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Ukraine

Opinion: Putin’s new doctrine on Ukraine

Vladimir Putin's new doctrine on Ukraine is creating conditions that threaten the country's sovereignty beyond Crimea, writes Bernd Johann.

As the world held its breath and a war over Crimea seemed imminent, Vladimir Putin remained resolutely silent. Now the Russian President has broken that silence. "Russia is not contemplating an annexation of Crimea," a relaxed Putin told journalists in Moscow. Yet Russia's use of military force over the past few days has violated Ukraine's sovereignty and integrity - and not only in Crimea.

Putin didn't need to deploy huge contingents of troops to the peninsula in order to achieve that. They were already there. Thousands of soldiers from the Russian Black Sea Fleet are stationed in the region. In addition to these, armed men with no insignia on their uniforms suddenly appeared. Soon the Ukrainian barracks in Crimea were surrounded, and a puppet Crimean government loyal to Moscow had been installed. Putin's claims that there is currently no need to deploy armed forces are thus more than a little cynical.

Interfering in a neighboring country

In reality, the Russian army has already taken control of Crimea. Over the past few days the Black Sea peninsula has effectively broken away from Ukraine. Thanks to the planned referendum on Crimea's future status, it's now probably only a matter of weeks before the region is beyond the reach of the government in Kyiv.

But Putin wants more, and he hasn't kept his goals a secret. In the view of the Russian president, Moscow reserves the right to use all available resources to deal with any unrest in eastern Ukraine. What happened in Ukraine was an unconstitutional coup, he says, and the new leadership in Kyiv doesn't have the legitimacy to make decisions about the future of the whole country.

Putin has outlined his position clearly. It's an approach that could go down in history as the "Putin Doctrine." It is his view that Interfering in the domestic affairs of another state is permissible, and that if Russia isn't prepared to accept a change of government in a neighboring country it can intervene at any time, and can even use military force if need be. Putin has got himself a blank check from the Russian parliament to pursue this policy, with an authorization for potential military intervention on Ukrainian territory.

Breach of international law

Perhaps Putin will stay out of western and central Ukraine, inlcuding Kyiv, because he is well aware that people there would put up massive resistance. But he may risk an intervention in the populous east, which has a higher proportion of ethnic Russians. An alleged request for assistance, as with Crimea, might suffice as a pretext. The situation there remains unclear after the change of power in Kyiv, and the new Ukrainian leadership is still struggling for recognition in the region.

Putin has broken his silence, and appears now to be ready to talk. However, the European Union and the United States should be aware that he will uncompromisingly insist that Ukraine falls under Russia's sphere of influence. He is not afraid of breaching either international law or the existing bilateral agreement between Russia and Ukraine.

Bernd Johann is head of DW's Ukrainian Service.

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