Newspaper article International New York Times

Russia's Aggression

Newspaper article International New York Times

Russia's Aggression

Article excerpt

The Putin government ignites condemnation with each move against Ukraine.

There was a lot to criticize about the way President Viktor Yanukovych's government was thrown out in Ukraine and hurriedly replaced with an interim team. The opposition should have known how critical it was to reassure all groups in that country that their rights would be respected in any new order; instead, one of the Parliament's first actions was to abolish a law that ensured a legal status for Russian and other minority languages, raising fears among Russian speakers that Ukrainian nationalists were taking over.

Yet none of this justifies President Vladimir Putin's cynical exploitation of the Ukrainian crisis to seize control of Crimea, nor any other power grab he may be hatching. The United States and the European Union have few effective levers short of military force, which is not an option, to compel Putin to back down, but they must make clear to him that he has stepped far outside the bounds of civilized behavior, and that this carries a steep price in international standing and in economic relations. Whatever else they do, the Western powers must provide prompt and substantial assistance to the Kiev government.

Mr. Putin's claim of an immediate threat to Ukrainian Russians is empty. There were scuffles in the industrial cities where Russians predominate, but nowhere were Russian speakers or Russian interests seriously threatened -- certainly not in Crimea, where Russians are the majority and the Russian Federation has military bases. If anything, Ukrainians there were in danger. And if the Parliament in Kiev was for the moment on a nationalist high, new presidential elections are not far off, and there are plenty of peaceful ways for Mr. Putin to make Russia's legitimate concerns and national interests clear to the interim rulers. …

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