Posts Tagged ‘vladimir putin’


September 2, 2015

Wall Street Journal on September 1, 2015, published a commentary by Senator John McCain on the present US administration’s lack of interest in the Arctic. Excerpts below:

President Obama is on a three-day visit to Alaska that will include a stop north of the Arctic Circle. The focus of his trip is climate change. Some of my Senate colleagues and I recently returned from the Arctic, and while we saw the challenges of melting polar ice, we also saw a greater and more immediate threat. It is a menace that many assumed was relegated to the past: an aggressive, militarily capable Russian state that is ruled by an anti-American autocrat, hostile to our interests, dismissive of our values, and seeking to challenge the international order that U.S. leaders of both parties have maintained for seven decades.

Vladimir Putin’s neo-imperial ambitions are clear enough in his attempt to dominate Russia’s neighbors, Ukraine most of all. But his ambitions increasingly extend to the Arctic and Europe’s northern flank. That is where I and my colleagues met with leaders and security officials from Norway, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

As polar ice melts, Russia is rushing to nationalize and control new waterways across the Arctic Ocean that could open not simply to commercial shipping, but also military and intelligence activities. Vast natural resources, including oil and gas, could become available for exploitation, potentially transforming the Arctic into a new theater of geopolitical competition.

Officials from each of the countries I visited expressed the same concern: Russia is threatening the security and prosperity of the Arctic and Northern Europe by assertively deploying its military power, patrolling its neighbors’ coastlines both above and below water, and building or reopening numerous military outposts across the region.

Russian provocations and territorial claims in the Arctic also threaten U.S. national-security interests. Russia’s military expansion in the Arctic and North Atlantic appears to be an attempt to establish de facto control over these vital areas, much as China is seeking to do in the South China Sea. In both cases the U.S. response has so far been feeble. That is alarming, because freedom of the seas is essential to the modern way of life. Any action by Russia that impedes movement in the Arctic may ultimately threaten the peace of the Atlantic and the intercontinental ties between the U.S. and our closest allies and trading partners in Europe.

Defending America’s national interests in the Arctic will require bringing renewed energy to our alliances and partnerships. This year the U.S. assumed the chairmanship of the Arctic Council for two years. During that time we should make recognition of Mr. Putin’s hegemonic ambitions a top priority and increase cooperation with our Arctic partners to deter Russia from instigating a new “great game” in the Arctic.

We must also provide robust support for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.

On September 1 President Obama proposed to start planning for construction of new icebreakers. That’s only modest progress. Without the proper capabilities, the U.S. gives Russia a free pass to establish facts on the ground that will be hard to rebut.

Ultimately, Mr. Putin’s ambitions—from Ukraine and the Baltics to the Arctic and North Atlantic—require the trans-Atlantic community to return to a mission that too many assumed was no longer necessary: deterrence. We must project strength to prevent conflict.

Moscow is waging a Cold War updated for the 21st century, employing modern military tactics and weapons systems, conducting sophisticated information-warfare operations and using advanced cyber and space capabilities.

To be successful, the U.S. must end the arbitrary caps on defense spending imposed by the Budget Control Act and return to a strategy-driven defense budget. America’s European and NATO partners must spend more on defense—at a minimum, meeting the NATO commitment of 2% of gross domestic product.

The good news is that some European countries are responding to the new strategic realities in Europe. Norway continues to be a leading military power in Europe. Sweden, which has suffered brazen Russian incursions into its territorial waters and airspace, is planning a defense-spending increase to improve training and acquire vital military capabilities, including submarines, fighters jets and air defenses.

The Baltic States are stepping up as well. Estonia has developed some of the world’s most advanced cyber capabilities. Latvia plans to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2018. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė tells me that her country is boosting its defense spending by a third next year.

With each of these nations, and other European and NATO allies, the U.S. must encourage greater security cooperation, robust military exchanges and exercises, and improved intelligence capabilities to deter Vladimir Putin’s quest for a new form of Russian empire.

Mr. McCain, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Arizona.

