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Fri, 11 Apr 2014 13:51 - Updated Fri, 11 Apr 2014 13:51

West struggles as Russia moves to dominate old USSR

NATO says tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on the border with Ukraine for a potential invasion, yet Western states still lack a strategy to stop Moscow from intervening in its former Soviet neighbors.

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With military action to protect non-NATO states effectively ruled out, current and former officials say sanctions and isolation provide the best - and perhaps only - way to pressure Moscow. Ramping up the pressure on the rich and powerful around President Vladimir Putin, they say, might in time push him towards a much more conciliatory approach.

But that, they concede, could prove a long game, and some both in and outside government worry that a more isolated Russia may simply become both more nationalist and self-sufficient. Putting Putin under more pressure, they worry, may give him even more incentive to take a populist, more aggressive approach.

Ultimately, Moscow's commitment to rebuild the former USSR as its own unilateral sphere of influence may outstrip the determination of Washington and its European allies to stop it.

Experts say Moscow has been infiltrating its neighbors ever more deeply, building its influence amongst security forces, government officials and politicians. That, some say, allows it to stir up instability in locations like eastern Ukraine and create both confusion and potential preconditions to invade.

"What we're seeing here is a new form of warfare and part of a concerted strategy," said Chris Donnelly, a former senior adviser to NATO on Russia and now director of the Institute for Statecraft in London. "Either we stand up to it or we let it happen. So far the response has been totally inadequate."

With Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula now largely seen an irreversible fait accompli, many now see more confrontation over the years to come.

In a March 18 speech following the Crimea intervention, Putin made it clear he would be willing to use force to safeguard the interests of Russian-speaking minorities.

The breakup of the USSR left some 25 million ethnic Russians outside the borders of the Russian Federation, concentrated in places like Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Central Asian and Baltic states and breakaway enclaves in Georgia and Moldova.

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