Opinion

Vladimir Putin’s Humanitarian Cover-Up

The United States rightfully strongly condemned Russia’s unauthorized incursions into Ukraine done under the pretext of providing “humanitarian aid.” Washington called the Kremlin’s bluff for what it was: a dangerous provocation under a humanitarian guise. Not only is it hypocritical of Russian President Vladimir Putin to use the very humanitarian crisis he created as an excuse to further infiltrate Eastern Ukraine, but it incentivized Russian separatist fighters to ratchet up their campaign and further de-stabilize the region,.

Putin, apparently,  has a penchant for humanitarian causes such as protecting the Russian-speakers outside Russia, and Russian citizens, in strategically located places such as Georgia’s regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or in Ukraine’s Crimea.

Since the world of international news is not immune to deceptive marketing and shiny packaging, painting a blatant invasion as a “humanitarian” effort sows just enough doubt about its real nature and purpose to give Western leaders already reluctant to call spade a spade an excuse to mince their words.

The Kremlin, of course, is not alone in utilizing the “humanitarian” trick. While some aid is truly needed to address the continuing dire situation in Gaza, often the “humanitarian convoys” have the objective of improving the image of Hamas terrorists, who control Gaza, and to humiliate Israel. Such deliveries, unlike legitimate aid, generate more well-orchestrated media frenzies than  actual relief to those in need. Caught in the midst of the crisis created first and foremost by Hamas, are the civilians of Gaza who get more PR support than relief. .

The United States has not been absolutely innocent of similar shenanigans either. Although Washington, along with the rest of the international community, has repeatedly stated its support for territorial integrity of America’s key Eurasian ally, Azerbaijan, the United States is also the only country providing direct aid to separatists in the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh occupied by Armenia. While sending aid to some 50,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh under pressure from the Armenian-American lobby, the Unites States has been much less enthusiastic about aiding nearly a million Azerbaijani civilians displaced as a result of ethnic cleansing from Armenian-occupied areas.

So politicized is the aid to Azerbaijan that Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which specifically precludes aid to Azerbaijan, was only waived (not repealed!) in 2001, when the United States needed Azerbaijan in order to conduct its operation in Afghanistan. So how is it that the White House calls Russia’s aid to separatists in Ukraine a dangerous provocation and demands that all humanitarian efforts be coordinated with Ukrainian authorities, yet  blithely ignores the need to coordinate with Azerbaijanis when sending aid to ethnic separatists operating in its occupied territories?

Even more puzzling is that, while the Kremlin forges ahead in its strategy of solidifying its allies and punishing friends of  the West, the United States is, actually, providing assistance to its opponents at the expense of its important ally, Azerbaijan. Armenia recently expanded its agreement to host the largest Russian military bases in the region until 2044, the last of the former Soviet republics to do so. The Russian military already patrols Armenia’s borders and airspace. And Armenia has joined the Eurasian Customs Union led by Moscow, i.e. Putin’s mini version of the USSR, and has for years cozied up to Iran.

American assistance is not only misplaced, it encourages Armenia’s sense of impunity. It also provides a morale boost to all pro-Russian separatists in Eurasia. For example, California’s legislature recently called for recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh. The legally irrelevant resolution ironically ignores the fact that no country, including Armenia itself, has recognized the separatist entity. The California legislature demonstrates the depth of confusion among politicians in Sacramento more interested in kowtowing to campaign contributors than addressing their own challenges. Little do these naïve legislators know that they are advancing Putin’s agenda in Eurasia.

Just to make sure which side of the tranches the parties are on, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine used social media to remind their followers that they fought on Armenia’s side against Azerbaijan – not really a surprise, given that Russia has been the enabler of Armenia’s occupation, and Armenian separatist leaders sent their congratulations to their counterparts in Abkhazia following the unrecognized elections there, while Azerbaijan joined the international community in supporting Georgia and rejecting the separatists elections as illegitimate.

Ironically, America’s own contradictory approach has been highlighted by the administration’s reaction to Putin’s maneuvering in Ukraine. It’s time for the United States to live up to its values and interests in relations with friends and foes by upholding its status as an honest broker in the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process. In so doing, the United States could put even greater pressure on Putin and deny him excuses, which Russia’s propaganda machine has been so artfully deploying.