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Where next Mr. Putin?

Well, the invasion by Russia of the Ukraine has started. There was intelligence that this was a likely scenario, but I am sure most people put their hopes in a negotiated settlement. The question for NATO is what, if anything, can it do about a resurgent Russian Republic under a leader who has territorial ambitions for his country? Fortunately, the Baltic States are members of  NATO and that should encourage the Russian leader to be wary of over-ambition. What is apparent is Western Europe will suffer from the conflict in terms of continuing increases in the price of gas and oil. Russia has weathered economic sanctions since her annexation of the Crimea, and further sanctions are unlikely to achieve any reversal in Russian foreign policy.

Putin has proved himself, as Trump recently commented, to be a smart operator. He has made a remarkable transition from former KGB officer to nationalist, a man, I believe, who is intent on recreating a Russian dominated empire. How far that is possible to achieve through economic pressure, and, failing that, military force remains to be seen.

While following the drama of the troop concentration on the Russian-Ukraine border, with separatists in the Donbas region fermenting conflict and the invasion today to establish a so-called “demilitarized zone” to avoid war with the West, one hears echos of the past: the justification for intervention to safeguard an ethnic minority; historical claims to territories; addressing the wrongs done by imperialist powers; and the need to assert national pride in the face of an hostile democratic media. Ring any bells?

It is easy to forget that Vladimir Putin was responsible for the poisoning with polonium of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, and for the Salisbury Novichok poisonings in 2018. These are not the actions of a person who accepts democratic values and the rule of law, but of a person schooled in authoritarian ideology whether it be Communism or extreme nationalism. A policy of appeasement is not the answer when dealing with the likes of Putin.

The USA and Europe are on notice: do not underestimate the Russian leader and do not issue idle threats about crossing any “red lines”; be resolute in protecting the sovereignty of countries that have relatively recently had the opportunity to savor the benefits of democratic government; and be united on how best to regain the initiative when dealing with a man who holds, at present, a winning hand!

About the Author
Peter John Beyfus is an historian, published author, poet, and a person who prides himself on “thinking outside the box”. I have written many essays on Jewish themes, published in various journals, including ‘Wessex Jewish News’ and ‘Westminster Quarterly’, the magazine of Westminster Synagogue, London.
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