That is because for Putin and those who support him, Ukraine cannot be allowed to be independent of Russia in any fundamental way. For Putinists, Ukraine is not a state, Ukrainians are not a nation, and Russia must dominate and include them all. Indeed, the Kremlin leader and his propagandists have regularly insisted on those false propositions.
Consequently, Skobov continues, “Putin will use any opportunity not to allow what would be viewed within the country as ‘a geopolitical defeat.’ And therefore, the issue of Ukrainian autocephaly certainly could be one of the causes which led him to provoke ‘the Kerch crisis.’”
But it isn’t the only one. The other cause is the problematic geographic position of Crimea which Putin seized and annexed in 2014. “Putin cannot be certain of the firmness of his acquisition until he establishes control not only over a land corridor to Crimea … but also over lands adjoining the canal supplying Crimea with water from the Dnepr.”
“This does not mean,” the Moscow commentator continues, “that Putin has already taken a decision to begin a widescale war with Ukraine. But the annexation of Crimea will remain a constant source of tensions which will give rise to ever new conflict situations,” each of which the Kremlin leader will try to exploit to achieve the destruction of Ukraine.
Putin’s “empire like a shark cannot exist except in movement. Otherwise it will drown. So too the empire. Having started on the path of international brigandage, Putin already cannot stop himself.” And having shown himself prepared to ignore all the existing rules of the game, he must continue to do so, even if the consequences become more serious.
The Kremlin leader’s mantra about Russia “’rising from its knees’” is like Hitler’s ‘throwing off the shackles of Versailles.’” It is not something that is achieved once and for all but rather something that requires ever more aggression and ever more violation of international norms and laws, the commentator says.
“The goal of Putin’s Kremlin is to force the surrounding world to agree to close its eyes to his international crimes. That is what the Kremlin calls ‘taking our interests into account.’ As long a law remains a factor in international relations and isn’t driven out by force, the Kremlin’s control of Crimea will be insecure.”
That has consequences that many leaders in the West have not yet been willing to face up to, Skobov suggests. Politeness and appeals are not going to be enough to prompt Putin to change. “Putin can be stopped only by force” because Putinism is “an infection” of the international system, one that must destroy that system or be destroyed by it.
“In order not to die, the organism must suppress the source of the infection,” Skobov says; and in this case, “the surrounding world must force the Russian Federation to leave Crimea.” Nothing short of that will prevent Putin from behaving worse and worse and thus threatening the world more and more.