Comment: This article by Senator McCain is a welcome contribution to the increasing focus on the Russian Arctic buildup. The Russian threat has since 2009 been neglected by the present American administration. Not until this year President Obama has at least started thinking about building more US icebreakers for Arctic service. The visit by McCain and colleagues in the Baltic Sea area has greatly contributed to a greater awareness in Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania of the growing Russian activities in the Arctic and the Baltic Sea region. As during the Cold War Russia is in the 21st century worried about geostrategic containment. The Arctic is important to Russia and the bases on the Kola Peninsula are important for Russia’s deployment of naval forces in the Atlantic. The occupation of Crimea is part of Russia’s new global strategy. Crimea in Russian hands is important for Russian naval deployment in the Mediterranean. For Russian naval access to the Pacific Ocean the Kurile chain is of great strategic and economic importance. Here are the chokepoints that control the movements of the Russian Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok and one of the most productive fishing grounds in the world. To contain Russia it is from a global geopolitical perspective of great importance to the West to control the rimland of the Eurasian continent.


August 19, 2015

National Review on August 18, 2015, published an article on the problems of appeasement by Victor Davis Hanson. From Thucydides to 21st-century America it is not a winner. The common bond among the various elements of the failed Obama foreign policy — from reset with Putin to concessions to the Iranians — is a misreading of human nature. The so-called Enlightened mind claims that the more rationally and deferentially one treats someone pathological, the more likely it is that he will respond and reform — or at least behave. The medieval mind, within us all, claims the opposite is more likely to be true. Excerpts below:

…the negotiations preceding World War II …[is proof of]…the autocratic accentuation of the human tendency to interpret concession and empathy not as magnanimity to be reciprocated, but rather as weakness to be exploited or as a confession of culpability worthy of contempt.

The more Britain’s Chamberlain and France’s Daladier in 1938 genuinely sought to reassure Hitler of their benign intentions, the more the Nazi hierarchy saw them as little more than “worms” — squirming to appease the stronger spirit. Both were seen as unsure of who they were and what they stood for, ready to forfeit the memory of the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of their own on the false altar of a supposedly mean and unfair Versailles Treaty.

Hitler perversely admired Stalin after the latter liquidated a million German prisoners, and hated FDR, whose armies treated German POWs with relative humanity.

Then we come to Iran. Does Supreme Leader Khamenei tone down his anti-American rhetoric — unwise though such rhetoric may seem in the midst of heated debates over the wisdom of President Obama’s negotiations — when the United States offers concessions on continued enrichment and centrifuges, or backs off from snap-back sanctions and anywhere/anytime inspections? If the U.S. Congress should defeat the treaty, reinstate even tougher sanctions, organize another global boycott, and warn the Iranians that they will be held accountable for their terrorist operatives, would Iranian theocrats keep chanting “Death to America” in their legislative chambers and press ahead with enrichment as they wink and nod to their allies about nuclear proliferation?

The trait is not quite ingratitude so much as it is gratuitous derision. It all reminds me of 1980, when the ingratiating Jimmy Carter (remember the aborted appeasement mission of Ramsey Clark, and Andy Young’s blessing of Khomeini as a probable “saint”?) was slandered as satanic by the Iranian hostage-takers, while President-elect Ronald Reagan was met with silence and released hostages.

The Castro brothers just upped their rhetoric, as Fidel demanded millions of dollars in embargo reparations as part of President Obama’s “normalization” of relations with Cuba — apparently to remind the world that the Cubans have no intention of paying back the billions of dollars they confiscated 55 years ago in American capital and property, much less of easing up on human-rights activists. Why would the Castros do that at this point, when no American president in a half-century has been more deferential to their Stalinist government? Is their defiance cheap public grandstanding for the benefit of Cuban hardliners, or a more natural reaction known to benefactors and beneficiaries alike as something like the following: “If he gave a wretch like me something for nothing, then he either did not deserve what he had or he should have given me even more”?

If a President Rubio announced a ratcheting up of sanctions, a public campaign on behalf of democratic dissidents in Cuban jails, and increased radio and television broadcasts to the enslaved island, would Castro think any less of him than he does of President Obama? Would he now be demanding of Rubio millions in reparations?

