Putin’s gambit

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Saturday, March 8, 2014


At the conclusion of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, was on top of the world. He successfully hosted one of the costliest games (US $51 billion) with clockwork precision and without incident.

What even made him more proud was Russia winning the most number of medals (33 with 13 golds) and receiving accolades from various Olympic committees.

Larry Probst, the US Olympic Committee chairman, said, “The thing that struck me was the involvement and engagement of President Putin. He has been visible throughout the Games and he spent half an hour at the USA House. He has really owned the Games. I would compliment him and his team.”

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Just as the Olympics closed with a grandiose display of Russian artistry and performance, a maelstrom unfolded in neighboring Ukraine as People Power ousted its president, Viktor Yanukovych, for ordering the killing of protestors, corruption and resisting calls for closer relations with the European Union.

But the celebratory atmosphere in capital Kiev was subdued by the takeover by Russian troops of key facilities in Ukraine’s Crimea, originally a part of Russia that was given by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to Ukraine in 1954. The territory hosts a Russian military facility and is home to ethnic Russians that compose 59 percent of Crimea's population of more than 2 million.

The act of aggression was swiftly condemned by the United States and the European Union, even as the pro-West leaders in Kiev maintained its stand that Crimea remains to be a part of Ukraine. While Ukraine troops based in Ukraine have been paralyzed, most of the politicians in Crimea have sided with Russia, having fast tracked a referendum on whether the region should secede from Ukraine.

US President Barack Obama has failed to stop President Putin from softening his stand, as the Russian Parliament has given its approval and a survey conducted by the state-run pollster VTsIOM on 1-2 March said that 67.8 percent of respondents approved of Putin's job performance.

Majority of the people of Russia are convinced that the removal of Yanukovych is unconstitutional and that the west Ukrainian fascist nationalists initiated the rebellion. They believe that Putin did what is for best interest of Russia.

For now there is no shooting war between Ukrainians and Russian soldiers; but both sides are on red alert. It will just take one foolish attack to change the psychological positioning into a bloody fire exchange.

Putin is no fool. He will not initiate a war against Ukraine, for by doing so would be a war against the European Union, the United States and the rest of the world. His agenda is merely to tell the people of Ukraine that it is better if they strengthen their ties with Russia, which is the leading light in a Soviet economic bloc.

This Putin gambit has only two possible endings: a stronger Russia or a failed Putin.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 09, 2014.

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