Ukraine is Putin’s great test

February 28, 2014

To lose Ukraine — as the Russians and the President of Russia Vladimir Putin would see it — would be a huge blow. For Russians, it is part of them; of their history, of their economy and of their kin. If Putin were to “lose” Ukraine it would hurt him with the large part of the Russian population who have supported him and even more with the circle of military and security people who are his closest and most critical colleagues. The specter of being deposed like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, or, even worse, Libya’s late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, hangs over him.

More than anything else in his 14 years in power, four of these behind the scenes as prime minister, Putin is faced with a test of his own rhetoric. After his return to the presidency in May 2012, his speech has been composed of increasingly bellicose warnings to the West.

“Nobody should have any illusion about the possibility of gaining military superiority over Russia,” Putin said in his annual state-of-the-nation speech last December. “We will never allow this to happen. Russia will respond to all these challenges, political and military.” In the same address, and on other occasions,  Putin has portrayed the West as degenerate. “Euro-Atlantic countries which have moved away from their roots, including Christian values…on the same level (are placed) a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership…this is the path to degradation.”

When large-scale protests broke out in Moscow in 2011, he said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had “given a signal” to the demonstrators, “and with support of the U.S. state department, they began active work.”

Again, according to Putin and his supporters, the hand of the West is behind the revolt. In his account, the West must be faced down and shown who, in former Soviet terms, is the vozhd, the boss

Ukraine has become, with slow inevitability, the cockpit of what the Economist writer Edward Lucas has called “the new Cold War.” The European Union’s offer of an association agreement raised the hopes of millions of Ukrainians that they would be embraced by rich and democratic Western Europe. Yanukovich seemed to agree with this, only to turn on a kopeck and promise fidelity to Russia in return for aid to its teetering economy.

Protests were met with dozens of killings. Yanukovich, deserted by allies and most of the billionaire oligarchs who had helped keep him in power, fled to Russia.

In the southern city of Rostov-on-Don on Thursday, Yanukovich joined Putin in blaming “the irresponsible policies of the West” for the protests that chased him out of his office and his luxurious country mansion. He said an “illegitimate” government was governing under pressure from “nationalist, pro Fascist” elements that now control the new government. His rhetoric is now fully aligned with Putin (who is said to dislike him).

Blaming fascism is a harking back to the Second World War (or the Great Patriotic War, as it was known in the Soviet Union). Soviet forces beat back German armies and took a grip on much of East and central Europe, which was only loosened 25 years ago. To cite fascism is an appeal to a past era and a slogan for what might come — a real intervention, not from the U.S. state department, but ordered by a Russian president whose position depends on a show of force.

Will he or won’t he? Like Hamlet, Putin is tossed between the passivity of suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” which could lose him Ukraine – or an action “to take arms against a sea of troubles” – which could lose him Ukraine.

It seems plain that the armed men who have taken over airports and the parliament in Ukraine are multi-clad marines from the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The new Interior Minister in Kiev, Arsen Avakov, has described the moves as “an armed invasion.”

There is a possible way out: it is for the West and Russia to work together to guarantee Ukrainian independence, free and fair elections and assist it financially with trade and modernization. The UN Security Council meets on the issue on next week. It may have the authority to bring the sides together before escalation becomes dangerous. Yet the likelihood of this is tiny. The only hope is for Putin to realize that if he invades, he will lose more than he gains.

This is not 1956 in Hungary or 1968 in Czechoslovakia. Russian tanks will have a limited effect for the future of Ukraine beyond spilling blood and losing any possibility of its continued adherence to Russia. Putin’s opponents in Ukraine are already many.

Now is the time to cease rhetoric or warnings on either side. Now is the time to avoid a war, which has people talking about “digging a deeper shelter in the garden,” as the former UK Ambassador to Russia, Tony Brenton, put it on the BBC. It has come nearer to this. The time is now to try to force a truce. Otherwise, the unthinkable becomes thinkable and feared.


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c’est la vie.

this has nothing to do with “staring down the West” in the sense that the West is “staring Putin down” but showing the World he’s ready to “stand up to the West” and thus show “he’s got game.”

the Stage is set…the venue is “Ukraine”…there’s no backing down now and everyone knows it.

Posted by lkofenglish | Report as abusive

I think this would be a good compromise:

Let West Ukraine join Western Europe. That is, let it go to the international banking gangsters in the IMF and the World Bank. Let them have the prosperity the Greeks now enjoy.

East Ukraine will be better off going with their ethnic kin in Russia. Otherwise, they’ll be turned into serfs for the Western banking mafia.

Posted by jrpardinas | Report as abusive

Whatever happens now, Putin already lost. The main question is how low will he go before he gets it.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

Raise ya, double or nothing ! aine-Unexpected-Oil-Find-Major-Gas-Inter est.html

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive

Putin is on the receiving end of the international stick. He doesn’t appreciate the free flow of independent information courtesy of social media. Economic outcomes of a possible Russian aggression of the Ukrainian territory, even a part of Crimea, will isolate Russia politically and economically. Russia is heavily dependent on exports of its hydrocarbons, mainly to the West, and over 50% of its GDP is made of it. Even partial boycott of those raw materials will send it’s already stagflastionary economy (inflation close to 7% per year, 2013 GDP growth 1.3% and the GDP deflator 8.5) in a rapid tailspin. If Obama doesn’t know this (yes, he does), the international banksters do. The Russian ruble isn’t a global reserve currency and Bank Russi cannot print rubles as the FED does.

