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 Financial Times: Russia’s actions are anything but illegal and highly dangerous

In the past year, Vladimir Putin has become almost as notorious for his falsehoods as for the truth of his actions in Ukraine.

Samuel Charap wrote in his article "The purpose of Putin's diplomatic acrobatics" for the Financial Times, Censor.NET reports.

He delivered a perfect example in a state television documentary this month: "Our ultimate objective was not the seizure of Crimea or some sort of annexation," he said. "[Instead,] it was to give people the opportunity to express their opinion about how they want to live. . . Since we stayed below the maximum number of troops allowed on our base in Crimea, we actually didn't violate anything."

In addition to this denial, and the gloss of "self-determination" on the annexation of Crimea, Mr Putin's persistent disavowals of Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine have become staples of the Kremlin's script.

With these rhetorical acrobatics he and his senior officials have destroyed any diplomatic credibility they had, undermining the personal rapport among leaders needed for negotiations. Moreover, with basic facts disputed by their interlocutors, western officials find it almost impossible to engage in diplomacy about urgent geopolitical developments such as Moscow's military activities in Ukraine.

Yet Mr Putin's goal is not to deceive his counterparts. He knows western leaders have been briefed by their intelligence services, which have spy satellites and other capabilities that make it almost impossible to send tanks into Ukraine unnoticed. So why continue to lie?

Read also: European leaders have to "learn from Putin" and to provide covert support to Ukraine - Soros

The usual explanation is that he needs to keep his public in the dark. Although the "return" of Crimea is highly popular, most Russians oppose a war with Ukraine. But domestic politics alone cannot explain the stream of un­truths.Just 2 per cent of Russians support Ukrainian government forces re­taking control of rebel-held areas. On the pretext of preventing that outcome, Mr Putin could justify involvement in the conflict to the public - especially with his approval rating at 88 per cent.

The more compelling explanation is international. Russia is often denounced in the west as a revisionist power, determined to tear down the postwar international order. Given Moscow's flagrant violations of basic principles of international law, and its bilateral and multilateral commitments to Ukraine, these allegations have merit.

Yet if Russia were a truly revisionist power, its leaders would not be devising ever more creative ways to portray the country as a law-abiding actor. Instead of conducting a referendum in Crimea, no matter how preposterously biased, Mr Putin would simply have seized the peninsula without engaging in any procedure or any explanation. Rather than denying his invasion of Ukraine's east, this revisionist Putin would have been the first to announce his troops' progress across the frontier. And he would have had no hesitation in admitting that he would continue violating his neighbor's sovereignty as long as he deemed it in Russia's interests to do so.

Read also: State Duma wants to reinstate Putin's right to send troops to Ukraine: U.S. wants to prevent Russia from "developing into a new superpower"

In other words, paradoxically, Moscow could well be lying about its behavior in Ukraine not because it wants to destroy the international system but because it wants to preserve it; hypocrisy, after all, is the homage vice pays to virtue. As the legal successor of the Soviet Union, Russia was one of the system's architects. It is a veto-wielding permanent member of its central decision-making body, the UN Security Council. The Kremlin sees itself as behaving much like Washington, which devises clever legal arguments for what are considered in Moscow grave in­stances of rule-breaking; the invasion of Iraq, say, or the recognition of Kosovo. Many in the Kremlin would say great powers can and do break the rules - but they must cloak their violations in rhetoric to prevent others following suit.

None of this is to say that Russia's actions are anything but illegal and highly dangerous. But perhaps we in the west should not be so worked up about all the lying. It might be much worse for the international order if Mr Putin were to start telling the truth.

 
 
 
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