Putin escalates his creeping war in Ukraine

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Russian tanks and mechanized infantry have invaded Ukraine's Donbas and occupied the so-called secessionist enclaves of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin calls his armored forces "peacekeepers," sent to protect ethnic Russians threatened by Ukrainian genocide.

No one sane believes it. Putin leverages the bloody script Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia used in the 1990s to justify invading Bosnia and Croatia, waging a war in Europe that left some 250,000 dead.

In 2008 Putin used his version of the script. He sent special forces and infantry into Georgia, igniting the Russo-Georgian War. He claimed breakaway enclaves South Ossetia and Abkhaz faced ethnic cleansing.

The Bush administration airlifted a Georgian infantry brigade from Iraq to Tbilisi. The American reaction curbed the Kremlin's aggression and led to a ceasefire. Putin, however, kept soldiers in the enclaves.

In 2014 Putin's script included new lines. Early 2014: Russian agitators orchestrated incidents to "prove" the propaganda that violent "Ukrainian fascists" threatened Russians living in Crimea. February 2014: Putin launched a quick invasion of Crimea, using Russian special operations forces in unmarked green uniforms. Russia was recovering lost territory and protecting Russian ethnics!

March 2014: Putin annexed Crimea. For the first time since WWII, military aggression in Europe by a major European power led to annexation and territorial expansion. Moreover, Russia violated the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, a multilateral diplomatic agreement guaranteeing Ukraine's territorial integrity.

In April 2014 the murderous drama began again. Ethnic Russian agitators in eastern Ukraine demanded political unification with Mother Russia. A suspicious group in Donetsk begged the Kremlin to send "temporary" peacekeeping troops.

And ever since, eastern Ukraine has suffered a slow war of creeping Russian aggression.

This week the war escalated, drastically. On Feb. 21 Putin announced that the two Ukrainian enclaves are independent countries. My bet on his next move: they become Russian territory.

At the strategic level Putin made the war a direct challenge to the NATO alliance. No, Ukraine isn't a NATO nation, but Poland is, and Poland is worried. So are the Baltic states. Putin sees divisions in NATO, and he is exploiting them.

Huge spikes in energy prices -- petro-rubles swelling Putin's military budget -- fueled this week's aggression. High oil prices give the Kremlin money to spend on war.

The single largest error in judgment contributing to the price surge? President Joe Biden's decision to stifle U.S. oil fracking and kill the Keystone pipeline. Biden's "green policies" also undermine U.S. energy independence, and Americans are paying an economic price. We've a bitter example of an incompetent and ignorant White House inflicting major damage to U.S. foreign policy and our own

Now Biden and NATO dither on how to penalize Russia. Germany's Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia is on hold. Putin expected that. Attacking Russian finances will hurt, but Russian troops in Ukraine are now a hard fact on the ground. They have advantageous positions with relatively little bloodshed. Adolf Hitler did the same when his forces re-militarized the Rhineland on March 7, 1936.

What's Putin's strategic goal? We've known for quite some time. Putin is assembling the RUBK -- "Rubik" as in the puzzle Rubik's Cube.

I'll quote from a column I wrote in November 2004. At some point a Russian leader would emerge who would try "to return to super-power status..." and restore key elements of the Soviet Union's empire. This leader would attempt "to link the core empire strength: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan (RUBK)...

"Russia, plus Ukraine, plus Belarus, plus Kazakhstan is a geo-strategic formula for a global power re-born."

One last quote: "In 2004, the Kremlin of President Vladimir Putin still sees the economic benefits of a RUBK federation. He also sees it as a way to bring ethnic Russians back inside the borders of Mother Russia."

Putin denies he seeks to recreate the Soviet Union. He lies.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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