Just as the murderous LEADER OF Syria, Bashar al-Assad, continues his bloody rule because he knows Russian President Vladimir Putin has his back, the Ukrainian militants who are causing strife and unrest in the eastern part of the country are also emboldened because of Russia.
With thousands of Russian troops armed and dangerous near the border with Ukraine, members of NATO are justifiably worried. Thus, they have been discussing ways of persuading Putin to live up to an agreement struck earlier this month to diffuse the situation in eastern Ukraine. Since the signing of the pact, pro-Russian militants have occupied government buildings, and then last Friday eight European military observers were captured in Slovyansk. They were operating under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The separatists waging attacks against Ukrainian government forces and local officials are led by Vyacheslav Ponomarev, who has declared himself the mayor of Slovyansk.
Ponomarev, like Assad in Syria, knows that if the Ukranian government in Kiev decides to launch an all-out attack to dislodge the separatists, Russia will come to his aid.
Therein lies the problem — and challenge — for the rest of Europe.
NATO foreign ministers have beefed up defenses of the front-line alliance members, and the United States and other countries have imposed economic sanctions and travel restrictions on certain Russian companies and individuals.
However, Putin remains undaunted. Rather than persuading the Russian militants to back down and reach some accommodation with the central government, he keeps fueling the fire with his talk of eastern Ukraine becoming part of Russia.
Indeed, some members of his inner circle have even speculated about this being the beginning of the resurrection of the Soviet Union.
This is no idle chatter, which is why the U.S. and its European allies must act aggressively to stop Putin and his henchmen from turning their words into actions.
NEW SANCTIONS FROM WEST
The leaders of the G7 major economies agreed last week to impose new sanctions that will target individuals or companies with influence in specific sectors of the Russian economy such as energy and banking, the Guardian newspaper of Britain reported.
The administration of President Barack Obama announced its sanctions list Monday, and the European Union announced its list separately.
There have been reports that the oligarchs already are unhappy with Putin for triggering the first round of sanctions. This week’s action should send them scurrying to the president’s office demanding an end to the Ukraine crisis.
Indeed, Putin, who has long been seen as being in the pockets of Russia’s rich and famous, may conclude that the threat to his country’s economic well-being is a threat to his own political and financial future.
The U.S. and its allies should keep squeezing the lifeblood out of Russia because the country already is experiencing troubles on several fronts.
Moscow’s unilateral annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula has been widely condemned, but it is also a drain on the treasury. The deployment of 40,000 troops along the border isn’t cheap.
In addition, Putin’s involvement in the Syrian civil war means that Moscow must keep providing assistance to the Assad government.
Against that backdrop, the U.S. and the European Union should not only continue to tighten the economic noose but should provide cash-strapped Ukraine with significant financial support.