Cutting the Kremlin dwarf down to size

2014/02/20 • Analysis & Opinion

On February 16, I wrote that Ukrainians would stand their ground and fight for a better future or die in the streets. (http://euromaidanpr.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/act-now-or-war-will-come-your-way-too/) Now, this has become a reality. The inaction of the EU has contributed to the current escalation, and if it is not resolved quickly, the first refugees will soon be knocking on the EU’s door. The sanctions the EU is expected to enact February 20 will almost certainly be too little too late and aimed at too few to make any difference—especially as they are unlikely to include the man most responsible for the civil war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin.

It’s no coincidence that Russia froze its financial support to the Yanukovych regime on the day the Ukrainian President accepted the resignation of Russophile Premier Mykola Azarov.  And it’s no coincidence that Russia resumed it the day Yanukovych launched a brutal crackdown against Ukrainian civilians. Putin clearly wanted Yanukovych to dip his hands in blood—and Yanukovych obliged him.

It’s time the EU and the US realize that Putin’s Russia is not a partner, let alone a friend: it’s a hostile regime. The West has stood idly by as Putin subjugated the Russian people, they looked the other way when he invaded Georgia and gave him complete leeway in supplying the weapons used to slaughter Syrians. Now Putin is about to supply the weapons to slaughter Ukrainians. A confrontation with Russia was just a matter of time. And that time has just gotten a lot shorter.

The West now has two options: to wait and let Putin choose the time, place and means of the confrontation, or to tackle Putin’s regime now and break it. The first option will see Russia invade an EU or NATO country sooner or later with all the unpredictable consequences of such an act. The latter option requires determination and cold-blooded geopolitics. First the EU, the US and all their allies must react immediately and practically to the Ukrainian crisis, and send an unmistakable signal to Putin of what to expect if it ever turns on its citizens:

  1. Enact sanctions against all members of the ruling elite of Ukraine, from Yanukovych down to every Party of Regions mayor. These sanctions must include travel bans and asset freezes that cover family members.
  2. Collect evidence of crimes against humanity in Ukraine and hand it over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
  3. Seize the assets of the top officials and supporters of the Party of Regions and use these funds to support the Ukrainian refugees that could flood into the EU as a result of a civil war.

In addition, the West has to confront Russia on all fronts and not let up until the Russian people overthrow the Putin regime. There can be no half-measures and no option must be off the table. Grouped thematically, here are the key steps the West must take now:

The Baltics

Invite Sweden and Finland to join NATO. Provide Poland with Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile batteries to counter the Russian nuclear-armed Iskander Missiles stationed in Kaliningrad that threaten Warsaw.

Provide Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with equipment to modernize their militaries. Germany should provide its stored Leopard 2A4 tanks and the US its surplus F-16C/D 52+ fighters to allow for combined training and maintenance with the Polish military.

The Black Sea Basin

Support the Moldovan government financially if Russia continues to wage economic war. Counter all Russian efforts to destabilize Moldova by stoking unrest in the autonomous region of Gagauzia. EU leaders should visit Gagauzia and guarantee that EU membership will actually strengthen their autonomic rights. Invite Gagauz leaders to visit autonomous regions in the EU like South Tyrol. At the same time, isolate and sanction Transnistria.

Set Moldova on track for NATO membership as soon as possible. Provide Bulgaria and Romania with equipment to modernize their militaries to counter the expanding threat posed by the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Bring Georgia into NATO. Provide Turkey with financial support to redeploy its First Army from the Greek-Turkish border to Turkey’s Eastern border and accompany this redeployment with a long overdue reduction in Greek forces along the Turkish-Greek border. Support Georgia’s territorial integrity. Put diplomatic and economic pressure on the countries that recognized the Russian occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Nauru, Nicaragua, Tuvalu and Venezuela.

The Caucasus and the Caspian Sea

In close cooperation with Turkey, negotiate a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which must include peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia, normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia and cheap credits to allow Armenia to nationalize its natural gas pipeline network. The latter has been used by Gazprom time and again to blackmail Armenia. In return, Armenia must expel Russian forces from its territory. Set Armenia and Azerbaijan on the path to join NATO.

Provide funds to build the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, as this is the most important geo-strategic project of the decade. Being able to export natural gas to Turkey and from there to Europe will free Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan from Russian blackmail and will allow the EU to diversify its gas purchases, thus reducing the money it transfers each year to Russia for gas. Engage with Central Asian nations to extract them from Russian interference in their sovereignty.

