Yesterday Putin is reported to have said that he regards the dissolution of the USSR as “illegal.” The actual legality of all that is irrelevant. The USSR never cared a whit about international law, and neither does Putin unless he finds it useful for thwarting U.S. aims or pursuing his own. The statement that the dissolution of the USSR was illegal provides the logic for invading Ukraine and possibly other former Soviet republics after that, wherever there might be a Russian minority to protect — or a Moscow goal to pursue.
A longstanding goal of Russian foreign policy has been to use the nations of eastern Europe as buffer states between itself and the rest of Europe.
Today comes a New York Times report that Putin is massing Russia’s military forces near Ukraine, under the guise of military exercises.
MOSCOW — Russia’s Defense Ministry announced new military operations in several regions near the Ukrainian border on Thursday, even as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany warned the Kremlin to abandon the politics of the 19th and 20th centuries or face diplomatic and economic retaliation from a united Europe.
Putin does not care about epithets and does not appear to be intimidated by the possibility of economic retaliation. He does not care if Merkel thinks his policies don’t belong in this century. It just doesn’t matter to him.
In Moscow, the military acknowledged significant operations involving armored and airborne troops in the Belgorod, Kursk and Rostov regions abutting eastern Ukraine, where many ethnic Russians have protested against the new interim government in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, and appealed to Moscow for protection.
A day after a deputy minister denied any military buildup on the border, the Defense Ministry released a series of statements beginning early Thursday that appeared to contradict that. They outlined what was described as intensive training of units involving artillery batteries, assault helicopters and at least 10,000 soldiers.
The operations confirmed, at least in part, assertions by Ukrainian leaders on Wednesday that Russia was massing forces, as well as amateur photographs that appeared to show columns of armored vehicles and trucks in a border village called Lopan, only 30 miles from the Ukrainian city Kharkiv. One statement announced that another 1,500 paratroopers from Ivanovo, east of Moscow, had parachuted onto a military base in Rostov, not far from the Ukrainian cities Donetsk and Lugansk.
Appearing before Parliament on Thursday, Ms. Merkel criticized Russia’s actions in some of her toughest language to date, declaring that “the territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be called into question.”
Too late. Putin has already seized Crimea without firing a shot and has engineered the referendum that will see it formally annexed to Russia. Ukraine’s territorial integrity has been more than called into question.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine,” she said. “We, also as neighbors of Russia, would not only see it as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union’s relationship with Russia. No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically.”
Such as? So far the U.S. and Europe are talking about travel bans and other sanctions. Putin appears to be laughing those off.
Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine…
“I’m for living in one country, with no borders, like we used to. Like the fingers on one hand,” said 60-year-old Lyudmila Zhuravlyova, who signed a petition asking for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military invention to stop “political persecution and physical annihilation of the Russian-speaking and Orthodox population.”
In Luhansk and other eastern Ukraine cities, some men have formed militia groups such as “Luhansk Guard,” the “People’s Auxiliary” as Russian news broadcasts swarm with alleged atrocity stories about attacks on ethnic Russians and Jews in Ukraine — helping to spur the secession drive and the anxieties that underlie it. The Associated Press and other international media have found no evidence of victimization.
On Sunday, in a possible portent of more trouble to come, pro-Russian demonstrators overran the regional government headquarters just off Soviet Street and forced Gov. Mikhail Bolotskih to sign a resignation letter.
“Among them were young aggressive people in an intoxicated condition, inappropriate condition, with bats, sticks, and it was obvious they were armed with some other kinds of weapons,” the governor, who is appointed by Ukraine’s central authorities, said Tuesday.
Ethnic Russians are pining for the days when the Soviet Union made them a world power. Putin seems agreeable to that.