JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

PUTIN “WANTS TO RESTORE THE SOVIET EMPIRE”, says the United States Senator, John McCain, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. McCain could be wrong, but my gut feeling is that he is right. Over the past years, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has demonstrated that he’s desperate for the restoration of the Soviet Union.

Putin’s aggressive actions to send troops in Ukraine are a sure proof of his desperation. His reasons for this act are very mindboggling. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, described him as “out of touch with reality”. After the ousting of the former president Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin claims the Russian speaking population, mostly based in the east of Ukraine, is under threat from the newly founded Ukrainian interim government – a very ridiculous assertion. There are no facts on the ground supportive of these claims; or any facts to justify the incursion of Ukraine. Even if there were, it would be the matter that would be looked into within the bounds of the international law, and the international community would respond accordingly.

Kiev’s protests, which were caused by Yanukovych’s decision to abandon an agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union, have taken place since late last year. They were initially peaceful, till Yanukovych’s brutal response to the protesters. But people won, as they eventually ousted Yanukovych who subsequently fled to Russia.

Russia's President - Vladimir Putin (Photo: Reuters).
Russia’s President – Vladimir Putin (Photo: Reuters).

After centuries of strong ties with Russia, it’s very clear that Putin wants to keep Ukraine on his side. He’s had a serious worry seeing Ukraine slowly slipping out of his fingers in the past weeks. Now the situation has come to a head. To show the world that Russia still has an influence in Ukraine, he illegally sent troops to Crimea, a Ukrainian territory predominantly Russian speaking. He’s resorted to this action because he sees he’s losing Ukraine – a serious blow to Russia’s influence to those countries that were under the Soviet Union umbrella.

In 2005, Putin said the collapse of the Soviet Union “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. His actions in the past thirteen years show that he still longs for the times of Cold War. In 2008, the Kremlin went to war with Georgia, another former Soviet protectorate, over a break-away territory. Putin was a prime minister then.

The gridlocks we occasionally see at the United Nations Security Council; be it when passing resolutions on Syria or any other conflicts around the world have mostly been engineered by Russia (along with China), for geopolitical reasons.

Up to recent developments, Obama’s administration has tried by all means to downplay Russia’s actions in Ukraine. They don’t want the diplomatic wrangle with Russia to be seen in cold war lens. The cold war is over. The Soviet Union collapsed. Putin needs to get it. I cannot even count Russia’s key allies around the world today. Almost all the powers of the world have good relations with the United States. His neighbourhood is slipping out of his fingers and I don’t think he has many significant friends around the world.

HE DESERVES A PUNISHMENT

Ideally, Putin must pay a price over his actions in Ukraine. Symbolic actions must be taken by world powers, as Fareed Zakaria suggests. Be it in the form of sanctions or suspending it from world’s bodies such as the G-8. Of course this will not be enough, but at least it will send a message that, in this 21st century, we cannot allow countries to invade their neighbors outside of the international law. This will not be easy for the Europeans though, due to strong trade ties with Russia. In fact, European powers seem reluctant on sanctioning Russia. But something must be done; otherwise Putin’s actions will set a very bad precedent.

The situation in Ukraine is complicated. After the ousting of Yanukovych, the country needs to hold elections to elect the legitimate government. Between now and then, Ukraine’s future must be in the hands of its citizens. Even though the country is divided into half (Russian speaking and Ukrainian speaking), I believe the two regions can find common ground and form one united nation without Putin’s gunmen patrolling. It is possible. PM

To God be the Glory.

Ø Youth Coordinator at Free Market Foundation South Africa

Views expressed here are my own; they have nothing to do with Free Market Foundation South Africa

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Phumlani M. UMajozi is a Professional Business Analyst, a Policy Analyst at Independent Entrepreneurship Group, and Youth Coordinator at Free Market Foundation South Africa.