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The West and the Ukraine Test

The Sochi Games are over and Russian President Vladimir Putin is back to business as usual. The decision to use Russian troops following the Ukraine’s establishment of a new government is reminiscent of Cold War politics and Putin’s disregard for international law.

In reaction, the Canadian government has already chosen to recall its ambassador to Russia. Through President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. government has also warned that there will be consequences to Putin’s response to the change of government in Kiev.

In recent weeks, the Western world has seen the street reaction in Kiev’s Independence Square to now former President Victor Yanukovich’s decision to choose a Putin-directed economic deal over one from the European Union. The violence ordered by Yanukovich to quell the protesters only intensified and inflamed the degree of opposition. Many in the West following the Olympics in Sochi were stunned by how quickly the ‘’street revolution’’ replaced Yanukovich and installed a new government in accordance with the Ukrainian constitution (impeaching Yanukovich and releasing a prominent political opponent were both legal and constitutional).

Certainly, Putin’s objective to present the best face of Russia to the world during Sochi suffered a major setback. While invading and taking control of Crimea may give him the upper hand against a cash–strapped Ukraine with a new provisional government, it does little to show the emergence of a new Russia. Already, the anti-gay law and the release of political opponents from prison depicted the calculation of a ruthless and inward–looking leader.

However, disregarding a neighboring country’s sovereignty and acting in a way that is contrary to international law should provoke a strong diplomatic response, ranging from sanctions to measures that bring greater isolation. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments seem to be on the same page when it comes to taking such a diplomatic course.

This being said, we are not in a new Cuban Missile Crisis situation, nor are we in a Munich–like repetition of history. Putin does not lead the Soviet Empire that nearly pushed the nuclear button in previous conflicts, nor is he the new Hitler in terms of world dominance and planned human destruction. But he is a capable political chess player, as we saw last September in the Syrian civil war.

What is needed from the UN Security Council, including China, NATO and key players in the European Union, is resolve and common purpose. In the past, the West used diplomacy to prevent catastrophes. Successive U.S. presidents, from Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy to Reagan, were able to exert the kind of pressure that Russian leaders understood.

Granted, the Ukraine is not on the West’s doorstep and the military option should be ruled out, but Putin’s Russia cannot be allowed to use the international community and its institutions with impunity to impose an agenda that is in flagrant disregard of international law. The events in the Ukraine are ultimately a test of the world’s resolve, which affirms that international law and conventions matter and they must be respected, or there will be consequences.

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*John Parisella is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. He is also a Member of the Board of Directors of The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Vladimir Putin, Ukrain, Victor Yanukovich

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