UK & World News

  • 3 March 2014, 3:44

Russia Stands With Putin Over Ukraine Gamble

President Vladimir Putin asked his parliament for permission to use Russian troops in Ukraine, but the result was never in doubt.

His senate voted unanimously in favour with almost palpable glee, applauding themselves as they did.

Where much of the international community sees a leader dangerously poised on the verge of annexing Crimea, his supporters see much to like.

The case that Mr Putin is making is one that resonates well in Russia: that he is being forced to act to protect the lives of Russian citizens, compatriots, and Russian armed forces in Ukraine.

In other words, that he is defending Russian national interests and lives.

That much of the rest of the world considers those interests to be part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine is not necessarily a problem for Russia.

In Moscow, the state propaganda machine is already in overdrive, dismissing Oleksandr Turchynov as the "self-imposed president" and dismissing the mass protest movement as extremists and armed gangs.

Mr Putin has made his case and he will likely stick to it: that a legitimately-elected president has been overthrown and Russian citizens are under threat.

And there are ever-increasing numbers of them to protect. An estimated 143,000 Ukrainians have been issued with Russian passports in the last two weeks, including members of the Berkut riot police.

The old Kremlin tactic of passport politics seems to be alive and flourishing in Ukraine.

The next 24 hours will see the inevitable volley of stern diplomatic warnings and rhetoric from all sides, but Moscow will be scrutinising all those words for any real threat of action, and so far there is not much to fear.

One commentator characterised US President Barack Obama's latest statement on Ukraine as: "Stop, or I'll say stop again."

The US has now paused preparations for this summer's Russian-hosted G8 summit.

Mr Putin does not respond to threats of condemnation. He has never sought approval, just respect.

He wants Russia to be seen as a great superpower once again, and himself as its strongman president.

If that means playing the bad cop in the West and weathering a diplomatic storm, he probably will not lose much sleep.

For Russia, this is about more than just the loss of Ukraine joining the EU. It's about Europe, Nato - the old Cold War bogeyman of the West - advancing right up to the Russian border, and Moscow does not like that at all.

Mr Putin wants to defend his sphere of influence and the national interest. They count for much more in the Kremlin than whether Mr Obama does or does not come to Sochi for G8.

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