The West should not lose the battle of determination to Putin
The Russian Federation has blatantly violated the law and international agreements by committing an unprovoked aggression on the territory of Ukraine. The violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state must cause a strong response from the European Union and the Western world.
In view of the situation, we must clearly distinguish the Russian propaganda, which is part of the ongoing information war, from reality. Ukraine was attacked, Russia is the aggressor. Operations of Russian troops in the Crimea are not justified by the need to protect Russian-speaking inhabitants and Russian citizens. Crimea is the only region of Ukraine with a status of autonomy, and the rights of local Russians have never been threatened. This status has not changed in any way by the overthrow of the dictatorship of President Yanukovych and the subsequent change of power in Ukraine. Attempts, fortunately, appearing relatively rarely, to make harmful relativisation and to lay the blame for the ongoing conflict on ‘both parties’, should be firmly opposed. The situation is clear, and the responsibility is unambiguous - it rests on Russia.
In the face of numerous, probably inspired by the Russian authorities, separatist provocations and aggressive movements of Russian troops, the Ukrainian government retained an extraordinary restraint. Russian forces operating in the Crimea, whether or not bearing no official designation of a state, remain to be Russian forces. A similar method was applied by the PRC authorities in 1950’s of the twentieth century, when supporting the North Korean regime with the army of ‘volunteers’.
On the part of the Ukrainian government, military response to the violation of the borders by a third country would be fully understood and justified. Refraining from the use of force in self-defence becomes fully understood in the context of the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, during which the Russian propaganda could effectively lead to an actual shift of the responsibility to the state attacked in the eyes of a large part of world public opinion and the international community. Currently, in the case of the conflict in the Crimea, such doubt does not exist and cannot exist.
The weakness of the armed forces as well as strong pro-European aspirations and determination of the Ukrainian society (achieved at high cost of a huge number of the dead and wounded) increase our - Polish and European - responsibility and moral obligation to support Ukraine at this critical time. The manner of operation of Russia is reminiscent of the worst historical experience. In 1938, Nazi Germany in alleged defence of the rights of the Sudeten Germans made the annexation of a large part of the territory of Czechoslovakia. This was sanctioned by infamous Munich Conference, which, contrary to expectations, did not save the peace in Europe.
Viktor Yanukovych has not fulfilled the provisions of the agreement with the opposition and willingly ceased to perform the duties of head of state, actually leaving his office. He is no longer the president of Ukraine, but rather a man wanted for crimes against his own people. At the moment, he remains a Russian puppet, discredited , but useful, given the semblance of legality, which are and will be used by Russia as a way to destabilise Ukraine and an excuse to deny the legitimate authorities their legitimacy.
Lest we forget that - especially in recent months – Yanukovych’s biggest ally and sponsor was Vladimir Putin, exerting pressure on him in order to apply force against the protesting citizens of Ukraine. This has led to hundreds of fatalities. Vague and unexplained until now are issues of the participation of Russian special units in the fight against the protests of Ukrainian civil society in Ukraine, including murder and the use of torture against kidnapped activists.
In connection with the dictatorial model of government, concentrating all the power in Russia in the hands of the incumbent president, there is no significant point in analysing its domestic formal political processes. Both the government, and the parliament in Russia remain at the full disposal of Vladimir Putin’s commands. Putin is a dictator, perceiving the world through the prism of anachronistic fights for the spheres of influence and the Cold War logic of confrontation with the widely understood ‘West’. Ukraine is his sphere of interests necessary to sustain the dream of rebuilding the Great Russian imperial position.
Contrary to the frequently repeated opinion, Russia is not stronger than the EU and the United States. Neither politically nor economically , nor - finally - militarily. It is its determination which is strong, yet, it should not win the battle of determination with us. Maintaining its prosperity and stability at all costs must not be the dominant imperative of action of the Western world. This path, in the long run, will lead to an escalation of demands from authoritarian regimes.
In this context, understanding of the need to strongly resist Russian aggression, reached above partisan and ideological divisions which now seems to be demonstrated by Polish and a large part of Western politicians, is truly comforting.
