Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tide turns against Putin

Russian human rights protestors gather outside court

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to prevent Ukraine from edging too close to the West is having the opposite effect.

The European Union continues to dangle heavy sanctions over Russia’s head despite Putin’s attempt to use a cease-fire to persuade the West it could back off.

All it has achieved so far is for Europe to delay imposition of the heaviest sanctions yet on Russia’s three state-owned energy companies.

And in the Black Sea, the Ukraine navy has begun maneuvers with the U.S. and NATO. Twelve ships are conducting exercises for three days, not far from the Crimea that Putin’s forces seized in March. Some of the Ukrainian ships had been among those seized by Russia.

Putin doesn’t think he is in trouble, writes Brenda Shaffer on the New York Times editorial page. The professor of political science at the University of Haifa writes that Putin already has picked his next “frozen conflict,” a Russian term for unresolved arguments. It is a dispute in the south Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Any border region, particularly any one near energy producing areas, is in play in Putin’s mind, particularly if an “ethnic” conflict can be exploited, writes Shaffer. He seems to fail to understand that there is a glut of energy. It’s like an algorithm that won’t stop running. A some point a human hand needs to intervene.

Putin’s support of rebels in the eastern Ukraine did stop the Dutch government from completing its investigation of the downing of a Malaysian Airliner, which claimed 298 lives. But the report Amsterdam released Tuesday made clear the Boeing 777 had been hit a special missile designed by the Russian military.

Even within Russia resistance has begun to build, first from mothers of soldiers sent to the Ukraine secretly. Now even a business has gone to court to try to get Putin’s blockage of European imported food stopped.

Pressure from Moscow has led Kiev to move from requesting only delivery of some weapons to saying it wants to join NATO and would welcome direct assistance.

The Moscow Times, which claims to be independent from the Kremlin, reported Tuesday that a judge had knocked down a government decision to label an election monitoring group, known as Golos, as an agent of a foreign government.

The controversial law passed in 2012 that allows rights NGOs to be labeled "foreign agents" if they receive foreign funding and are involved in loosely defined "political" activities is the latest tactic being used to silence human rights NGOs, the country's veteran rights defenders say.

Reuters reports that Putin told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday that Russia is committed to what has been a shaky truce. Though there has been less fighting, there has been no sign of withdrawal of Ukrainian forces Moscow had demands in the cease-fire agreement.

U.S. President Barack Obama remains under pressure from both parties in the Congress to prevent Putin from dismembering the Ukraine, one of the very few things the two parties agree on.

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