den Ouden/My Turn: Russia’s growing appetitie

Putin’s attempt to seize the Ukraine and his successful annexation of Crimea in part was provoked by June 27, the date that the European Union (EU), Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia had set for bringing these countries into a constructive long-term economic relationship with Europe.

Leading up to this now-signed agreement in a recent joint communiqué, Moldova and the EU committed themselves to a substantive cooperation in trade but also in reforms. In this press release they stated: “The European Community took note of the remarkable progress in the reform agenda the Republic of Moldova has been making over the past five years. Moldova and the EU agreed to continue the implementation of essential reforms. The Europeans reiterated its support for Moldova sovereignty and territorial integrity inside its internationally recognized borders.”

They also noted their close cooperation on energy security and agreed to maintain a closer interaction and coordination in order to deepen political and economic integration with the EU. Energy issues are particularly important because Russia has threatened to cut off natural gas exports to Moldova. It has already declared that food imports from the sections of Moldova which are not pro-Russian do not meet acceptable standards whereas imports for the pro-Russian regions do. These rituals of intimidation in all likelihood will continue.

In between Moldova and Ukraine lies the tiny unrecognized state of Transnistria. This could be a foothold for a takeover by Putin. Russian troops are in this region in spite of two decades Moldova’s attempts to move them back to Russia. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has tried to mediate and facilitate this process and the U.S. has offered to pay for moving the troops that came in 1992, allegedly to quell ethnic conflicts and have remained there ever since.

Putin is laughing at the American offer to pay for removing his troops from Moldova.

Crimea and Ukraine are only Putin’s first move — along with Moldova, he is eyeing Latvia, Estonia and, according to an aide of his, Finland.

Putin knows the history of the Russian Empire. Sweden and Russian fought over Finland. This beautiful country only became a sovereign nation after in 1917. NATO has an incredibly complex problem to face. France is eager to cozy up to the Russians and sell it aircraft. Poland and countries near it are clamoring for a stronger U.S. presence. Obama has exercised restraint with Ukraine but has agreed to supply its troops with night vision goggles, body armor and communications equipment which its security forces have requested.

On June 5, before flying to Brussels, speaking in Warsaw, Obama declared that “Poland will never stand alone.” He also stated that “Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania will never stand alone.” What will the EU, NATO and the U.S. do if Putin steps out of his foothold and tries to intimidate Moldova, especially now since it has clearly signaled that its future lies with the West? The people of Moldova appear to be willing to risk short-term financial sacrifices in order to cultivate a long term relationship with Europe and the West.

An aide of Putin also conveyed, “Parts of Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states where Putin claims to have ownership ... The west’s leaders seem, from what they say, entirely have forgotten that there are some leaders who want or conquer other countries.”

The Russian Constitution has Article 61 that pledges protection of Russians in any country. It supports arbitrary action. It does not contain due process standards. It does not employ international rules for dispute resolution. It states “The Russian Federation shall guarantee its citizens defense and patronage beyond its boundaries.”

It endorses action contrary to international law.

Article 61 gives Putin a legal framework and makes it unconstitutional to oppose his imperialist ambitions. In addition, many individuals in Moldova and the other countries adjacent to Russia, have not declared themselves to be citizens of their country of residence. They appear to be waiting for the return of their countries, or portions thereof, to the Russian Empire and are perhaps looking forward to the protection of Article 61.

Finland is not a member of NATO. It became a sovereign state in 1917 and it does not have the human residue of the former Soviet Union. What move, if any, will Putin make on Finland? If this occurs what will the U.S. and NATO do? Putin has multiple constituencies to satisfy or keep at bay. The Oligarchs for a greater part want conquest and the return of empire. The sanctions, however, are slowing economic growth in Russia. Dissent is slowly appearing in the Russian press. Will Putin continue to appear to cooperate with, e.g., the leaders in Ukraine and then do end runs involving other countries or select regions of Ukraine? He is an artful dodger with his humanity stunted by the horrific training in the KGB.

I have written an open letter to the Russian people expressing the high regard I have for Russian literature, dance, music and their culture in general. I also respectfully referred to their dominant role in absorbing the might of the Wehrmacht in WWII and their central role in the final victory over Germany. I also point out the successful cooperation between Russia and the West in ridding Syria of chemical weapons. I claim that our common enemy is terrorism not each other. My understanding is that this letter is being published in both English and Russian in PRAVA. My hope is that the Russian people are stronger than the Oligarchs and ease Putin back from his desire for the return of the Russian Empire.

Bernard den Ouden, an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Hartford. He resides in North Heath.

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