Why did Putin react to Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s obsequious reset with invasions of his smaller neighbors? …Why did ISIS swallow Iraq immediately following our departure, when we had been told ad nauseam in the 2008 campaign that our foreign presence there was an irritant and a radicalizing force among the peoples of the Middle East?

The answer is something more than just the obvious: that naïve appeasement is more dangerous than wise deterrence, or that the sober advice to keep quiet and carry a large stick trumps sounding off while wielding a toothpick.

Repeatedly the Obama administration has been shocked to see that the recipients of its consideration, from Putin to Khamenei, interpret such deference as weakness or maybe even smug arrogance. At times I think Vladimir Putin would prefer to be checked by NATO in Ukraine than psychoanalyzed by an appeasing Obama as an adolescent class cut-up engaged in “macho schtick.”

Obama’s misreading of human nature has proverbially sown the wind, and the whirlwind is upon us.


August 15, 2015

A book published in 2014 — Back from the Dead: The Return of the Evil Empire — exposes how America’s political leaders and intelligence agencies were caught off-guard as Vladimir Putin brought back the USSR, invaded Ukraine, and now threatens the world with a conflict that Putin’s apologists say could go nuclear. The book is published by America’s Survival, Inc. (ASI). Excerpts below from the publisher’s presentation:

The fall of the Berlin Wall misled many into thinking the Soviet KGB was dead. But infiltration of the West continued through “cultural Marxism,” and penetration by enemy agents, while the KGB, now called the FSB, looted Russia, consolidated its power, and rebuilt the Russian military, including its nuclear forces. America’s survival hangs in the balance.

Author Cliff Kincaid, founder and president of America’s Survival, Inc. (ASI), is a journalist and media analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area for almost 40 years and contributes one of the chapters in the new book. Other experts have contributed chapters.

In reaction to assertions by some American conservatives such as Patrick J. Buchanan that Vladimir Putin is a Christian leader, Kincaid has said that “We expose these claims as Russian disinformation, perhaps the greatest deception of all time.” The book describes in detail how Putin is using the Russian Orthodox Church as an ideological front in his war on the world, and how the Roman Catholic Church has failed to confront this evil. The book also examines how the KGB/FSB secretly manipulates Islamic and Palestinian terrorist groups and even the Iranian regime.


August 8, 2015

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty on August 6, 2015, reported on a new opinion poll showing that both Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, are viewed unfavorably around the world. Excerpts below:

A U.S.-based Pew Research Center poll released on August 5 shows that a median of just 30 percent have a positive opinion of Russia among respondents from 39 countries around the world, excluding Russia.

Only 24 percent in the countries surveyed expressed confidence in Putin “to do the right thing regarding world affairs.”

Of the 39 countries polled, only Vietnam (75 percent), Ghana (56 percent), and China (51 percent) yielded a majority of respondents who viewed Russia in a favorable light.

Relations between Russia and the West have plunged to lows not seen since the Cold War, driven by the Kremlin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region last year and a simmering war between Kyiv and Russian-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

The damaged relations between Moscow and the West are reflected in the new Pew Research Center poll.

Among U.S. respondents, 75 percent said they had “no confidence” in Putin’s handling of world affairs compared to 21 percent who said they trust the Russian leader.

The poll, conducted March 25-27, surveyed a total of 45,435 respondents from 40 countries.


August 6, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 3, 2015, published a commentary by Christopher Walker on how the West has underestimated threats to freedom after the Cold War victory. For the democracies to triumph in the long battle against Soviet communism enormous commitment was necessary. Both geopolitical and ideological, the struggle called for military investment, patience and resolve. As crucially, this challenge required a reserve of imagination for understanding and responding to the Soviet challenge with the ideas, media instruments and technology that were part of the democratic world’s natural competitive advantage. Excerpts below:

In the aftermath of this exacting project, the United States and other established democracies exhaled, believing in the post-Cold War period that the world had indelibly changed and the forces of illiberalism were defeated.

Given the extent of the investment and duration of the struggle, the impulse to relax was understandable. With hindsight, however, a harsh reality has become clear: The democratic West won the Cold War but in the process lost its political imagination.

Today, a set of anti-democratic forces that we have found to be beyond the realm of our imagination have gathered momentum and are seeking to reshape the world order.

Take Russia’s resurgence. Only a few years ago it would have seemed far-fetched that Moscow would forcibly annex Crimea and instigate a bloody war in eastern Ukraine resulting in massive destruction and thousands of deaths.

Then again, in August 1991 few could envisage that only eight years later a former KGB colonel would come to power, remain Russia’s paramount leader for a decade and a half, and possibly keep his grip on the country for many more years.

While the boundaries of the West’s imagination have receded, those of illiberal powers have expanded. The Internet era was supposed to ensure that dictators would no longer dominate what their people know and think. But Vladimir Putin has built a modern propaganda machine that has enabled the brainwashing and militarization of Russian society, while paralyzing the West’s ability to respond to the Kremlin’s ambition to upend the European order.

Meanwhile, China has turned assumptions about its presumed trajectory upside-down. The Chinese Communist Party has put the country’s vast economic wealth in the service of refurbishing state repression instead of on liberalization.

It is unfathomable to people living in free societies that the Chinese authorities can censor with such acumen that the majority of their more than 1.3 billion countrymen do not know the truth about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Asked 15 years ago about the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions to censor the Internet, former U.S. President Bill Clinton was incredulous, famously replying that such an effort would be like trying to “nail Jell-O to the wall.” Mr. Clinton, like other Western leaders, failed to imagine the determination of the autocrats in China…

Using globalization to their advantage, these repressive states have succeeded in inducing self-censorship in their Western partners, thus resetting norms of free expression for academia, think tanks, business and media that have far too willingly checked their standards at the door when entering these countries.

Powerful, illiberal nonstate actors have defied our imagination as well. In the Middle East, Islamic State has shown striking imagination in using modern technology to create what some call “the Digital Caliphate” to propel its sinister vision throughout cyberspace and recruit more people to its ranks.

This new challenge to the West is not as clear-cut as the old one was during the Cold War. Today there are a multitude of anti-democratic forces. This constellation makes for a more complex and pernicious danger, the analysis of which is more complicated.

So it is that even after more than a year of war in Ukraine, many find it hard to imagine that the Kremlin’s ambitions might go further. The U.S. and European Union still cannot conceive that Russia’s current level of menace toward the Baltic states, for instance, could evolve into something even more perilous.

The languid, complacent approach into which the democratic world has settled in recent years is not suited to the hostile environment for liberal values that has emerged. Without a renewal of purpose in the West and a positive vision from the democracies, the world’s fate will be left to the fertile imagination of others.

Mr. Walker is the executive director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy.


August 3, 2015

AFP on August 3, 2015, reported that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of wanting to take over the “whole of Europe” and potentially aiming his sights next at Finland and the Baltics. Excerpts below:

“Putin wants to go as far as we allow him — not only Ukraine, but the whole of Europe,” Poroshenko said in an interview with French radio station RFI.

“…if you asked me today… unfortunately everything is possible because the annexation of Crimea and the eastern part of Ukraine… shows we can break the global security system.”

He said the ongoing fighting against Russian-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine should be seen as a fight for all of Europe.

“Is an attack on Finland possible? Yes, and Finland knows that. Is an attack on the Baltic states possible? Yes,” he said.

“When we’re talking about the fighting in the east of my country… we’re fighting not only for the independence and sovereignty of my country, we’re fighting for democracy, we’re fighting for freedom and the security of the whole European continent.”


July 31, 2015

Wall Street Journal on July 30, 2015, in a commentary reported on how Jews from eastern Ukraine seek refuge further west in Ukraine from the Russian invasion. Among the justifications Vladimir Putin has offered for his hostility to the democratic government of Ukraine is that it is led and supported by “anti-Semitic forces.” But sit down with some of the Jews who have fled Russian-instigated violence in the east to find refuge in the capital of this supposedly neo-fascist state, and another story emerges. Excerpts below:

Consider the Kvasha family, among several thousand Jews uprooted by Mr. Putin’s invasion. You enter the family’s building on the outskirts of Kiev through a dim reception, where the walls have long turned a dark gray and a dank stench hovers. The Kvashas—dad Sergey, mom Valeria and their two boys Nikita, 17, and Arseny, 8—are crammed into a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor.

Inside the neatly kept apartment, a menorah sits atop a piano that has seen better days. It’s all a far cry from the Kvashas’ happy former lives in eastern Ukraine.

When I visited on Tuesday, Mr. Kvasha was at work at a printing business, where he’s a manager. Back in Luhansk, the family had its own printing firm, while Mrs. Kvasha worked as a general engineer at the local college. In addition to their apartment, the Kvashas owned a dacha, or vacation home. They were prominent and successful members of a vibrant Jewish community existing within what they describe as a tolerant Donbass society.

Then Mr. Putin launched his invasion. “When the fighting started a missile hit our building,” Mrs. Kvasha recalls. Five of their friends and neighbors were killed in attacks. Having already sent the kids to Kiev in early June 2014, Mr. and Mrs. Kvasha caught the last train out of Luhansk a few weeks later. Two bags stuffed with summer clothes were all they managed to take with them, and by August they had depleted their savings.

Building new lives in Kiev hasn’t been easy. Finding a permanent apartment was the first challenge. Landlords are reluctant to rent to refugees, seen as itinerant and unreliable.

In dire straits, the Kvashas turned to the Joint Distribution Committee, an American-Jewish organization. While the parents were still unemployed, the JDC provided the family with some $142 in monthly food assistance as well as blankets and other winter relief—crucial assistance, since their flat, once they’d secured one, cost about $165 a month. The organization continues to help the family pay rent.

The JDC also helped the Kvashas find a sense of belonging. Like many of Ukraine’s 350,000 Jews, the family’s connection to Judaism is more cultural than religious. At a Jewish community center in Kiev called Beiteinu, or Our Home, they found new friends. The JDC supports 21 such centers across Ukraine, and Mrs. Kvasha now works at Beitanu, helping other refugees find their footing.

I sat down on Tuesday with Ms. Brook, Mr. Fireman and four other elderly displaced Jews at one of the 32 social-welfare centers, or Heseds, the JDC runs across Ukraine, normally serving some 65,000 elderly and impoverished Jews, to which 5,200 have been added since the war began. Most escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs,…

Such Jewish charities operate openly here, under a government that frequently describes all Ukrainians displaced by the fighting, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, as compatriots. Ukraine, far from being the anti-Semitic nation of Putinist fantasies, has given them refuge. As one of the Hesed clients told me: “Write in your paper, we people from Donetsk and Luhansk love our country. We are patriotic. We don’t want to leave Ukraine.”


July 28, 2015

The Telegraph, London, on July 27, 2015, reported that Russia will guarantee a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean and boost its strength in the Atlantic and Arctic under a new strategy to counter “unacceptable” Nato expansion. Excerpts below:

The plans, which also include ambitious ship-building targets and expansion of infrastructure for the country’s fleet in the Black Sea, were laid out in a new naval doctrine approved by Vladimir Putin.

Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister with a portfolio for defense, emphasized the “accent put on the Atlantic and the Arctic” in a meeting with Mr Putin. Mr Rogozin, a strong critic of Nato, said that the new doctrine reflects “changes in the international political situation and the objective strengthening of Russia as a great naval power.”

“Our attention towards the Atlantic is justified by the expansion of Nato in the east,” he told Russian news agencies.

The 46-page document, published on the Kremlin website, lays out a comprehensive vision for civilian and military maritime strategy in coming years, including maintenance of sea-trade routes and management of fisheries.

But its military section openly identifies Western militaries as the primary potential adversary facing the Russian navy.

“The determining factor in relations with Nato remains the alliance’s unacceptable plans to move military infrastructure towards the Russian Federation’s borders and attempts to assume global functions,” the document says.

