Monday, May 26, 2014

Europe’s Russian Nightmare

As Russia covertly invaded the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March, Januzs Bugajaski of the Center for Strategic and International Studies explained Europe’s perspective: 

“There’s a palpable fear throughout Eastern Europe that the Russian government no longer respects the borders of Europe, the map of Europe, that it will unilaterally change the borders of its neighbors on the pretext whether of defending minority rights, restoring law and order, or whatever it is, in order to try to expand its influence and expand its control over parts of territories of neighboring countries,” he told PBS Newshour. 

Two months later, exactly that is happening in eastern Ukraine. Two regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, used slipshod referendums on Sunday to secede from Ukraine. Luhansk has already asked to join Russia. And Russian troops remain at the border.

              europe map
About a quarter of people in Latvia and Estonia consider themselves Russian. About 6% of Lithuanians do.

The destabilization is starting to creep into other post-Soviet states that serve as a buffer between Moscow and Europe. Belarus already backs Putin, and a senior Russian politician said that he has a petition from the breakaway Moldova region of Transnistria to join Russia.
Transnistria, which borders the strategic Ukraine region of Odessa, is home to some 2,500 Russian soldiers and half-a-million people (30% of them ethnic Russians). 

In the Balkans, Russia stopped sharing military information with Lithuania while all three countries are bolstering their defenses with help from the West.

“[The annexation of Crimea] opens the Pandora’s box to potential annexation of numerous neighboring states of Russia,” Bugajaski noted. 

Meanwhile, Europe has lacked the political will to enact significant sanctions on Russia, mostly because the EU relies on Moscow for energy. As they hesitate, the borders of Eastern Europe are being redrawn.

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