We should remember, however, that at the time in which Europe and the United States take their position, Putin is taking over Ukraine and strengthening his forces there. With special appreciation and hope we accept a declaration of Prime Minister Tusk of the need to strengthen the Polish energy security and accelerate the modernisation of the Polish armed forces.
It is in the obvious interest of Poland not to be a front-line state. Poland is interested in the existence of free, independent and pro-Western Ukraine, integrated into the European and Atlantic structures. Putin's Russia is not only aggressive player in the international arena, but it is also an unpredictable state.
The concern is, however, raised by illusory attempt to conduct a ‘dialogue’ with President Putin, allowing him to use the time, given by ‘negotiations’ with the West in order to strengthen their own forces in the conflict zone and the organisation of the following provocations, allegedly being the attacks of ‘fascist ultra-nationalists’ against the Russian population in Ukraine. Good will and the credibility of the statement by the Russian authorities are matters which should be subject to careful attention. This is what wer have been taught by, among others, the experience of recent weeks of contacts and attempts to negotiate, which were led by leaders and diplomats from Western countries with Yanukovich, who is dependent on Putin.
In view of the above facts and circumstances, we wish to express our solidarity and full support for the Ukrainian society and government. We also urge both the EU institutions and the international community to launch and announce urgent preparations to:
- send – also on behalf of organisations such as the OSCE - international missions to Ukraine, also to the regions of conflict;
- take away the right or boycott international political, economic, sports, cultural, scientific and other events, which Russia received the right to organise;
- introduction of personal sanctions against the highest ranking representatives of the Russian government and Russian circles of big business supporting the authorities, including visa restrictions and the freezing of assets controlled by them;
- conduct financial transactions designed to intensify the decline in the value of the ruble, the shares of companies listed on the Russian stock market, inflict a hard blow to Russia's foreign reservesand increase the cost of servicing the foreign debt of Russia;
- exclude Russian from key international bodies, such as G8 and G20, and suspend the ongoing accession negotiations (OECD);
- immediately suspend the execution of contracts for the supply of armaments for the Russian armed forces and the imposition of arms embargoes;
- reduce energy imports and possibly other goods of Russian origin;
- create the plans of defence and dislocation of NATO rapid reaction forces in Central and Eastern Europe, including the Baltic States;
- send warships to the Black Sea.
Simultaneously, we consider it necessary to:
- provide the Ukrainian economy with international financial assistance and counseling for reform;
- promptly sign the association agreement with the UE, defining possibily clear perspective of Ukraine’s membership in the EU;
- support for the modernisation of equipment and improvement of the level of training of the Ukrainian army and other security forces, also on the basis of newly created and formed self- defence units;
- introduction of visa-free travel regime by the EU countries for citizens of Ukraine.
These activities will contribute to strengthening the position of the government in Kiev and a better understanding and increased support of society in Ukraine - regardless of regional differences - for integration with European structures.
I would like to recall that the long-delayed EU decision to impose sanctions against politicians and highest ranking officials from the environment of Viktor Yanukovych significantly increased his willingness to find a compromise (resulting in the signing of an agreement dated ..., and helped to stop the battles on the streets of Kiev.
I am convinced that the aforementioned actions clearly confront the President Putin with the costs of the adventurist foreign policy, carried out by him, thus making him realise the hard consequences, which - not only he, but also his immediate surroundings (and we should bear in mind the threatened interests of oligarchic groups) would have to face.
History also teaches us that even dictators who ruled the Soviet Union and had a much more possibilities to act than Putin now, - when faced with the hard position of the Western world, were forced to abandon their aggressive ambitions and plans. The Cuban Missile Crisis forced Khrushchev to give way to President Kennedy, while the policy of Reagan and Thatcher contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is no reason why we should treated differently President Putin (who directly refers to the Soviet heritage).
The author is Chairman of the Management Board of the Open Dialog Foundation, Polish organisation defending human rights and operating for the development of civil society in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. He was present in Ukraine from the early days of mass popular unrest in November 2013; the organiser of the first Polish long-term mission to observe and support the EuroMaidan (from January 2014 to the present).