It goes on to call for reinforcement of Russia’s naval presence in the North Atlantic and maintenance of a naval presence “on a permanent basis” in the Mediterranean.

The doctrine also makes special mention of the Arctic and Antarctic, calling for expansion of Russia’s Northern Fleet to protect claims to natural resources on the Arctic shelf and secure the northern sea route between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Russia is planning to build a new fleet of nuclear-powered ice breakers to support Arctic development.

It comes six months after Mr Putin approved a revised military doctrine in response to the rapid deterioration of relations with the West following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The annexation of Crimea sparked the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War and preceded the eruption of a war between Russian-backed separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine.

In January, Nato announced the creation of six command centres in eastern member states as part of a response to what it called “Russian aggression” in Ukraine.

“These changes show that Russia pays particular attention to the reinforcement of its naval potential in the Arctic and the Atlantic to counter NATO,” military expert Alexander Golts said.

But “without a decisive reinforcement of the fleet’s capacities, all of these make no sense,” he added.


May 6, 2015 on April 30, 2015, published an article on Soviet-Nazi collaboration and World War II by Alexander Motyl, originally published in World Affairs on April 30. As May 9th, Victory Day in many post-Soviet states, approaches, decency demands that we celebrate the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and honor the millions of soldiers and civilians who gave their lives to rid the world of the scourge of Nazism. Excerpts below:

At the same time, if we truly want to honor the dead, we must take heed of the historical lies that the Kremlin, both in its Soviet and post-Soviet hypostases, promotes about the USSR’s relationship with Nazi Germany.

For starters, the Moscow-controlled Communist International, and its sidekick, the Communist Party of Germany, made Hitler’s rise to power possible, if not indeed inevitable…

Many leftists make a similar mistake today, preferring Vladimir Putin’s fascism to American capitalism and thereby promoting war in Europe.
And then there’s the matter of the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939.

Completely indefensible is the secret protocol that led to Poland’s partition in September 1939 and the subsequent Soviet attack on and incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. That was imperialism, pure and simple, though, naturally, the Soviets claimed that they were “liberating” the territories from “fascist” rule (sound familiar?).

More than indefensible—indeed, profoundly criminal—was Moscow’s kowtowing to and enthusiastic support of the Hitler state and economy in 1939–41, at precisely the time the Nazis were killing Poles, segregating Jews, and laying the groundwork for the Holocaust. Because the USSR collaborated with the Nazis, it bears a large part of the responsibility for World War II and the enormous destruction that Germany brought to Eastern Europe in general and Eastern European Jews in particular.

By the way, during the two years the Soviets ruled Western Ukraine (the former eastern Poland), they destroyed civil society, dismantled all political and civil rights, deported hundreds of thousands of Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians to Siberia, and then, to top things off, massacred some 20,000–30,000 political prisoners in the week after the Nazis attacked in June of 1941. (About 70 percent were Ukrainian, 20 percent were Polish, and over 5 percent were Jewish.) A shot in the back of the head wasn’t enough. The Soviet secret police also devised refined tortures for their helpless victims: noses, tongues, breasts, and genitalia were lopped off; skin was scalded with boiling water and peeled off; prisoners were buried alive. In one town, hundreds of prisoners were dumped, some dead, some still living, down a salt mine shaft.

The Soviet—as well as current Russian—designation for this monstrous enterprise is the “Great Patriotic War,” a term that conveniently elides the two years of shameful collaboration and the USSR’s direct contribution to World War II and the Holocaust.

Appropriately for the regnant Stalinist political culture in Putin’s Russia, his neo-Nazi biker pals, the Night Wolves, want to celebrate Victory Day by retracing the Red Army’s route from Russia to Berlin.

The West shouldn’t boycott the anniversary events just because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. They should do so because the Victory Day celebration covers up a raft of crimes that should be condemned along with Putin’s regime.


