Three years ago, Russia launched its operation on Crimea seizure. Russian special forces without any insignia were deployed. The Kremlin was grinning at the whole world, daring anyone to try to "prove that those are the Russian troops." Moscow officials said those were "self-defense activists", adding that "Russian uniform can be purchased at any military gear outlet," or that "searching for Russian troops in Crimea would be the same as searching for a black cat in a black room, whereas there is none."
During those days, burnt tires were still smoldering at the Maidan, while, following the shameful flight of the ousted Viktor Yanukovych, there was, in fact, no firm power in the country. And even if there were such power, it is unlikely that the authorities would’ve had enough will to give a “shoot to kill” order. We were still flying too high in the clouds of a "brotherly nations" narrative. Ukrainian society was not ready for this Russian betrayal. Besides, Ukrainian politicians later revealed that the West had asked Kyiv to refrain from responding with force over Crimea, "not to provoke" Putin's full-scale invasion. The revelation came a bit later, and the fog finally lifted in the summer of 2014 when the Russian artillery shelled from their territory the Ukrainian soldiers who were tasked with blocking the border with Russia.
By the way, the West wasn’t ready, either, for such a U-turn in foreign policy of a nuclear power, which instantly turned into a hood gangster. Declarations of "deep concern" and sanctions over Crimea annexation could not hinder Russia’s aspirations to establish a new world order. Moreover, having had a bite of the foreign land, the Kremlin attempted to seize almost half of Ukraine. After Crimea annexation, Russian leaders escalated the conflict in mainland Ukraine. That’s when Putin branded the country’s south-eastern part "Novorossia."
The revelation came a bit later, and the fog finally lifted in the summer of 2014 when the Russian artillery shelled from their territory the Ukrainian soldiers who were tasked with blocking the border with Russia
The new U.S. President, Donald Trump, recently recalled via Twitter, that Russia had taken the Ukrainian territory during the Obama administration and wondered whether Obama was too soft on Russia. According to the Budapest Memorandum, the U.S. is the guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity of Ukraine (Russia is, too). The document was signed by a U.S. president, and there would be nothing strange for Kyiv to demand defense against the aggressor. However, at the early stage of the conflict, Obama made it clear that the U.S. would not deploy its troops. Of course, blaming predecessors for the administration’s failures is rather a purely Ukrainian practice, but the fact remains that such a cautious and appeasing policy of the West has failed to stop Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Definitely, it would be unfair to say that the civilized world has left Ukraine alone in its fight with the Russian bear. In many ways, it was the stance of Western powers that stopped the advance of the Russians. Rumor has it that one May 7, 2014, President of Switzerland Didier Burkhalter, OSCE head at the time, handed over to Putin a collective ultimatum, warning the Russian leader that the seizure of Mariupol would entail disconnection from SWIFT of one of the Russian banks. Things got serious. For the country which is trading in oil non-stop, the issue of money transfers is vital, while such sanctions would affect the economy immediately.
Definitely, it would be unfair to say that the civilized world has left Ukraine alone in its fight with the Russian bear. In many ways, it was the stance of Western powers that stopped the advance of the Russians
The so-called sectoral sanctions were imposed only after the downing of MH17 Boeing by the Russian Buk missile in July 2014. These reprisals can be considered the West’s strongest blow so far against Russia's aggression (however, in this case, it should be noted that the West was pushed toward such response with the fact of a mass murder of their countries’ citizens). Then, against the backdrop of falling oil prices, a ban was imposed on investments in Russian infrastructure, transport, telecommunications and energy sectors, as well as oil and gas production in Russia. Later a ban was added on lending to Russian banks. The U.S. sanctions were introduced against 172 Russian citizens and 350 Russian legal entities, including the flagships in energy, defense, and financial sectors.
Of course, it’s the Ukrainians who must defend their country as no one else, and that’s what they have been doing for the past three years. In the meantime, Ukraine’s Western partners need to understand that any ambiguous approach toward Russia and any statements about the need to lift the anti-Russian sanctions are perceived by the Kremlin as pure weakness. According to the Russian logic, the weak can and should be broken. Russia enjoys manipulating both foreign and internal policy, putting pressure on their sworn friends. We can recall mass protests in Germany by the Russian-speaking Germans against the propaganda-invented "rape" by migrants of a Russian girl Liza; unscrupulous hackers who suddenly fell in love with the United States Democratic Party; and a failed coup in Montenegro… Against this background, Russia wants to crawl into the room of large-scale negotiations with the West with the same force its bombs fall on Syrian children.
As one of the leaders of the French presidential race Emmanuel Macron has been targeted by Russian propaganda, his sexual orientation is suddenly in focus. And no matter what anyone says about the right to free expression in Europe, in Catholic countries, amid tough competition, the issue may also play its role, not in favor of the said candidate.
The Kremlin denounces all accusations in the same manner: "Present your proof!" This has been a repeat phrase since the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. But for modern Russia, the only proof is the position and statements of their president.
Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow