When Georgia was on the verge of joining Nato in 2008, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin stirred up bitter separatist tensions, made baseless claims of genocide, and carried out military exercises nearby.
His proxies fired pot-shots over the border, then evacuated civilians from areas under their control, on the bogus pretext of saving them from aggression.
There was a short war that ended with Russian tanks 30 miles from the capital Tbilisi and two chunks of the country breaking away as self-declared republics.
But the former KGB chief denied he had any imperial ambitions, insisting Russia had ‘no wish or grounds to encroach on the sovereignty of former Soviet republics’.
How hollow those words sound now as history looks set to repeat itself, with this hateful dictator using identical tactics and trickery in Ukraine.
Just as when he invaded and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, he is operating through proxies to achieve his aims of corroding democracy and thwarting a sovereign nation’s desire to find stability under the defensive shield of Nato.
Yet for all his talk of Western influence in Ukraine, Putin’s real aim is simple: To prevent democracy from infecting his own blighted citizens and leading them to challenge his corrupt regime, one that has failed them so badly.
Vladimir Putin’s real aim is simple: To prevent democracy from infecting his own blighted citizens and leading them to challenge his corrupt regime, one that has failed them so badly. Pictured: Putin addresses the nation on the recognition of independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics
Once again we see Putin’s stooges in two breakaway republics –Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine – fabricating attacks and evacuating civilians.
And, once again, Putin makes phoney assertions of genocide, as well as lying about Ukrainian attacks on mother Russia.
With his customary twisting of the truth, the president claimed last night he had always treated his neighbour in an ‘honest way and with respect to Ukraine’s interests’.
That could not be further from reality – especially as he signed the decree formally recognising the two republics, paving the way for a possible further invasion that might have cataclysmic consequences for our continent.
The current conflict began in 2014 when a corrupt Russian-backed president of Ukraine fled after pro-democracy protests erupted across the nation following his decision to abandon moves to sign a co-operation deal with the European Union.
Putin reacted to the ousting of his ally by stealing Crimea – the first annexation of sovereign territory in Europe since the Second World War.
He then sent in his tanks and troops when it seemed Ukraine was on the point of crushing rebels that he supported in Donbas.
This led to full-scale fighting, followed by a peace deal known as Minsk 2 that resulted in a 173-mile frontline across eastern Ukraine between the Kiev regime and the two self-declared republics. The conflict, which left 14,000 people dead and two million people displaced, has flickered ever since.
Russian and Belarus soldiers during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus as part of an inspection of the Union State’s Response Force, at a firing range near Brest
U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, deployed to Poland to reassure NATO allies and deter Russian aggression
The hastily-agreed peace treaty, backed by Putin and signed under pressure by Kiev, was imperfect and never fully implemented. It envisaged ‘special status’ for the two ’republics’ – although their status and political structures were ill-defined – and would have given Russia control over Ukraine’s future.
Now Putin has torn up the treaty after a carefully-choreographed routine that began last Tuesday when the lower house of the Russian parliament voted to ask their puppet-master to recognise the separatist regions.
Then the Russian leader called a meeting of his security council, at which ministers and security chiefs lined up to demand recognition of the ‘republics’. ‘We were left with no choice,’ claimed foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
So what can we deduce from the latest manoeuvres?
First, that Putin has effectively stolen another chunk of Ukraine and breached international law by undermining another nation’s territorial integrity – even if those in charge of the ‘republics’ have not yet asked to formally join Russia as I write.
However, they have signed a ‘friendship and mutual assistance’ treaty which means Putin can be asked to send in ‘military assistance’ or ‘peacekeepers’ – and last night, in an ominous move, it emerged he has already given an order to send his armed forces into the ‘republics’.
Given the forces massed on the border and his ceaseless lies about Ukrainian attacks and Nato aggression, this could lead to ‘defensive’ intervention elsewhere in the country.
Indeed, if full-scale war erupts, the start might be dated to last Thursday when the shelling across the border was massively increased – from an average of five a day to 60 – 66 on Friday, and more than 100 on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Putin claimed last night that ‘Ukraine’s military strategy is nothing less than the preparation for military actions against Russia’ – an absurd suggestion that would be suicidal for Kiev given the imbalance of forces between the two nations.
We must hope the West stands firm and imposes every possible sanction on this brutal thug to punish him as he rips apart a neighbouring nation based on specious historical arguments and makes preparations to invade again on utterly spurious grounds. Pictured: Boris Johnson on Monday
Yet this malevolent dictator – with four yachts and a billion-pound palace on the Black Sea – who has overseen the pillaging of his resource-rich nation by his band of patsy oligarchs, even had the cheek to argue that corruption had eroded Ukrainian ‘statehood’ and Kiev’s politicians were robbing their people.
Having spent five weeks in Ukraine – and having previously been witness to the appalling events of 2014 – I can feel only sorry for all those decent people I have met and interviewed whose only desire is peace and security for themselves, their families and their friends.
And my sorrow extends to a nation that has been struggling to escape the Soviet shadow in pursuit of democracy but is being dismembered by a despot who once worked for the Communist secret police and now seeks to protect himself and his thieving pals from his own people.
We must hope the West stands firm and imposes every possible sanction on this brutal thug to punish him as he rips apart a neighbouring nation based on specious historical arguments and makes preparations to invade again on utterly spurious grounds.
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