Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown his true colors yet again as an imperial aggressor bent on crushing a neighboring state and expanding Russia’s boundaries.
Yesterday, nine days after calling up roughly 300,000 reservists in a partial mobilization, he announced that Russia would annex four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine heavily populated by ethnic Russians: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
This was a mere formality, since Russia already had unilaterally recognized them as independent states.
Putin’s unprovoked aggression cast him as a persona non-grata in most parts of the world and reduced Russia to a dangerous pariah state.
As expected, Putin’s most recent announcement was lambasted by the United States and its allies. Denouncing the invasion as an attempt to extinguish Ukraine’s “right to exist as a state,” U. S. President Joe Biden justifiably denounced the annexation as devoid of legitimacy and an assault on the post-World War II order.
Unintimidated by Putin’s aggression, Ukraine vowed to retake territories captured by Russia and resubmitted its application for membership in the NATO alliance.
The Israeli government, which has tried to steer a middle course between Ukraine and Russia, issued a strongly-worded statement saying that it “recognizes the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and will not recognize the results of the referendums in its eastern districts.”
The referendums, condemned as illegal and fraudulent by Western countries, produced highly implausible results, with more than 90 percent of voters favoring Russia’s annexation.
Putin’s latest land grab, a gross violation of international norms and conventions, deepened the new Cold War between Russia and the West. It was supported only by his client states, Belarus and Syria.
It came eight years after Russia wrested Crimea from Ukraine and a little more than seven months after Russia invaded Ukraine in what Putin euphemistically described as a “special military operation” designed to “demilitarize” and “de-Nazify” Ukraine, whose president, Volodmyr Zelensky, is Jewish.
In a truculent speech in which he bombastically referred to Western “ruling circles” as “the enemy,” Putin declared that the inhabitants of the annexed areas, constituting 15 percent of Ukraine’s land mass, would become Russian citizens.
Drawing a line in the sand, Putin asserted that his position on annexation was non-negotiable, and that the occupied territories would be regarded as Russian and defended “with all the forces and means at our disposal.”
Putin issued a similar statement on September 21. “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened,” he said, “we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”
By provocatively equating sovereign Russian territory with Ukrainian conquered lands, Putin suggested that Ukraine’s current offensive in the east, which has been remarkably successful so far, would be seen in Moscow as a direct attack on Russia itself, with all its attendant consequences.
Putin, in menacing tones, hinted that the United States had “created a precedent” by having dropped nuclear bombs on two cities in Japan during World War II.
Putin’s harsh language was reminiscent of a speech he delivered last week, during which he made several unsubstantiated claims. He boasted that Russia’s invasion heralded “the formation of a more just world,” said that Russia was merely defending its sovereignty, and claimed that the West was trying to “weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country.”
His colleague, Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and currently deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, went out on a limb, too, twice asserting that Russia would be entitled to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to defend itself.
“I want to remind you,” he said on September 27. “Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons if necessary.” On September 22, he warned that any weapons in Russia’s arsenal, including nuclear weapons, could be used to defend annexed territories.
In a bid to sound conciliatory, Putin urged Ukraine — “the Kyiv regime” — to cease “all military action” and “return to the negotiating table.”
But as Zelensky correctly pointed out, Putin’s call for a ceasefire was disingenuous. As he put it, “They talk about talks but announce mobilization. They talk about talks but announce pseudo-referendums in the occupied areas of Ukraine.”
Certainly, Russia has legitimate security interests in eastern Europe, and they should be respected. Ukraine should be a neutral state, and NATO should not grant it membership.
Beyond these markers, Russia has no just or logical reason to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty. Contrary to Putin’s view, Ukraine is neither an artificial nor a vassal state. If justice is to prevail, Russia should annul its annexation decree and withdraw its troops from the occupied areas.
Since this scenario is as likely as snow in the Amazon, the war in Ukraine will most likely drag on for years to come, sapping Russia and Ukraine, destabilizing much of Europe, and threatening a full-scale conflict between Russia and NATO.
Putin, brimming with misplaced nationalism and hubris, has brought this disaster upon himself, Ukraine, Europe and the United States.
And he should pay dearly for this miscalculation.