Saturday, November 28, 2015

Vladimir Putin's Multi-Tasking Skills

"The fight against terrorists and resolving the Syrian conflict should not take place at the expense of Ukraine."
Edgars Rinkevics, Latvian foreign minister

"Lithuania won't join any new coalitions that include Russia or that Russia wants to be part of."
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite
Massive electrical pylons were sabotaged last Friday in Ukraine, cutting off power to millions of people in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea. Although Russia illegally annexed Crimea, the region remains dependent on the government of Ukraine for its power. Ukrainian Tatars in Crimea, incensed at their maltreatment by ethnic Russian rebels, had taken the revenge initiative and when attempts were  being made to restore power, the entire enterprise at great cost to Ukraine, Ukrainian activists, called Civil Blockade of Crimea, attempted to block repair works on Saturday.

Russia may be busy in Syria, but Vladimir Putin is adept at multi-tasking, with his KGB-trained attention focused wherever he feels he can be advantaged in the long run. 

Ukrainian activists scuffle with servicemen near the damaged power lines (APTN)

A Russian threat to ban Ukrainian food imports from January first, elicited a response from Arsen Avakov, the Ukrainian interior minister, who called on the country’s national security council to annul contracts for power supply to Crimea. Moscow, for its part, threatened to block Ukrainian food imports in response to Ukraine joining western sanctions against Russia. Blocking and destroying food has become a favourite tactic of the Kremlin, pace the wholesale destruction of food from the West, last year.

To complicate matters, fighting has once again flared over the last three weeks with Ukrainian field commanders, humanitarian volunteers and local journalists speaking of the ethnic-Russian rebels in eastern  Ukraine shooting mortars, heavy machine guns, automatic weapons and sniper fire along the frontline that comprises the Minsk II ceasefire lines. Full frontal assaults on Ukrainian positions have been launched by the rebels and saboteurs have infiltrated territory controlled by Ukrainian forces for the purpose of placing anti--personnel mines.

Russian troops may have been placed in Syria, and Russian bombers are busy knocking out Syrian rebel units and targeting the Turkmen rebels close to the Turkish border, occasioning a deadly response from the Turkish military, but Ukraine is never far from Vladimir Putin's scheming mind. The Kremlin is providing weapons, ammunition, equipment and supplies to the separatists who are being trained by Russian military specialists to turn the rebels and mercenaries into more highly effective fighting forces.

The Donbass remains targeted by President Putin to accommodate his plans for a greater Russian Federation. Little appears in the news, the lull in reporting corresponding with Mr. Putin's plans to create a low-profile independent of the actions incited on the part of the rebels. If all goes according to plan, the opportunity to have sanctions lifted may yet be achieved. After all, French President Francois Hollande's visit with Mr. Putin had a distinct purpose; collaboration in destroying ISIL.

And that possible cooperation between France, the U.S.-led air coalition and Russia would come with a predictable price. Formal recognition of Russian possession of Crimea is clearly beyond the pale, but the lifting of sanctions would be quite acceptable to Moscow in exchange for [a temporary?] halt to Russian bombing of U.S.-supported Syrian rebels, to focus instead on a joint series of attacks on Islamic State installations.

Russia's ruthless destabilizing actions in eastern Europe, its provocations toward Western powers, the potency of Vladimir Putin's volatile temperament and decision-making and the destruction and deaths that occur as consequences of his actions make him a formidable trouble-maker. Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, so similar to Mr. Putin in many ways, has now warned him not to "play with fire", perhaps not quite understanding the pyromaniac character of the Russian president.

In his single-minded determination to restore the power and prestige, the command and the fear that were once Russia's, Sochi worked nicely as an introduction to the new Russia, proudly fearless and ferociously amiable as long as its interests were not challenged. But the Russia that has challenged the patience of the international community by its reckless disregard for treaties and sovereign nations' right to respect of geographic boundaries is an international outlaw.

It is beginning to appear at times as though Russia has some political-ideological traits in common with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; its military braggadocio, its oblivion to international obligations, its casual attitude in causing death and destruction, and its consuming desire to expand its hegemony in reflection of its past glories as the dominant player as far as its threats could be enforced.

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