions discouraged Moscow in its latest geopolitical misadventure? The answer is no. First, ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich took shelter in Russia — presumably guided and led by Moscow in the entire chain of events that led him to flee the country. It was then that Ukraine, already walloped by weeks of unrest against Yanukovich’s misrule and his refusal to sign an EU agreement, started sinking into a deeper crisis. With Moscow’s overt support, the eastern regions of Ukraine saw a rebellion to secede and join Russia. Amid a highly volatile situation in the industrial east of the country, a referendum in Crimea paved the way for the province to separate. The West heaved with uproar, but Moscow would have none of it. Crimea is ours, said a defiant Putin. And the peninsular piece of land south of Ukraine was soon annexed by Moscow. 

As Putin signed the annexation papers, the West kept throwing up its hands in despair. Crying foul didn’t help. The former KGB spy was not to be cowered. The world watched as Putin led an applauding Russia into adding new territory to its land.

One would have thought that to be the end of Ukraine’s separatist woes. However, the East kept erupting and Russia kept exulting. Moscow had got a golden opportunity to beat its Western neighbour into submission. More referendums by two more regions led to overwhelming support for independence. This time Putin pulled a punch. Donetsk and Luhansk were not Crimea. Moscow, though silently supporting the desire of the separatists, would not openly show its glee. Putin being a clever strategist sees the benefit of a divided and weak Ukraine across its borders. But he wants to move slowly — as in a creeping acquisition — to quote an example from the world of business. 

Now, amid a raging dispute over the supply of gas to Ukraine, Moscow is trying to browbeat its former republic. Knowing that the coffers of Kiev are empty it wants payment for the crucial commodity in cash. This has Ukraine in a tight spot as its already flaggering economy is undergoing bouts of pain because of the upheaval. Now, as the May 25 presidential election comes closer, the US has threatened Ukraine with more sanctions. This will again go unheeded by Moscow as it would most likely incite separatists to create trouble 

during the vote.