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Eastern Ukraine: West must act to stop Putin’s aggression
07 February 2017 02:29

We cannot do nothing as Russia redraws Europe’s borders.

As international leaders jockey to set a new world order, vie for commanding positions, deal with Syria and fight the war on terrorism, there is a war taking place in which international values and principles, laws and accords, along with human and national rights are being criminally violated.

The Russian annexation of and aggression in eastern Ukraine continues; Crimea has not been returned to Kiev.

This major threat to international stability too often flies under the radar. The bigger the footprint into Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the more unstable Europe becomes. Poland, the Baltic states and others have real concerns and are now acting accordingly to try to ensure their national security.

Over the past few days in eastern Ukraine, Russia has again violated the Minsk II accord — the 2015 agreement between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany that was meant to be a road map to peace.

In a letter to Foreign Minister Julia Bishop last week, the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations called on the Austra­lian government to condemn the escalation of activity by Russian-terrorist forces in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine and demand Russia ceases hostilities immediately and complies strictly with the ceasefire.

These are the facts:

• In the past week there has been an escalation of fighting in Donbass, with the use of heavy artillery and mortars.

• Russian troops continue to shell Ukrainian positions, resulting in casualties and widespread destruction of property.

• The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces reported that 17 Ukrainian soldiers were killed by Russian-backed separatists, with another 96 wounded, on the eastern front in the six days to Saturday. These are believed to be conservative figures.

• Yasinovataya Avdiivka is without water, and without electricity, so there is no heating in an area where at this time of year the temperature does not rise above zero. The humanitarian situation is quickly deteriorating.

These actions by the Kremlin qualify as a war crime, a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949: “The unlawful, wanton and extensive destruction of property not caused by military necessity.”

Ukraine’s permanent representative Volodymyr Yelchenko told the UN in a briefing last week: “Ukraine continues to be fully committed to implementing the Minsk agreements in their entirety. The Ukrainian government is strongly focused on the peaceful and diplomatic means in this regard.

“On the contrary, Russia, as the party to the conflict in Donbass, and its proxies blatantly violated Minsk agreements from the very beginning. They continued their attacks and occupied several Ukrainian towns and localities. As for now, Russian proxies occupy about 1700sq km (beyond the agreed Minsk lines).”

In addition, Crimea, forcefully taken by Russia in 2014, remains in Russian hands. Crimea is part of Ukraine. Russia has unlawfully annexed it.

Last Thursday the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, expressed “strong condemnation of Russia’s actions” in eastern Ukraine and warned that Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia will not be lifted until Crimea is returned to Kiev.

“Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine,” she said.

Putin is violating international conventions because he holds them in contempt. And with so little military resistance and support for Ukraine from the international community, he is marching on.

Daniel Treisman, an analyst and professor of political science at the University of California at Los Angeles, wrote recently that “by annexing a neighbouring country’s territory by force, Putin overturned in a single stroke the assumptions on which the post-Cold War European order had rested”. He believes there are three plausible interpretations of Putin’s strategy:

• That the Crimean operation was a response to the threat of NATO’s further expansion along Russia’s western border.

• That Putin sees himself as a modern-day “Russian imperialist” and that Crimea is the first step in recapturing the former territories of the Soviet Union, that he has never accepted the loss of Russian prestige that followed the end of the Cold War and is determined to restore it.

• That Putin is an “improviser”— and the annexation of part of Ukraine was an impulsive decision that Russia stumbled into after former Russian-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych was forced out of office.

Georgetown University professor Phillip Karber, an international expert in matters of national security, was recently in Australia for a series of talks and showed intelligence evidence that the second interpretation is far more realistic and that this plan was laid out well before 2014.

Karber has been to eastern Ukraine more than 25 times, providing valuable strategic advice. His evidence is consistent with international thinking.

The situation in Ukraine needs attention now. There are more than 1.5 million displaced people — and many thousands dead — as a result of these Russian atrocities Humanitarian aid is required now as is robust military intervention from the West so that this episode does not escalate into all-out war.

The situation in eastern Ukraine is a perfect opportunity for the international community to draw a line in the sand: values and principles are non-negotiable.

We cannot idly stand by as the human rights of Ukrainians are crushed.

We cannot do nothing as Russia redraws Europe’s borders.

There may be a new world order taking shape, but there are old rules and principles that must guide it.

Stefan Romaniw is chairman of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations and secretary-general of the Ukrainian World Congress.

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