Irony escapes Russian president

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to stir unrest in Ukraine

As much as the world would like for it to settle into a resolution, the face-off between Ukraine and Russia shows no signs of tapering off.

On Tuesday, the stakes escalated when Ukrainian officials sent troops into the eastern part of the nation to reclaim a military base from pro-Russian separatists. Officials in Kiev described the retaking of the airfield as a “special operation.”

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin again proved he has no sense of irony — or, more likely, he simply loves to stir the pot more — when he called U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday and demanded that the United Nations and the international community condemn what he described as “anti-constitutional actions” by the government in Kiev.

This demand from the man who sent Russian troops without insignia into sovereign Ukrainian territory to slice off the Crimea region by force so that Russian could orchestrate a vote that was decided long before anyone went to a ballot box and annex the region, all of which was done in clear violation of international law.

The burr in Putin’s saddle was the February ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich by Ukrainians who want stronger ties with the West. Fueled by hardliners in Russia who long for the so-called glory days of the Soviet Union, Putin has gotten bolder and more boisterous seemingly by the day.

The fact is, the government change in Kiev was made by Ukrainians who want a different, more productive direction for their country, which is mired in debt to Russia. The fear is that Putin will continue to ignore the nation’s right to sovereignty and reclaim it, piece by piece.

The famed Russian propaganda machine has been churning away, claiming crimes against ethnic Russians in Ukraine. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Putin is attempting to lay groundwork, as he did in Crimea, for a deeper incursion.

The United Nations, meanwhile, has checked into Russia’s claims of mistreatment of ethic Russians and found no validity to it. The U.N. human rights office issued a report stating that while there have been some attacks against ethic Russians, they were neither systematic nor widespread. The words “exaggerated” and “misinformed” were used to describe reports of harassment, though the agency would not cite Russia as the source of propaganda and misinformation.

But when you look to see who would benefit from instilling a sense of fear and insecurity as the May 25 Ukrainian election nears, it’s not hard to determine that the culprit is all but guaranteed to be Putin, a former — some say still, at least at heart — KGB agent who knows the value of good propaganda and how to most effectively disseminate it.

Meanwhile, a Europe that is dependent on Russian oil (Brent oil futures set a six-week high Monday and were upward Tuesday, largely because of the Ukrainian situation) and the United States have done little to convince Putin to back off the struggling nation. So far, the West has been willing to do little more than offer moral support for the pro-West Ukrainians for fear that World War III could erupt if military action were taken.

Given Putin’s mercurial personality, that’s not an unreasonable fear.

While the White House said Tuesday that Kiev’s security action in eastern Ukraine was warranted, it added that only sanctions were being considered against Russia. There are no plans to provide arms to Ukraine, and Western governments won’t look at ratcheting up sanctions until Thursday.

Diplomacy, of course, is still the best avenue to proceed on. But when U.S. and European Union officials meet Thursday, two things should happen. First, they should assure Russia that no condemnation will be forthcoming against the Ukrainian government for securing its territory. And second, they should come up with sanctions that get Putin’s attention and convince him to quit acting like a schoolyard bully. Otherwise, the world could be headed down a much darker road soon.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board