Russian President Vladimir Putin’s message was hard to miss last Friday as he strolled through the streets of Sevastopol on Victory Day. To invade a sovereign state, call its defenders “fascists” and blame its government for the resulting turmoil is all in a day’s work for Putin. The twisted political masterminding that has been Russia’s reaction to the crisis in Ukraine is perhaps Putin’s way of reminding the world that Russia is once more a major world power.
Having achieved the political gains he sought, Putin now calls for new dialogue to replace the violence. Instances of pro-Ukrainian forces attacking pro-Russian, such as that in Mariupol on May 9, will be portrayed in the Russian media not as Ukrainians defending their land from foreign invaders, but as violent militants killing Russians who desire only to return to the motherland. Putin can thus use the violence to rally support at home for his regime against the incorrigible Ukrainians.
As busy as the Security Council has found itself with the troubles of Nigeria, Syria and South Sudan, the 15 members have certainly not overlooked Russia’s aggression. One of the first to speak at the emergency Council meeting called in the wake of Friday’s violence in Odessa – where 46 persons, most of whom were pro-Russian, died when the headquarters was set ablaze – was Russian Representative Vitaly Churkin. It is hard to imagine that more than a few eyes did not roll at the Russians’ first complaint: Ukrainians are attacking Russians. This would seem to be expected when invading another country.
French Representative Gérard Araud spared no feelings in his response, going so far as to refer to the pro-Russian groups as “thugs terrorizing Ukraine.” Both the United Kingdom and United States joined France in her condemnation of the Russians and praise for the Ukrainian government’s restraint – although this restraint likely stems from Ukraine’s limited military capabilities. The delegate of Lithuania turned the discussion towards the hypocrisy of a Russia that will complain of Ukrainian conflict and remain indifferent to al-Assad’s regime’s attacks on its own people. Finally, the Representative of Ukraine offered, on behalf of Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, that those who surrender soon will be granted amnesty.
The very next day, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe hostages were finally released in Slovyansk after having been held for a little over a week. Yet, even as the Secretary General shared his approval with their freedom, he warned of growing tensions and the prolonged chaos. Even if the Russians withdrew tomorrow, having made their point, the Ukrainian people would have years of reconciliation ahead. For now, the world awaits the May 25 presidential elections, which will undoubtedly further change the situation.
– Erica Lignell