Former Florida Governor and probable GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush told reporters in Berlin, Germany, this week that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a bully. He also said America and Europe need to work together to stop Russian aggression against former Soviet Union republics.
“Ultimately I think to deal with Putin you need to deal from strength – he’s a bully and … you enable bad behavior when you’re nuanced with a guy like that,” he exclaimed. “Just being clear – I’m not talking about being bellicose – but saying ‘here are the consequences of your actions’ that would deter the kind of bad outcome we don’t want to see.”
Bush received some backlash for his truthful comments. Carol Giacomo at The New York Times slammed him for not providing a plan to combat Russian troops in Ukraine. She also condemned blaming President Obama for the evolving situation in Ukraine without mentioning his brother’s thoughtful words about Putin in a book. The invasion of Ukraine, however, occurred under Obama’s watch. Peter Weber at The Week published an article that told readers Bush wants to place thousands of U.S. troops on Russia’s borders. Bush did not use the number “thousands” in his remarks, and he specifically said NATO troops, not just American troops.
No matter how one feels about Putin, Bush, or Obama, classifying Putin’s “bully” status in the region is clear. Putin’s tactics made international headlines when he annexed Crimea from Ukraine and invaded the eastern portion of the country. However, the ex-KGB agent started to antagonize nations around Russia when he became prime minister in 1999 and pushed Moscow policies on other nations, mainly ex-Soviet states, from day one of his presidency in 2000.
The man does not hide that he wants to restore his beloved USSR. In 2005, Putin lamented the loss of Soviet Union, which fell in 1991.
“First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” he said. “As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory. The epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself.”
It began with the breakaway regions in the North Caucasus, which include Chechnya and Dagestan. Rebels declared complete independence from Russia during the First Chechen War from 1994 to 1996. The war ended with a peace treaty and new elections. But another war broke out when Putin became prime minister in 1999. Moscow justified the attacks as a way to keep militants out of the mountains and to keep the regions safe. Kidnappings began to rise in number after the first war ended, along with numerous terrorist attacks and Russia swooped in to save the day. There are many who believe Russian officials orchestrated the crimes as a way to move into the regions and tighten their grip.
Russia inaugurated Putin in May 2000, which is also when he created a pro-Moscow government with Akhmad Kadyrov as president, a man who fought against Russia in the first war. The new Constitution gave Chechnya autonomy, but forced them to rely on Russia.
A bomb assassinated Kadyrov in 2004. Putin pushed his son Ramzon as de facto leader until he reached 30 in 2007, when he could formally take power. Kadyrov is president, but the world considers him Putin’s puppet. Putin turns a blind eye to the numerous human rights violations in Chechnya as long as he is the one in power of the North Caucasus region. Dagestan leaders are also pro-Russian, but none are as close to Putin as Kadyrov.
Towards the end of his first term in 2008, Putin changed the laws to give the prime minister more power. Ironically, Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s prime minister won the presidency in May 2008. Medvedev immediately appointed Putin as his prime minister.
The 2008 Russia-Georgia War broke out in August, three months after Putin left office, but he sowed the seeds of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War at the beginning of the year. After the fall of the USSR, Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke off from Georgia. Tensions remained high but finally came to a head in 2008. In March, Russia’s Parliament declared that Moscow should recognize the two regions as independent. Both regions later asked Moscow to recognize their independence. In April, an unidentified assailant or group downed a Georgian drone over Abkhazia. Georgia blamed Russian officials, but they denied responsibility. Instead, Abkhazia’s administration took responsibility. More drone incidents occurred the next two months, with the United Nations ultimately confirming Russia did shoot down the equipment.
Fighting between Georgians and South Ossetians started on August 1. Residents in South Ossetia fled to Russia, which is when Russian ambassador Yuri Popov declared Russia will intervene if a war breaks out. Russian soldiers had already entered the region to fight. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced a ceasefire, but fighting continued. It did not end for five days, but the conflict dragged on for months.
Putin and Moscow could not push Georgia into submission, but they did leave with South Ossetia and Abkhazia on their leash. Moscow officially recognized the breakaway regions as independent countries. Georgia responded by cutting off all diplomatic relations with Russia.
Russians reelected Putin to the presidency in 2012, and he made Medvedev his prime minister again. It is during this tenure that Putin began his invasion of Ukraine.
