In essence Putin’s strategy is simple: to ensure that the large tract of eastern Ukraine which pro Russian separatist forces have taken in recent weeks be recognised internationally. Putin already calls this region “New Russia”,, and wants a new frontline boundary be drawn up as the basis for a putative ceasefire. The question then, of course, is whether this will satisfy his ambitions?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former head of Nato, warned that Russia is highly likely to intervene in the Baltic states to test NATO’s shaky commitment to collective defence. ‘This is not about Ukraine. Putin wants to restore Russia to its former position as a great power.’ Remembering how Russia seized an Estonian on the last day of the conference in Wales as a very visible “gesture,” he could be right, especially given the presence of so many Russians near the borders who might be used as a pretext for “inviting the Russians in to help restore the balance.”
We can certainly pray that Russia will conclude that to intervene here is more trouble than it is worth.
Greatly fearing an extreme Islamic backlash across the countries of the former USSR, Putin is unlikely to want to become involved in the “-stan” countries, such as Khazakstan and Kyrgystan. Russia had an opportunity to intervene in those countries in 2005, but, to many people’s surprise, declined to do so. Moldova is now probably the most vulnerable of the neighbouring countries. See our blog entry the Moldovan Corridor.
In the Historical Perspective we provided for Ukraine (whose name means the Border lands) here are some of the points we made:
The thought of losing Ukraine, long considered a jewel in the Russian crown, hangs heavy in the hearts of many Russians from top to bottom of the nation. “Seizing objects is never disagreeable to us,” wrote Catherine the Great of Crimea towards the end of the eighteenth century. “It is losing them that we don’t like.” She seized Crimea, then a Ukrainian province for herself. The Crimean war was launched by the French and British to check Russian expansion.
Western Ukraine attempted to rise up against Russia at the end of the First World War, but this was brutally put down by the Red Army in 1920. From then until 1991 it was a Soviet state.
Soviet rule proved utterly repressive, climaxing in the Holodomor – Extermination by Hunger in which something like 4 or 5,000,000 Ukrainians were sealed off by Soviet troops, deprived of food and starved to death. See Ukraine Timeline.
These are some of the shadows from the very recent past that overshadow the present crisis. May the Lord’s redeeming power be deeply at work in the hearts of the Russian people and break the power of this vicious ‘cycle’.