Ukraine Crisis I–21 Aug 14

Russian ambition pushes world to new brink
The Telegraph-Journal (New Brunswick) | August 1, 2014

"The first casualty of war is truth." There is some dispute about whether this famous saying originated with the ancient Greeks or in a more modern era. But it has proven demonstrably correct in our times. Propaganda and self-serving statements rule when international hostilities begin.

A case in point: the current world angst over the horrendous blasting out of the skies of a Malaysian commercial airliner carrying almost 300 innocent people to their deaths. Everyone knows – or thinks they know – that this criminal disaster was triggered by a Russian initiative. But it’s not politically correct to say so until all the evidence has been collected. And it’s the Russians who have been thwarting the collection of that evidence.

The common wisdom is that this is part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ruthless drive to expand Russian influence and control into Crimea and Ukraine. There has been nothing very subtle about it. Russian thugs or mercenaries or former army personnel have moved blatantly into these areas purporting to represent a pro-Russia independence movement.

Attempts by the existing governments to resist them have been met with a sophisticated military activity which has been pretty clearly backed by the Kremlin. The downing of the civilian airliner might well have been a mistake. Those who launched the fatal missile – from a Russian-supplied sophisticated weaponry system – might have thought they were targeting a Ukrainian military aircraft.

Getting the evidence on who fired this sophisticated ground-to-air missile has been obstructed by pro-Russia military activists on the ground. And by the time investigators get their hands on this information it could be contaminated or obliterated.

But there can be no doubt Putin is masterminding a drive to regain some of the old glory of the former Soviet Union. And he’s brushing aside diplomatic criticisms and international sanctions in his determination to get what he wants.

I’m looking at an old Telegraph-Journal front page from Dec. 13, 1991. I guess I saved it because my photo is there, with a delegation of New Brunswick travellers at the ceremonial lighting of a New Brunswick Christmas tree in New York’s Bowling Green park. The tree was donated by the late Harrison McCain. But that wasn’t the main story on that day’s page 1.

The top headline read: Gorbachev Loses Fight To Save Union. It reported that then-Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev had given up on attempts to save the collapsing Soviet Union. On that day, the Russian parliament voted 188 to 6 to ratify an agreement establishing a new commonwealth of independent states.

That looked like good news for a world weary of the Cold War, a post-Second World War era of mistrust and tensions among the world’s great powers. This was supposed to be a new era, freeing the world to march forward toward shared goals and ideals.

Now, 23 years later, another Russian leader is attempting to turn back that clock. Vladimir Putin’s relentless ego is threatening a return to the old Cold War tensions.

Haven’t we learned any lessons from the days of Adolf Hitler’s ambitions and the ruthlessness of the Stalin era? Pray we’re not going down that path again.

 

Is Putin leading Russia to calamity?
Bright Sparkes with David Sparkes
Townsville Bulletin (Australia) | August 1, 2014

IF Monty Python were writing about international affairs right now, they would probably say Russia is a very naughty boy.

The Russians have decided that this is their time to shine, and what better way than by saying "bugger you" to the rest of the world.

The nation that was once famous for producing Drago, the blondest boxer ever to fight Rocky Balboa, has decided that rather than standing on the sidelines of the 21st Century diplomacy, it is better off at the forefront of the 19th Century … today.

The last time Russia decided to invade neighbouring countries, it went pretty well.

It went well for several decades, until 1991 when the whole system fell apart and the Soviet Union was dead and buried.

Which makes you wonder, is Russian President Vladimir Putin leading the country to calamity?

We can all see that President Putin is absolutely nuts.

Oh, and he has nuclear weapons. Big ones.

Usually in situations like this, you would blame the government and not the people, but in this case, you can’t help thinking the Ruski peoples need to get their act together.

Putin’s acts of nationalistic fervour have actually boosted his popularity among the masses.

A few years back, his party’s dominance looked like it might be on the wane as a middle class backlash gathered pace.

Those days are over.

According some polls, Putin’s approval rating hovered between 60 and 68 per cent for a couple of years until February this year. In the past few months, it has risen to about 83 per cent.

