Canada Careful when defending Putin and his 'spheres of influence’

02:36  08 december  2017
02:36  08 december  2017 Source:   Toronto Star

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to employees of Rostec Corporation in Moscow on Thursday, Spokesman for Putin says the Russian president has not decided yet whether to run for office next year as an independent candidate or secure support from the ruling party.: <br />© Sergei Karpukhin Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to employees of Rostec Corporation in Moscow on Thursday.© Sergei Karpukhin
© Sergei Karpukhin Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to employees of Rostec Corporation in Moscow on Thursday.
In his Monday column, Thomas Walkom suggests the president of Russia has been unfairly villainized and that other world leaders merit more attention for the mischief conducted by their nations.

At first glance, his words could be merely an effort to be fair and look at things from all sides. But Walkom goes farther. He brings up the question of how national borders have been redrawn in the past century, as well as alluding directly to the Baltic States and their claim to sovereignty.

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Here is where I would like to step in with some comments of my own with the purpose of debating head on the tendency to drift into old-fashioned “sphere of interest” thinking.

Let’s begin with the proposition that the history of the Baltic States is complicated. It is. Few, perhaps not even Walkom — despite the strange perspective he has voiced in his column, doubt our right and our choice to exist on our own as independent and free countries.

Then also it should be underlined that this is not just any time in history.

This a historical phase we are in when one country in particular, Russia — not some other big power — has shaken the rules-based order with its despicable land grabs in Ukraine — Crimea and Donbas. This is not something that happened a generation ago. It happened only three short years ago not to mention what happened in Georgia in 2008.

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Putin ’s plan to extend Russian influence in South America gives the United States a run for their money in the region for the first time since the Monroe Doctrine. Putin searching for a way to extend his sphere of influence in Latin America serves as evidence.

So, with this drastic move on to an illegal and tangential track, the Russian Federation has, at the very least, put the world on notice. The problem with Walkom’s column is of course broader than Latvia and the other two Baltic States. Walkom appears to side with the view that big powers have “spheres of interest” into which “their might gives them the right” to project themselves.

Maybe he just sees himself exposing double standards, but he should also realize that borders are a serious business. This is not an issue that should be taken lightly as if those contemplating current developments could imagine sympathizing with the notion that what Russia did in Crimea is OK. The correct attitude is to maintain a policy of nonrecognition of what Russia did. That is the policy that created the basis for the Baltic States to be starting to celebrate their centennials.

Walkom in his column intentionally, or unintentionally, puts a question mark next to logic of customary international law and our rules-based order. That’s a dangerous subliminal message to casual readers of history, politics, and security affairs, going in a direction diametrically opposite to fundamental common sense, which is that the order we have today is fragile and precious.

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“I think that when Putin offers to divide the world into the spheres of influence , the new American president will have no objections. They will just draw a demarcation line: you (the Americans) stay out of Syria, we (the Russians) do not meddle in Iraq, you – in Ukraine, we

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Latvia has only two million people. We are not a super power. But we are not some country to be waved away by Walkom or anyone else in their reveries on the grand scheme of things.

Nonetheless, it is also certainly a time when Canada’s support and the support of Canadians for the rules-based order in which all countries, big and small exist, should be as strong and as clear as possible. This is not a time for smudging borders; it is a time for holding the line on our principles and values.

Kārlis Eihenbaums is Lativa’s ambassador to Canada.

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