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World leaders must rely on dialogue to de-escalate a dangerous situation

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has a reputation as an uncompromising 'strong man'. Photo: Pavel Bednyakov

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a reputation as an uncompromising 'strong man'. Photo: Pavel Bednyakov

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a reputation as an uncompromising 'strong man'. Photo: Pavel Bednyakov

Twice last century the laws of unintended consequences were flouted, each time resulting in a world war.

So when the words “war” and “games” are brought together, only those with a warped sense of reality fail to feel an icy chill to their core.

Small boys like to take their shiny new toys out of their boxes and display them. To see leaders of supposed super-powers do something similar – with the real thing – is beyond sinister. Before Russia, Nato or the US look ahead to their next move, they should think long and hard about the horrors precipitate actions have left behind.

There is no benign or positive intention behind Russia’s plan to deploy its naval might 240km off our southwest coast. Nor are the 100,000 troops it has posted on the border with Ukraine sent there in the interests of neighbourliness.

Nato is also putting extra forces on standby and sending more ships and fighter jets to eastern Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin has a reputation as an uncompromising ‘strong man’. With economic and electoral pressures building up, he may feel a flexing of muscle and a facing down of the great enemy might play well at home.

The prospect of dividing Europe against itself would be relished, should it fail to maintain a common front on punitive sanctions and freezing of assets. Force can not be countenanced. Yet US President Joe Biden, too, is considering deploying more troops to Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

Last week Mr Biden seemed to be taking a more realistic line. He clarified the US response should be proportional to the magnitude of Moscow’s aggression. And he explained the US can’t guard Europe’s frontiers if the major European powers themselves are divided. Upping the ante with extra troops pushes the dispute further from the diplomatic arena.

The trouble is, once a trigger is pulled, no matter who is holding the rifle, there is no accounting for the ricochet.

Russia’s historical claims on Ukraine may be a sore point in Moscow. But with the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became independent. It was formalised as a sovereign state through a referendum that December. There has been tension since between eastern and western Ukraine, which is closer to Europe. Fighting in eastern Ukraine has so far killed around 14,000 people.

The potential for a conflagration is all too real. Arriving at the EU meeting on the crisis, Foreign Afairs Minister Simon Coveney said: “This isn’t a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what’s happening with and in Ukraine. The fact that they are choosing to do it on the western borders, if you like, of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that in our view is simply not welcome and not wanted right now, particularly in the coming weeks.”

Conflict and violence seldom affirm who is right – but merely who is left. Consultation and dialogue are the only way to resolve these issues and maintain stability. The building up of forces as a “deterrence” runs the risk of having the opposite effect.

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