December 15, 2013

Washington Times on December 12, 2013, published an article by Jeffrey T. Kuhner on the second Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Who lost Ukraine? This is the question many Western policymakers are asking following recent dramatic events in the former Soviet republic. The country’s pro-Kremlin leader, President Viktor Yanukovych, is on the verge of permanently consigning Ukraine to Russia’s sphere of influence. This would be a major victory for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin — maybe his most dangerous achievement so far. If Ukraine falls under Moscow’s orbit, then Mr. Putin will be close to attaining his central geopolitical goal: restoring a great Russian empire. Hence, what hangs in the balance is not just the fate of Ukraine, but Eastern Europe as well. Excerpts below:

Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving protesters have poured onto the streets of Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. A statue of Vladimir Lenin was toppled. Police forces have raided the headquarters of opposition parties.

The deal, however, was more than simply about free trade. It signified Ukraine’s desire to join the West and fulfill its civilizational destiny.

This is why Russia objected. Behind the scenes, the Kremlin exerted tremendous pressure. Mr. Yanukovych was compelled to not sign the treaty.

Mr. Putin made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: Take the money — and the Kremlin’s terms — or suffer the fate of former President Viktor Yushchenko, who was poisoned (and his face badly disfigured) for standing up to Moscow’s imperial designs. Mr. Yanukovych is afraid of being poisoned. He has surrounded himself with an entourage of food tasters, especially when traveling abroad.

The Kremlin’s thuggish tactics have worked. Mr. Yanukovych is now planning to have Kiev join Mr. Putin’s pet project: reviving the former Soviet empire through the creation of a Eurasian customs union comprising Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova.

When students protested Mr. Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU trade pact, he called in the riot police. On television, millions of Ukrainians saw the horrible pictures of students being savagely beaten. Many were then imprisoned on trumped-up charges. The state-sanctioned violence sparked national outrage, triggering the mass protests that threaten to overthrow the Yanukovych regime. The scenes are eerily reminiscent of the 2004 “Orange Revolution,” when pro-democracy Ukrainian patriots succeeded in overturning a rigged presidential vote.

At a conference on Ukraine in Ottawa, Canada, several years ago, I warned the Ukrainian students in the audience that Mr. Putin would never let Kiev go. Some laughed, claiming I was a virulent Russophobe. The joke is now on them.

Putin is nostalgic for a monstrous totalitarian regime responsible for the deaths of more than 40 million — including the genocidal terror famine known as “the Harvest of Sorrow,” which claimed between 7 million and 10 million Ukrainian lives. Ukraine was the cradle of anti-communist resistance within the former Soviet Union.

This is why Soviet leaders, such as Josef Stalin, sought to smash any semblance of Ukrainian nationhood. Stalin waged a war against the Ukrainian peasantry in the hopes of breaking Ukraine’s backbone. He failed, but this explains Mr. Putin’s obsession with subjugating Kiev. He has never forgiven Ukraine for its fierce opposition to Soviet domination.

Mr. Putin despises Ukrainian nationalism. At a 2008 NATO meeting, the Russian strongman told then-President George W. Bush, “Ukraine is not a real country.” Rather, Mr. Putin said, it was a “gift” from Moscow. He publicly refers to Ukraine as “Little Russia.”

Yet, his bellicose revanchism masks a deep fear. If Ukraine were to escape Moscow’s grip and become part of the European community, it would pose a mortal threat to Mr. Putin’s rule. Ukraine is a large, Orthodox, Slavic country that neighbors Russia. A democratic and prosperous Ukraine — anchored in Western institutions and based on the rule of law — would reveal to the Russian people that a viable alternative to a mafia state exists. Ukraine’s example would spill over, forcing Russians to confront Mr. Putin’s authoritarian kleptocracy.

The protests in Kiev are more than just about the future of the Yanukovych regime. It is about fulfilling the dreams and hopes of the Orange Revolution. It is a battle for Ukraine’s heart and soul. Ukrainians now face a stark choice: Continue sliding toward the Kremlin’s moral darkness and political abyss or stand tall as a member of the European community of nations. Embrace the old hammer and sickle or the blue and yellow. Patriots should rise up. They have nothing to lose but their chains.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a radio host on WRKO AM-680 in Boston.