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Opinion: Columnists

Putin's creeping war of aggression will continue unless the West responds

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Opinion,Austin Bay,Columnists,Russia,Vladimir Putin,Foreign Policy,Poland,Ukraine,NATO

On April 28, around noon, according to one report, Mr. Gennady Kernes, mayor of the eastern Ukraine city of Kharkiv, went for a cross-training jog in a city park.

En route, an assassin shot the mayor in the back. According to his bodyguards, a sniper fired at Kernes from long range. Hitting the back of a running man at a distance -- the upper body mass, to use the lingo -- indicates a crack sniper fired the shot.

But even at close range, a running man can be a tough target. Bullet to the head, bullet to the heart -- the mayor likely dies, quickly. The bullet punctured the mayor's liver and one lung, so the initial attack did not kill him, not immediately.

As I write this column, Kernes fights for his life, his condition critical. A mangled lung, blood sloshing in the gut and severe blood loss are not necessarily fatal injuries. However, without radical surgical intervention, which he is receiving, Kernes' conditions are clinical predicates to a slow, agonizing death.

Pray for Kernes' survival, for he is a victim of Russian President Vladimir Putin's creeping war of aggression in eastern Ukraine. Also pray for Ukraine's survival. Putin's creeping war against Ukraine is establishing military and political predicates for the tortured nation's slow, agonizing partition into a Kremlin-controlled Ukraine East and a rump, vulnerable Ukraine West. If NATO, the European Union and, yes, the United States continue to react to Putin's aggression with confused and disjointed diplomatic and military gestures, Putin's creeping war will also establish on the ground predicates for the rapid dismemberment and absorption of Ukraine into Greater Russia. And that is a predicate for a much larger war, one with the potential for several hundred thousand dead and wounded -- future victims.

Though at the moment no one knows who tried to murder him, for a creeping aggressor, attempting to kill the mayor of Kharkiv makes cruel sense. According to several sources, including the Daily Telegraph and Ukraine's interim government, Kernes is an in-the-flesh example of a conflicted man in a conflicted country. He is a supporter of Ukraine's ousted, pro-Putin and hideously corrupt former president, Viktor Yanukovych. The Independent describes him as a "64-year-old billionaire," and given the economy-killing cronyism of Ukraine, his wealth is not a political attribute. However, agitators have not had the success in Kharkiv they have enjoyed in other Ukraine cities. When protestors seized a government building, Kharkiv police removed them. Telegraph and New York Times described Kernes as a critic of both Kiev and Moscow and a man who intends to protect his city.

Kernes is what passes for a moderate, with opponents on both sides. This makes Kernes, unfortunately, a perfect target for Kremlin operatives. KGB agent Putin knows "plausible deniability" is the sine qua non of covert violence.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the U.S. has electronic intercepts of Russian intelligence officers directing operatives in eastern Ukraine. The Daily Beast quoted Kerry as saying: "Intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow. ... We know exactly who's giving those orders; we know where they are coming from."

The Obama administration should release a few choice tapes and expose Putin's lies. It must do more to increase his political difficulties. I think there are indications that the Russian Army knows it is not ready to tangle with U.S. forces. Six weeks ago, I suggested deploying a U.S. Army heavy brigade to Poland. U.S. tanks in Poland would demonstrate, on the ground, a solid U.S. commitment to the defense of a NATO ally; it might also expose frictions between Putin and his generals. Poland wants a permanent U.S. military presence. Does President Obama think reassuring a NATO ally is aggressive?

Frankly, President Obama should reset his failed reset of Russian relations and backtrack on his abrupt and benighted September 2009 decision to suspend the deployment and long-range anti-ballistic missiles to Poland. Aggressive? It is a defensive system, designed to intercept Iranian missiles. In 2009, Putin touted Obama's gimme as a diplomatic success -- for him. So hand Vladimir an easy defeat.

AUSTIN BAY, a Washington Examiner columnist, is nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate.
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Austin Bay

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The Washington Examiner