Viktor Yanukovych won the presidency in 2010. He told Ukrainians he aimed to move closer to the European Union, but instead began working to strengthen relations with Russia a few weeks later when he visited Medvedev and Putin. Despite the friendship displayed in the media after Putin won the presidency, he did not like Yanukovych at first:
Yanukovych also met Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister. Putin is said to regard Yanukovych – a former convict – as a provincial thug and serial loser, following Yanukovych’s bungled attempt to fix the vote during Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election. In 2004 Putin was captured wrinkling his face in disgust when Yanukovych offered him a sweet.
The view changed when Putin realized he could mold Yanukovych. In April 2010, Yanukovych and Medvedev agreed on a gas deal in exchange for naval bases for the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. Putin met with Yanukovych a month after he won the presidency in 2012. A year later, Putin annexed Crimea and invaded east Ukraine.
Ukraine rightfully receives the majority of the attention in the news. But at the same time, Putin made veiled threats against the Baltic states and bullied countries away from NATO.
On March 9, 2014, Russia’s ambassador to Latvia raised eyebrows when he told a radio station Russia will grant citizenship to ethnic Russians in the country. Latvia conveyed to the West they could be the next country Putin feels he needs to protect. Only ten days later, a Russian diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council that Moscow will step in to protect language rights of ethnic Russians in Estonia.
Moldova, an ex-Soviet state, and Georgia both leapt at an association agreement with the European Union on June 27, despite warnings from Russia. Like Georgia, Moldova has a breakaway region that wants to reconnect with Russia. Transnistria is a small strip of land between Moldova and Ukraine. The majority of residents are ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, just like Crimea. This region is not recognized as independent by any country in the West. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited Transniestra on Victory Day, only to return to Russia with a petition from the country to join the Russian Federation. On June 7, President Yevgeny Shevchuk told Euronews he wanted a “civilized divorce” from Moldova.
Due to Poland’s history, one cannot blame the Polish officials for staying on their toes. In November, Putin told a group of young historians in Moscow there was nothing wrong with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in World War II, which allowed Josef Stalin to design the USSR after the war. Poland’s geographic placed it precisely in between Hitler and Stalin. After the war, America and England allowed Stalin to keep the lands he seized under the pact, which allowed Stalin to prop up a puppet government and make Poland a satellite state of the Soviet Union. Recently, Polish officials announced a new defense program to prepare for a Russian invasion:
The 57-page strategy document replaces a plan drawn up in 2007. The new plan involves defense, political, and economic structures on all levels.
It says Russian [sic] has become a negative factor for regional security because of the “rebuilding of its power status at the expense of its surroundings” and Moscow’s “intensifying policy of confrontation” as shown by its seizure of the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine.
The fears of a Russian invasion rippled through Europe. Sweden and Finland considered joining NATO, but Russia issued a stern warning during Finland’s National Defense Courses Association in June 2014.
Military cooperation between Russia and NATO is progressing well and is beneficial to both parties. In contrast, cooperation between Finland and NATO threatens Russia’s security. Finland should not be desirous of NATO membership, rather it should preferably have tighter military cooperation with Russia.
In March, Mikhail Vanin, Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, wrote in an op-ed that the country will be a nuclear target if the government joins NATO’s missile defense system.
“I don’t think that Danes fully understand the consequence if Denmark joins the American-led missile defence shield,” wrote Vanin, adding:
If they do, then Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles. Denmark would be part of the threat against Russia. It would be less peaceful and relations with Russia will suffer. It is, of course, your own decision – I just want to remind you that your finances and security will suffer. At the same time Russia has missiles that certainly can penetrate the future global missile defence system.
Remember South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Georgia’s nightmare came true when Putin signed a treaty with South Ossetia that allows Russia to control the region. Putin signed a similar agreement with Abkhazia in November.
Thomas de Waal, a journalist and expert on the Caucasus, described it as “Russia swallowing South Ossetia.”
“Effective annexation is the word,” he explained. “Is there any way back? Never say never–if the border with Georgia opens again, it makes much more sense for S Ossetia to be part of the economic space of Georgia.”
Putin admitted Moscow was behind the uprising in Crimea in a documentary released in March. The world believed Russia orchestrated the protests, but Moscow kept denying it and insisted it was all Crimeans.
Ukraine is not an isolated incident.