It all started with Putin’s invasion of Crimea in late February. The Russian economy is sliding, but every population loves a bit of extra land to take their mind off unemployment and a lack of basic human rights.

There could be something in this for Townsville City Councillors. If they want a few extra votes next election day, I suggest they invade the Burdekin.

They could call it ‘Operation Freedom in the Cane Fields.’ To our mayor and councillors, all I’m saying is, think about it. Meanwhile, Putin is probably sitting on the Ukrainian border, bare-chested, singing the theme song from the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Moscow, Moscow Throw your glasses at the wall Fame and fortune to us all Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho. Hey!

 

Putin has complete dominance of Russia but the EU governments are unpopular
James Downey
Irish Independent | August 1, 2014

EXACTLY 100 years after the outbreak of World War One, an unlikely source has brought the question of World War Three into the public discourse. David Cameron says Britain will not start World War Three.

Is he joking? Nobody ever thought the unwarlike British prime minister would – or could – do anything of the kind. His country, though still important, is no longer a military giant. But the mere mention of the possibility of the ultimate catastrophe makes us look back at a daunting history and forward to issues which we might prefer to ignore.

For the last two generations we have lived under the shadow, but also under the protection, of nuclear weapons.

The "balance of terror" made world war impossible, or so we http://www.thought.No country could risk using its nuclear armoury for fear of retaliation leading, in all likelihood, to the collapse of civilisation.

The fall of the Soviet Union ended the confrontation between the two superpowers. Optimists forecast a new, peaceful and prosperous world order. The new order turned out to be worse than the old one, but at least Europe was safe.

The optimists forgot that Europe had blundered into war in 1914 and that all through history blunders were repeated, not corrected.

That is not to say that the Ukraine crisis will escalate into a disaster comparable with those of 1914 and 1939. Indeed, a little wisdom can prevent it from spreading outside the region now affected – the southern borders of Russia.

Russia holds the key to the crisis and the solution. There can be no solution without the participation of Vladimir Putin. Western policy, if one can call it a policy, can only delay or prevent a solution instead of promoting one.

Of course Putin has behaved badly.

His annexation of Crimea could be defended because the Crimeans support union with Russia. Much worse have been his moves to destabilise parts of the Balkans and the Caucasus bordering his country. Within Ukraine, there can be little doubt that terrorists armed by him shot down Flight MK17 two weeks ago.

But the economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union and the United States – and strengthened this week by the G7 – will not bring peace to Ukraine, much less force him to abandon his ambition to restore his own country to the status of a superpower.

In fact, it is quite possible that the sanctions will hurt the countries that impose them (including, by the way, Ireland) more than they hurt Russia.

Putin has many advantages. He has the overwhelming support of the people he rules, which is not the case in the West. He has an abundance of oil and natural gas.

Whatever else the sanctions may do, they will certainly force up energy prices, perhaps causing another recession.

Now we learn that the most powerful country in Western Europe has actually entered into negotiations with him, though they have been suspended since the shooting down of Flight MK17.

This is a most remarkable move by the German government. It breaks with EU policy – or supposed EU policy. It suggests thst Angela Merkel has taken note of the longstanding criticism of her country as an economic giant and a political pygmy.

It also points up some of the grave weaknesses of the European Union. Soon we expect to hear the conclusions of the stress tests to determine the viability of EU banks. These tests are a step along the road to banking and fiscal union and, ultimately, political union.

Can one imagine the populations of the EU member states agreeing to political union? While Putin enjoys almost complete dominance over the Russian people, EU governments are mostly unpopular. Their peoples have little appetite for the sanctions. They would assuredly favour negotiations.

Moreover, the shape of a workable settlement is quite easy to imagine: Ukraine in the EU but not in Nato. Autonomy for the Russian-speaking part of the country. Free elections, and respect for their results. The present Ukrainian government came to power by means of a coup, not an election.

It can be done. It has to be done. We live in 2014, not 1914. The rulers of Europe will make as many blunders as their predecessors, but none of them will start World War Three. Instead, they will fumble their way through every crisis and cling to every wrong decision, but they will manage to maintain an uneasy peace. It’s as much as we can hope for, and it could be a lot worse.

Russia holds the key to the crisis and the solution. There can be no solution without Putin.

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