When Russian President Vladimir Putin offered humanitarian aid to those in Eastern Ukraine who were affected by fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists, the West expected anything from another PR stunt to make Russia look like a generous benefactor being vilified by the West to a covert invasion of Ukraine. After the humanitarian convoy of over 200 trucks trespassed into Ukraine via separatist controlled border posts, instead of waiting for the Red Cross to be able to escort the aid into Ukraine and check all of the trucks, which were largely empty, the world was left searching for answers when the convoy returned to Russia within hours. Although it was possible Russia may have been attempting to evacuate Russian troops, rebel forces, and other evidence from Eastern Ukraine as part of a drawdown strategy, this hope was quickly dashed when supposed separatist-controlled tanks were spotted entering Ukraine from Russia a day later.
Since then, the world has seen mounting evidence of a Russian invasion as supposed-rebel forces began taking over new territory along the Ukrainian-Russian border, which would give Russia a land route to the Crimea territory it blatantly stole from Ukraine in March and secure Russia’s control over the Sea of Azov’s energy bounty. Given Russian troops have been captured within Ukraine and NATO has observed Russian forces flowing into Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see even the most minuscule validity in Putin’s version of reality. The Russian government, however, continues to spin the truth for the sake of an audience disillusioned with the West and/or seeking the favor of Russia. If Putin was going to allow the Ukrainian Crisis to be resolved, he would have used talks between Russia and Ukraine to make his government appear heroic, but Russia does what it wants and Russia wants to secure its influence over Ukraine.
As winter approaches, Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas for heating, the ability and willingness of political leaders to implement sanctions against Russia will only wane. Meanwhile, the US and its allies are trying to deal with the Islamic State crisis in the Middle East, among other issues, thus Putin understands the West wants to see the Ukrainian Crisis resolved as soon as possible. Given Russia’s duel track strategy of engaging in talks with Ukraine and the increased military activity occurring in Ukraine, it would appear Russia may well be giving the West an “out.” That is, Putin is giving the West the diplomatic solutions we want so Western powers can save face and reverse our sanctions against Russia while quickly moving to suppress Ukrainian independence in order to avoid political backlash that protracted conflicts tend to attract when stories continually saturate the news. Quite frankly, the West should not abandon Ukraine as doing so would only undermine the legitimacy of the International Community and encourage Russia, as well as other countries, to simply force their will onto weaker states. Consequently, the West needs to aggressively balance Russian propaganda with well-framed facts and ratchet-up sanctions against Russia to their highest possible level in order to end this conflict before war becomes the only solution.
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