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Thursday 18th September 2014
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West Weak Against Putin's Muscle Moves

Thursday, 28th August 2014 18:29

His economy is giving way at the knees. His country faces decades in the cold. And he turns up the heat. It's hard not to admire Vladimir Putin?s sheer gall.

In his latest move he?s openly dispatched armoured columns of mobile artillery into Ukraine. Nato satellite imagery reveals the powerful cannon ranged onto Ukrainian targets.

This is an invasion force.

And it?s one that has been able to crash across Ukraine?s borders because the West just isn?t able to cope with the former judo champion?s muscle moves.

Nato estimated that at least 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine. These would be the gunners and support for the artillery.

But still reactions to the blatant abrogation of Ukrainian sovereignty has been mealy-mouthed.

"I'm extremely concerned by mounting evidence that Russian troops have made large-scale incursions into South Eastern Ukraine, completely disregarding the sovereignty of a neighbour," said David Cameron, the British Prime Minister.

"We urge Russia to pursue a different path and to find a political solution to this crisis.  If Russia does not, then she should be in no doubt that there will be further consequences."

The Kremlin has already been subjected to biting economic sanctions that have caused capital flight of some $100m (£60.3m), at least, this year - more than double the total from last year.

The European Union has threatened, but not implemented, sanctions on whole sectors of the Russian economy because its members can?t agree on how they should be imposed and who should bear the painful blowback.

The Russian president?s riding high in the polls.

His economy would have been weak by this time in the year anyway - it?s failed to modernise and has not converted oil riches into sustainable and efficient growth.

But now Mr Putin has an excuse for the tough times that will come ? the sanctions imposed after he annexed Crimea and supported separatists in eastern Ukraine.

He knows that, even though Ukraine is a Nato partner, the allies will not go to war over the former Soviet republic.

He also knows that Ukraine will top the agenda at the Nato summit in Wales.

The organisation has been noisy and posturing over Ukraine. It?s reinforced the nervous Baltic states, exercised its troops in eastern Europe and its secretary general has fulminated richly over Russia?s continued incursions.

This posturing may turn into a more coherent strategic response in Wales. This could include finance and intelligence help, extra weaponry and advice, for Ukraine.

Mr Putin knows this - which explains his invasion. It?s intended to relieve the pressure on his proxy forces there, but only in part.

It?s ultimately a land grab, the securing of a bridgehead inside Ukraine that, at the very least, will give him something to give up in later negotiations.

That is if he recognises that he can?t win but he could lose well.

If he hasn?t understood that, then his gall may turn to hubris - his pride that caused his fall.