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article imageOp-Ed: Cornering Putin may not be comfortable, but it is necessary

By Calvin Wolf     Aug 9, 2014 in Politics
The crisis between Ukraine and Russia continues to unfold, and everyone wonders what is the best tactic to contain Russia and its aggressive leader, President Vladimir Putin. Should the West go on the diplomatic and sanction offensive, or play friendly?
Vladimir Putin confounds and intrigues the West. A former KGB man who became the successor of ailing Russian president Boris Yeltsin, who resigned at the end of 1999, Putin has spent a long time in power. After two terms as president, Dmitri Medvedev stood in as president for a term while the constitutionally-limited Putin hung out as prime minister, with the whole situation seeming orchestrated by puppeteer Putin. Now Putin is back as president and, according to most Western observers, eagerly supporting separatists in Ukraine who want to form a Russia-aligned breakaway state.
Putin, of course, claims he is only supporting civilians who are allegedly being bullied by Ukrainian government forces. He is portraying the new administration in Kiev as the aggressor. The West believes otherwise, insisting that Putin is funneling weapons, and even military advisers (or perhaps more) to rebels who oppose the new Western-aligned government in Kiev. The situation has reached a boiling point with the downing of airliner flight MH-17 in mid-July, an act blamed on rebels using Russia-supplied arms.
The crisis may worsen for all as summer turns to autumn and Europe needs heating oil. According to Bloomberg News, Russia is the main supplier of western Europe's petroleum, most of which is routed through Ukraine. Russia has cut off fuel sales to Ukraine, though Ukraine can siphon what it needs from the pipelines to Europe, depriving western Europe of oil and gas. Russia and its diplomatic opponents, primarily consisting of the United States and the European Union, have also hit each other with rounds of economic sanctions.
CNN reports that Russia is also accused of bullying Ukraine by keeping thousands of troops on Ukraine's border, and Russia recently arrested five Ukrainian officers who retreated from rebels onto Russian territory for allegedly shelling said territory. Many pundits worry that Putin is not backing down despite Western sanctions and may still be poised to invade Ukraine to "help prevent violence."
A question many are asking is whether or not it is wise to corner Putin through deeper economic sanctions and political isolation, potentially making him desperate and irrational.
Keeping the pressure on Putin, even to the point of "cornering" him, is necessary to prove Western resolve. Putin is a shrewd strategist and has gambled heavily on Western weakness, assuming that he can rebuild a new Soviet-esque empire in eastern Europe and central Asia. Russia, bolstered by petroleum revenue, is investing heavily in its military and Putin appears to have grand ambitions. His lengthy tenure in power suggests he is comfortable with long-term planning.
Putting pressure on Putin now runs counter to his expectations of the West and his hopes for long-term strategies, throwing him off balance. While pressure on Putin may not be safe, allowing Putin to realize his ambitions over the long term is even less safe. The West must stay the course.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Vladimir putin, Russia, Ukraine, ukraine crisis
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