With parliamentary elections around the corner, Putin’s "United Russia" (UR) is polling at record low levels, and Putin’s individual approval ratings aren’t any better. The economic consequences of the pandemic and the sanctions are having their effect on the country and subsequently ordinary Russians are starting to feel it in their pockets.
When in 2014 the Russian troops entered and annexed Crimea: Putin’s ratings and support for UR skyrocketed. In 2016 UR took a whopping 343 seats out of 450 in the Duma while in 2018 Putin managed to take nearly 77% of the votes in the first round. There of course are many questions whether all of this was free, transparent and democratic. One though cannot deny that both the UR and Putin are quite popular in Russia, controlling the media plays its part in that.
In his bid to revive his popularity and to help his party hold on to the majority in the Duma, Putin is trying to play the national unity through a conflict game. The same one he played in 2014, for a few weeks now the Russian army has been relocating to regions which border with Ukraine. Russia has moved quite a sizable amount of tanks, fighter jets and the navy close to Ukraine. Their excuse? We can do anything we want on our territory. The manoeuvres remind many of those which occurred in 2014, soon after which we learned that the Russian helicopters, tanks and fighter jets have entered Crimea. Later we learned about Donbas, a conflict now lasts for seven years and in which up until now nearly 15,000 lost their lives.
What we’re seeing today on the news is a Russian show of power which comes with a question: what will the west do? According to the US, there are as many Russian troops near the Ukrainian borders as there has not been since the war broke out in 2014, in addition to that, in the entire of Russia a readiness assessment of the armed forces was carried out. At the same time the Kremlin picked up on its war rhetoric, the Russian state media are doing their job to make it look as if Ukraine was actually preparing for war rather than Russia. Since last week the Russian air force, army and the navy are carrying out drills which.
The US European Command raised their status to the highest alert and their nuclear bombers have flown near Ukraine. Many of the Eastern European NATO and EU members are closely monitoring the situation, just days ago the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs paid a visit to Kiev in a show of solidarity and support to the Ukrainian counterparts.
The US, EU and UK have pledged their backing to Ukraine already, while at the same time suspicious US planes have been landing in Kiev some suspect that the US is sending equipment to Ukraine.
The question is what should we do (we as in NATO & EU)? The answer isn’t complicated, we should prepare a list of sanctions and announce them publicly which we will place on Russia if they decide to move into Ukraine. Those should include sanctioning Russian debt and the freezing of assets in the west of top Kremlin officials. Another good idea would be for the Germans to pull out from Nord Stream 2, which however seems very unlikely. Supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty should be our goal.
It is yet unclear as to what the Russian’s are planning. What is clear though is that we must not ignore their show of force and respond to it accordingly. If there is one thing we learned from 2014 is that we shouldn’t underestimate Russia, we did so in 2014 and as a result today Crimea is a lost cause if we do it again we might lose Ukraine.