Russia is certainly flexing its military muscles. Masked pro-Russian gunmen have seized two airports in Crimea, in the south of Ukraine. They are being protected by Russian military personnel from nearby bases Ukraine has leased to Russia. Jets from Russia’s air force are invading Crimean airspace, which has now been shut to commercial traffic.
“I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation,” Ukraine’s interim interior minister, Arsen Avakov, writes on Facebook.
At a minimum, the tactics being used are right out of an old Russian playbook. Russia taunts an adversary, hoping to provoke some verbal or physical response that could justify further “intervention.”
For the West, the time to deter a further escalation is now. Leading representatives from the European Union, including Poland, should fly into Ukraine immediately and accept an invitation to tour all of the trouble spots and file a report.
Among the areas that should be highlighted is the port city of Odessa, a heavily pro-Russian area but one that’s Western in its orientation because of its extensive trade ties. Business and political figures from the Odessa area are completely opposed to Russia’s machinations and their voices need to be heard.
Ukraine is now a test of the West’s ability to stand up and deter aggression. If its response is weak, you can bet an emboldened Vladimir Putin will only step up his efforts to destabilize the new Ukrainian government.