Skip to main content

Why Vladimir Putin isn't going to make peace

By Yuri Yarim-Agaev
updated 5:40 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
Russia's President Vladimir Putin is a popular but polarizing figure who has dominated Russian politics for more than a decade. Click through to see some highlights of his career. Russia's President Vladimir Putin is a popular but polarizing figure who has dominated Russian politics for more than a decade. Click through to see some highlights of his career.
HIDE CAPTION
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
Putin in power
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yuri Yarim-Agaev: The West's response to Putin's Ukraine policy has been murky
  • He says some are looking to Putin as a potential peacemaker in Ukraine battle
  • Author: Putin is the cause of the Ukraine conflict and should be treated that way
  • He says the West needs to take a much firmer stance against Russia's actions

Editor's note: Yuri Yarim-Agaev, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a scientist and human rights activist who was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1980 after he took a prominent role in the dissident movement. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- The killing of 298 innocent people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a crime, a consequence of the war against Ukraine that Vladimir Putin started, and which he supplies, directs and controls. The Russian President bears full responsibility for this war, including the downing of the Malaysian airliner.

The main problem with our reaction to Russian aggression is not even the mildness of our sanctions, but the lack of clarity of their purpose. Our message to Putin is very confused. Do we want him completely out of Ukraine, or do we want his help in dealing with that country? They are two very different requests.

Despite Putin's offenses, Western leaders apparently still want him to play an active role in securing peace and stability. According to the White House, on July 17, "President Obama called on President Putin to take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation, including pressing separatists to agree to a cease-fire."

Yuri Yarim-Agaev
Yuri Yarim-Agaev

After the Malaysian airliner was shot down, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Putin to use his influence with the rebels to ensure a cease-fire. In recent appearances on several TV shows, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Putin to take "immediate and clear action to reduce tensions in Ukraine," "to step up and make a difference," and "to use all his influence."

Despite their harsh words for Putin, leaders of the West still want his help. British Prime Minister David Cameron summed it up best when he said: "We sometimes behave as if we need Russia more than Russia needs us."

Putin is only too glad to put on sheep's clothing and assume the role of peacemaker that he has pretended to be throughout the war that he himself started. According to him, annexing Crimea, shooting down airplanes and supporting separatists has only one purpose: to protect the Ukrainian people from alleged right-wing extremists.

If you want Putin's help, beware of what you are asking. He would be glad to broker a "diplomatic solution" with the separatists, thus legitimizing his terrorists and entrenching them on Ukrainian territory.

Putin strikes back against sanctions
Does Putin want war in Ukraine?

If that option doesn't work, we can imagine the following completely different scenario: Russian tanks roll over Donetsk. Instead of supporting the separatists, Putin arrests leaders of the Donetsk republic and persecutes them for terrorizing the local population. Blaming the Ukrainian government for its inability to protect people from the terrorists, he establishes full control over the territory, and leaves Russian troops there to secure law, order and tranquility.

How would the world react to such a "peacekeeping mission"? Would the Ukrainian army fight Russian troops? Would Western political leaders accept this as a plausible option? I do not know. But what is more important, Putin doesn't know either. We should make very clear that we would not accept Putin as a peacekeeper and we want him out of Ukraine.

Western governments should not implicitly accept the aggressive doctrine called the "Russian World," which was endorsed by Putin, and which gives him the right to intervene into the affairs of virtually any sovereign nation, as he did in Ukraine, using the pretext of protecting Russian-speaking citizens.

The major concern of Western leaders is that by taking a strong stand against Putin, we may lose him as a useful partner in the world arena. We shouldn't worry about that. History clearly demonstrates that in all major international trouble spots in which we accepted Putin as our partner, Russia has always taken the side of the West's enemy. Such has been the case with Iraq, North Korea, Syria and Iran.

It was only natural for Putin to use any invitation on our part as an opportunity to damage us. One should not expect anything different from a person with the background of a KGB officer, for whom America always has been enemy No. 1, and for whom anti-Americanism is a pillar of his power.

If America is Russia's enemy, Putin's Russia cannot be our ally. Whether we like it or not, such relations are reciprocal. And from an enemy we do not need help. We need only check its aggression. For that purpose we should take the following steps:

1. Publicly recognize that Putin is not our ally or partner, but rather our foe, and make this position clear to him and to the rest of the world.

2. Ensure that our demands to Russia be absolutely clear. Stop supporting separatists in Ukraine. We do not need Putin as a broker or peacemaker. Putin must completely get out of Ukrainian territory and Ukrainian politics.

3. Make clear that Putin's help is not needed in any other part of the world. Exclude Russia as our partner or as a mediator from any international arrangements and negotiations.

4. Reiterate our position of not accepting the annexation of Crimea. Demand that it be returned to Ukraine.

5. Stop propagating Putin's propaganda. Instead, counter it with all the power of America's media. Expand broadcasts by Radio Liberty and other radio stations.

6. Make it clear that we consider the "Russian World" policy a threat to world peace and stability. Insist that Russia officially renounce that doctrine and repeal supporting legislation as necessary conditions for Russia's readmission to the community of civilized nations.

7. To stop aggression against Ukraine and to prevent aggressions against other countries, make Russia pay a high price by introducing sector and other serious economic sanctions. Be ready to accept the cost of those sanctions.

8. Take immediate steps to reduce that cost and any dependence on Russia. Develop new energy sources and transportation systems in America and Europe.

9. Provide help, including military assistance, to those who are under immediate attack or potential aggression by Russia.

10. Revisit communism, an ideology that remains important in Russia as well as other countries. Educate new generations about its atrocities and bankrupt ideology.

Opponents of strong action against an aggressor wrongly equate political confrontation with war. They believe that admitting that the second largest nuclear power is our enemy would usher in another Cold War and make the situation much more dangerous.

Vladimir Putin presents an award to Air Force Gen. Anatoly Kornukov in February, 2000.
Vladimir Putin presents an award to Air Force Gen. Anatoly Kornukov in February, 2000.

History teaches us, however, that to ignore reality and appease our enemy is a more dangerous approach than to clearly articulate our principles and disagreements.

When in 1983 the Soviets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, Ronald Reagan denounced them as enemies of the United States and the entire world. Reagan's strong stand against the Soviet communism that threatened us for decades with nuclear war helped stop its expansion and eventually led to its complete capitulation. If we could stand against the mighty Soviet Union, we can manage Putin's much weaker Russia.

In February 2000, only two months into his presidency, Vladimir Putin presented one of his first state awards to Air Force Gen. Anatoly Kornukov. In 1983, Kornukov was commander of Sokol Airbase in Sakhalin. His order to the fighter pilot was: "Destroy the target!"

The target was Korean Air Lines Flight 007.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT