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BREAKING RULES

After an ominous silence on Ukraine, Russia has finally taken the plunge. It has virtually taken over Crimea, the base of its Black Sea Fleet, and mobilized its troops along Ukraine’s border for imminent action — all to defend its peoples and national interests, as the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, would have the world believe. The world knows better because it has been here before, as in 2008, when Russian troops were only miles away from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, with the same professed objectives. The reason the safeguarding of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway provinces of Georgia, was so crucial to Russia then as Crimea and eastern Ukraine are now is because Russia continues to hold the same world view as it did during the Cold War era, and perhaps for aeons before that. The Soviet Union may have crumbled, Russia’s military prowess may have dwindled and the country may now command only a tiny section of the world’s gross domestic product, but it still believes that it has an imperial destiny to fulfil. It has to defend the Caucasus against the influence of the West and unify Eurasia under the benevolent leadership of Mr Putin. In 2008, Russia’s aggression in Georgia had prevented the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from expanding its sway in Georgia and Ukraine. Mr Putin hopes that the same stance may force the European Union to reconsider its plans in Ukraine. Since the West seems more war-weary than it was in 2008, it is possible that Russia may get away lightly and even get to keep Crimea as a protectorate.

But should the world allow Mr Putin that liberty, especially given his preaching on non-interventionism that has kept the bloodbath going in Syria? The EU members and the United States of America are pinning their hopes on long telephone conversations, the threat of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions to drive some sense into Mr Putin. But that alone may not work. Mr Putin also needs to get an earful about his hypocrisy from old friends and new allies such as those in the BRICS. India had stoutly defended Russia’s plea for non-interventionism regarding Syria. It needs to rev up the same logic now for Ukraine, with whom it signed a broad defence pact in 2012. Strangely though, India seems to have suddenly lost its voice. Is it because of all the shouting from the electoral podiums?