Summer Sale Extended! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
The Baltimore Sun

Vladimir Putin's shopping list: Which country could be next?

After Russia's recent actions in Ukraine, it's no surprise that other countries bordering Russia are wondering where they stand on Vladimir Putin's shopping list. That they are on the list is a given.

Article 61 of Russia's Constitution promises that "the Russian Federation shall guarantee its citizens defense and patronage beyond its boundaries." In other words, Russia shall protect any Russian citizen who is mistreated while outside Russia.

On its face, Article 61 may seem reasonable. In practice it is toxic, providing legal justification for illegal acts outside Russia's borders. Article 61 is reminiscent of the Soviet Union's infamous Article 58, which forbade "counter-revolutionary action" within and outside the Soviet Union.

Article 61 contains no due process standards. Neither does it utilize international dispute resolution tools. In today's Russia, if Vladimir Putin wishes to take action, he does so.

But at what point does Article 61's guarantee stop? If an amorous Russian student is slapped by a Ukrainian lass, will Russian tanks roll into Kiev? For that matter, if Russian citizens in Santa Monica complain about a lack of affordable housing, should we expect Russian spetsnaz forces to take over Santa Monica's City Hall and hold gunpoint elections to decide whether Santa Monica should join the Russian Federation?

Article 61 invites reduction into absurdity. But, in the real world, Russia's attack on Georgia and its annexation of Crimea have, with an Alice in Wonderland logic, turned the absurdity of Article 61 into the reality of Russian tanks and soldiers invading a neighboring country.

Emulating Hitler and Stalin, Putin justifies his aggression in Georgia and Ukraine by asserting Article 61's mandate to protect Russian citizens. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, "We are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights — the right to live — and nothing more."

But for the names, the Russian and Nazi justifications for their respective actions in Czechoslovakia and Ukraine are indistinguishable. "For months the Germans in Sudetenland have been suffering under the torture of the Czechoslovak government," Hitler said in a 1938 speech. "The Sudeten German population was and is a German [population]. This German minority living there has been ill-treated in the most distressing manner."

Lavrov has failed to cite specific examples of how "the right to live" was violated in Ukraine, perhaps because the image he creates of Russians living in virtual concentration camps is belied by the fact that there has been no stream of refugees fleeing Ukraine to seek safety in Russia. Neither, to our knowledge, have Ukraine's Russian speakers been seeking political asylum in Russia or any other country. Article 61 is an excuse.

Absent effective, proactive measures by the European Union and its national components, as well as by NATO and the United States, Putin will continue to cite Article 61 and use provocateurs to stir the waters as he tries to restore the Soviet Empire country by country.

For many who reside in the former Soviet republics — Eastern Europe and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania —the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine is a nightmare that they'd hoped the fall of the Soviet Union had removed. They recall the mass deportations, killings and economic deprivations that took place under Soviet rule. They, and we, in the 21st century are witnessing an attempt to reinstitute 18th and 19th century colonialism.

During the course of the Russian Revolution and the civil war that ensued, the czarist empire disintegrated. Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians — the people living in each of the czar's colonies declared their independence. But as the Bolsheviks consolidated power, each of these newly independent countries was forcibly reunited with Russia, this time as part of the Soviet empire. Only Finland and the Baltic states escaped the Soviet Union's immediate embrace.

Twenty-years later, Finland's valiant fight against Soviet troops in the Winter War helped it maintain a precarious independence that gave rise to the term "Finlandization."

The Baltic states were less fortunate. As part of a secret deal between Hitler and Stalin, they again became part of the Soviet Union. Putin's tactical moves in Georgia and Ukraine are strongly reminiscent of Stalin's tactics in forcibly incorporating Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union. Once again, we've seen a mass troop buildup on the borders, choreographed requests for protection, the entry of troops and gunpoint elections.

Putin cares no more about the plight of Russians outside Russia than he does for the plight of Russians within Russia. Article 61 simply provides an excuse to the gullible. He will not be stopped by wishful thinking. Concrete action needs to be taken. Only then can we enjoy "peace in our time."

Jaak Treiman, Juris Bunkis and Daiva Navarrette are honorary consuls for, respectively, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • It's time for the U.S. to give Ukraine a defensive military boost

    It's time for the U.S. to give Ukraine a defensive military boost

    Fearful of provoking a new Cold War with Russia, the Obama administration has for months resisted pleas that it provide weapons to the government of Ukraine. This page has supported that cautious policy, worrying that military assistance to the government in Kiev would seem to create a proxy war...

  • The West can't placate Putin; it needs to help Kiev fight back

    The West can't placate Putin; it needs to help Kiev fight back

    As Western countries respond to the resumption of all-out war in Ukraine, they must ensure that the driving force behind the hostilities — Moscow — pays a greater cost for the rising civilian death toll. European Union foreign ministers are set to meet Thursday to discuss deepening sanctions against...

  • U.S., Russia should return to on-site inspections for treaty claims

    U.S., Russia should return to on-site inspections for treaty claims

    The ongoing diplomatic back-and-forth between the United States and Russia would have you believe that the future viability of the history-making Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is nil. That would represent a major setback for arms control — and the security of the world. Beyond banning...

  • Kiev's brutal strategy in eastern Ukraine

    Kiev's brutal strategy in eastern Ukraine

    In mid-December, President Obama signed into law the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which, among options for more sanctions against Russia, calls on the White House to provide Kiev with assistance for internally displaced persons as well as to cooperate with international organizations to distribute...

  • Ukraine should put Russia to the test

    Ukraine should put Russia to the test

    Ukraine is now strong enough to seize the initiative to create a lasting cease-fire in its Donbas Rust Belt, currently occupied by Russia and its proxies. And Russia may be weak enough to be receptive. It is in Kiev's interest to do so. A state of permanent war with Russia would damage Ukraine's...

  • Should Ukraine rewrite history and reacquire nuclear weapons? No and no.

    Should Ukraine rewrite history and reacquire nuclear weapons? No and no.

    Twenty years ago in Budapest, Hungary, leaders of the United States, Russia, Britain and Ukraine signed a memorandum on nuclear weapons and Ukrainian security. It committed Ukraine to remove nuclear arms from its territory and join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a nonnuclear-weapon state...

Comments
Loading
79°