Ukrainian Weekly | 22Apr2018 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Punishing Russia at the G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting

It appears that the patience of many Western states with Russia has run its course. The mood will undoubtedly have repercussions at the G-7 foreign ministers meeting on April 22, 2018 in Toronto.

Recently Ukraine’s Western allies added top oligarchs and officials to sanctions already levelled against Russia for invading Crimea and the Donbas. This time, it was for poisoning British citizens and the chemical warfare carnage in Syria. As the United States added its heft, Russia’s stock fell in global markets, the ruble tumbled.

When the agenda for the G-7’s June 2018 summit was set last year, the world was much different. Then, there was talk about Russia’s attacks on the U.S. presidential election and uncomfortable coziness between people close to both presidents. Today, the whiff of scandal streaming from President Donald Trump’s entourage has turned into a major stink.

However, the latest addition to the sanctions was different. It picked on the heavy hitters. It sent a stronger message to Russia, which had mocked the previous sanctions and continued its soft and military attacks globally. Enough of your atrocities -- we’re not letting you continue getting away with your crimes. This cut Russia’s arrogance somewhat. According to Forbes magazine, the latest sanctions cost the oligarch state some $12 billion in one day.

Still, Russia’s response has been, as always, to brush off blame and withhold contrition. Its Foreign Affairs Ministry has puffed that, despite sanctions, “Russia will not deviate from its chosen direction.” Russia’s new “direction” claims that its only allies are “the army and the navy.”

Sounds like President Vladimir Putin is gearing up for something. He is baring his teeth in attempts to reconstruct Russia’s former empire, the Soviet Union. To him the price for the chaos he has rained globally -- ruined economies and cities, half a million dead, hundreds of thousands wounded, millions displaced -- is irrelevant. He wants more.

That is not a far-fetched notion. His aggression derives from treating the majority of Russia’s citizens -- living in Third World subsistence -- as cannon fodder in his war machine, which he needs to protect his fabulous wealth and that of a handful of his oligarch cronies. According to his propaganda pitch, however, it’s to protect Russia from the aggressive West.

Unprovoked military incursions and the deaths of some half-million people caused by his wars -- think Syria, Ukraine, Chechnya and more -- should be enough to condemn President Putin. Without appropriate punishment, he orchestrates soft -- but dangerously damaging -- warfare, including cyber-attacks and fake news. Russia’s plundering of Internet information to control elections, shift policies, and corrode the hearts and minds of citizens of other countries are the new weapons that must be dealt with.

The West needs to continue punishing Russia for its disdain for the rule of law and world peace. President Putin, who models his aggression on that of his predecessors of Russia’s Soviet regime, has proven over and over again that Russia is not, nor does it want to be, “one of us” -- a Western democracy. It is the enemy.

The G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting provides an excellent occasion to consolidate a united approach to Russia. The time for pussy-footing around accusations that the West is ganging up on Russia is over.

All eyes will be on Canada when the foreign ministers meet and make recommendations on how to secure global peace. Among them will be the Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Pavlo Klimkin.

The importance of the invitation to Ukraine offered by Canada which holds the G-7 leadership this year, must not be underestimated.

Presently, Ukraine is the only country standing up to Russia’s military aggression. It is also the front line of defense for NATO members -- all of them. Moreover, Ukraine knows the Kremlin’s mentality, the weaknesses and strengths of its cyber-warfare, propaganda tools and fake news. It has had centuries of experience dealing with this nasty neighbor. It also knows how to push back.

Now other Western countries must do so as well. The G-7 states, like Germany for instance, are well positioned to provide leadership. Chancellor Angela Merkel is spot on when she says that unless Russia withdraws from Ukraine there will be no Nord Stream 2. And it’s correct to freeze more oligarch assets abroad. And it is paramount to investigate Russia’s hand in America’s politics regardless of President Trump’s tantrums.

Furthermore, should President Putin persist in disregarding international law he himself must be added to the sanctions list. And further aggression from Russia must result in its removal from the SWIFT global banking system.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn may be contacted at [email protected].