The European Union

Start investigations into the predatory behavior of Gazprom, most of which violates EU anti-monopoly legislation and WTO rules. Reduce Russian gas imports to zero. Gas is Putin’s favorite weapon for bringing insubordinate countries to heel, but gas is also his regime’s biggest weakness. If Europe stops supplying the regime with money, it will fall. Every cubic foot of gas the EU does not buy plunges Russia’s budget deeper into the red, especially as the Russian regime continues its corrupt practices, appropriating an ever-greater share of the dwindling gas revenue.

Apply strict money-laundering controls for any and all money coming out of Russia and Belarus. Impose insurmountable visa conditions for members of the Russian and Belarusian regimes and their families, while lowering visa conditions for ordinary Russians and Belarusians. Provide tens of thousands of long-term scholarships for Belarusian and Russian students.

Impose sanctions on Russian companies involved in money-laundering, corruption and dubious deals for the Russian elite. Sideline Russian lobbyists like former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Provide financial support to all countries under economic threat from Russia. Vigorously involve the WTO in trade disputes with Russia. Trade with the European Union is a privilege, not a right, for a regime that provides weapons to dictators to carry out indiscriminate industrial slaughter.

Agree on a common brigade structure for all EU armies. Currently the EU fields 134 combat brigades with almost as many different organizations. To increase interoperability and ease rotations organize all combat brigades according to the same standard.

Pressure Cyprus to deny Russia’s wish to build a naval base on its territory and enact a stringent arms embargo on Russia, including technology used to spy on its own citizens.

Globally

Replace Russia with China as a member of the G8. Stymie Russian-Indian military cooperation. Scupper all Russian military sales globally, especially the $2 billion military deal currently discussed between Russia and Egypt. As training is included in military sales, it is imperative that Western instructors provide such training to officers and troops, as opposed to Russian instructors, who are currently playing such a devastating role in the Syrian Civil War.

Impose a no-fly zone over Syria and naval blockade to stop the flow of Russian weapons to the Syrian regime. Ignore Russian threats and hysteria while cooperating closely with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and helping defeat the Assad regime as quickly as possible.

Vigorously and vigilantly counter Russian propaganda. Russia has built up a formidable propaganda machine, while the West has failed to promote its values effectively. This needs to be reversed. Especially stymie all Russian efforts to allow national control of the internet.

Add Freedom from Corruption as a human right. Treat all regimes whose rule is based on the corruption of an elite as equally reprehensible as regimes that violate other human rights. Establish legislation to hold bank executives personally liable for failing to report suspicious money transfers by Politically Exposed Persons.

Prepare a taskforce of involving the experts from the EU, US, IMF, World Bank, UN and allied nations who are prepared to quickly help a country avoid economic collapse after it has overthrown a corrupt regime. Be prepared to employ this taskforce first and soonest in Venezuela. Never again leave a country like Libya in 2011 or Ukraine in 2005 alone.

Stop calling Ukrainian cities by the Russian colonial names. It is not “the Ukraine” but Ukraine. Its biggest cities are Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv and not Kiev, Kharkov or Lvov.

Ukraine

Learn from past errors. The EU’s failure to find common ground and pass sanctions before the Yanukovych regime crossed the point of no return has damaged the European project. If the EU fails to draw lessons from Ukrainian history, it will gradually disappear as countries choose to create their own mini-unions that react faster to a crisis than the cumbersome European bureaucracy.

Sweden, the Baltic Nations, Poland and the other countries of Europe’s East are well aware of the very real threat to peace and prosperity in Europe represented by Russia. They were ready to enact sanctions in time to prevent Russia from pressuring the Yanukovych regime into the violent oppression of its citizens. These countries are likely to take this as a lesson that human rights, peace and democracy are trumped by economic interests in Berlin, Vienna and London.

Very little can now be done for the Ukrainian people. One of the two scenarios laid out in the February 16 article will now engulf the second biggest country of Europe. This is a fire that was ignited by Russia and it can only be extinguished by the demise of Putin’s regime.

The sooner and the harder the West acts against Putin’s regime, the sooner the senseless slaughter in Syria and in Ukraine will end. Today, every time Europeans switch on the gas in their homes, they subsidize the bullets that kill in Ukraine and Syria. There’s no time to waste and no sense in placing hope in negotiations with Putin. We either confront Putin now—or at the gates of Warsaw. It will be better for everyone, especially Russians, if we confront him now.

Thomas C. Theiner – please share and reprint at will.

https://twitter.com/noclador, edited by Lidia Wolanskyj

Thomas Theiner is a writer and production manager. He has previously lived in Kyiv for 5 years and worked at a subsidiary of Ukraine’s biggest film company.

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