A game of dumb charades is on in eastern Ukraine. Men in green military fatigues, mingling with the restive pro-Russian population, have been taking over government buildings, police stations, and then the town. Sloviansk and Gorlivka were the latest to fall. Unfortunately, the world has been unable to put a name to the aggrandizing moves of Russia and call them ‘invasion’, plain and simple. The reason behind this is that no one is keen to do what an invasion demands as a retaliatory action. Right at the onset of Russia’s unfolding game in Ukraine, the United States of America had pleaded that it would not be pursuing military intervention. That left only the sanctions route — the way both the US and the European Union headed every time there has been evidence of Russia overreaching. In its latest move, which comes after obvious Russian indiscretions, the US has imposed sanctions against seven government officials and 17 Russian companies. The EU’s list has 15 people, including the Russian military chief and deputy prime minister. The objective is to inflict economic pain and political isolation on Russia. Quite obviously, that punishment is destined to come in degrees because there is no indication that the West is thinking of a blanket imposition on the whole of Russia. The target is the inner circle of President Vladimir Putin, believed to be the chief architect and executor of the president’s grand designs in Ukraine. Mounting a challenge to the business, and hence political, clout of these men and corporations is thought to be one possible way of dissuading Mr Putin from pursuing his programme in Ukraine.
There is a lot of wisdom in not wanting to involve the world in a war. But the latest offensives against Russia seem to be more considerate towards the interests of EU countries and Russia than those of Ukraine, which appears to be heading towards a fracture with a civil-war like situation. Targeting the State-run enterprises in Russia would definitely hurt common Russians, but that is an essential way of chipping away at the domestic support for Mr Putin’s foreign policy. Again, it would hurt Europe if sanctions involved the Russian energy sector, which still powers the growth of many EU countries. But unless drastic measures, like those imposed on Iran, are enforced, Russia could go on threatening stability in Ukraine, and in the other Baltic countries as well.