Posted by observer48 | Report as abusive

russians are pragmatic: action works—words less
the average russian lives in an artificially created bubble and thinks that others also want to be russian, forgetting that Stalin in many cases moved everybody around and putting russians where they had never been; kaliningrad, parts of the crimea, etc and putting other population groups all over the empire,
Russia is not popular: as one person from eastern europe put it: first they liberated us from the germans and next they forgot to leave..
the actions of russia will push more countries and people into western direction, but fear will not keep the new czars forever in power.. it is of course unnerving that at Moscows doorstep kind of people revolt and even die to be away from the homeland..with the further elimination of any opposition russia has now become a true totalitarian state, as in nature: no competition in procreation means death of the sort in the end: politicians need competition and so do political parties to remain close to the needs of the citizens, but some people in russia, (and china) seem not to have had biology in high school;
what will happen if the new government in the ukraine does not fulfil the needs of its people??

Posted by tos2755 | Report as abusive

Urgent appeal from Ukrainian people:

Dear Europeans and Americans!

Russia invaded into Ukraine!

Please send navy and troops to protect Ukraine from invader!

We Ukrainians and Russians ask Obama to protect us from Putin’s madness!

I am Russian, living in Ukraine and I don’t need any Putin’s care!

I speak Russian language and don’t have any problem with it!

This is really fake reason for nasty invasion!

Posted by AndreyAndreev | Report as abusive

Chancellor Merkel is spot on. Putin is a NUT.

Posted by lkofenglish | Report as abusive

It is not about GDP numbers, Ruble, G-8 etc. Its about revolution. its not Russian soldiers who take control over local governments in Russian speaking Eastern/Southern Ukraine. its PEOPLE

Posted by dm14 | Report as abusive

another “great power” that has no diplomats. all these “great powers” want to conduct negotiations with an AR and boots on the ground. This is not a good thing because one day
reason will fail and egos will take over. Sounds familiar?

“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power”
― Benito Mussolini

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

Is there a descendant of Neville Chamberlain available to represent the West in official negotiations? No one can appease a bully.

As long as Putin believes he negotiates with a superior hand he will overplay his cards. None of those currently representing America or Europe or the UN or NATO has the cojones to look Putin in the eye and call his bluff.

The future will be an endless parade of such adventures, which began with Georgia. And Japan may as well make nice with China over those islands.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

This reeks of a botched US-led coup…hijacked by Neo-Nazis. An excellent article on the topic by someone with experience there…Jack Worthington: 4/03/03/a-plea-re-ukraine/ . The US should abandon ship asap on this impending calamity.

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

I wonder if Putin is playing a long game – in particular, he’s looking to create conditions to mold the thinking of younger members of his populace, who never experienced the Cold War, and who have little visceral response when “Fascism” and WW2 are bandied about. Since the younger generation is much more internet-based, Putin’s total control of print/broadcast media are not as effective.

It would be interesting to know how literacy in English/French/German is changing in Russia’s younger demographic.

Posted by markhahn | Report as abusive

I disagree with most of you. I think he (Putin) has already won. I think now he’s just waiting to see if the protestors also hand him a large part of the south east Ukraine too. Maybe he will try and look good by refusing to take it. But probably not.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Brilliantly, Putin will now sit back and do NOTHING. Crimea is holding a referendum on 30 March to decide whether or not they will formally secede from Ukraine…a lead-in to re-joining Russia. No Russian military action. No highly belligerent, or bullying public statements from Putin. Through democratic self-determination, Crimea will be Vlad’s. All Vlad really has to do is sit back and watch the voting in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine…in fact, he should encourage the UN to monitor / ensure free and fair elections in all the Ukraine regions coming his way. A dramatically botched US-led coup hijacked by Neo-Nazi’s created this calamity for the West, and Ukraine.

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

There’s an alternative narrative, based on fear. The jewels of Russian foreign policy are its warm-water naval bases in Crimea and Syria. With the status quo, Mr Putin risks being the president who lost both of them, and if that happened he would not survive long, either politically or physically. So, he had to act, if only to buy himself a bit of time.

He’s now in a situation where the US (presumably) can’t allow their treaty obligations to Ukraine to be ridden over; where the EU (presumably) can’t allow a precedent to be set for incursions into their baltic member states (where the status of Russian and Russophones is also seen by Russian state media as a violation of human rights and a “threat”); where he can’t hang on to Sevastopol long term without a shooting war; and where he certainly can’t win a shooting war.

In the long term, time would appear to be the only thing he’s won with this move. So either it’s a ghastly mistake brought on by testosterone poisoning, or his hand was forced.

As for John Lloyd’s proposed solution, it seems too rational to engage the Russian Federation. Would Moscow really want a visible example of what democracy and a government free from corruption can achieve sitting right there on its doorstep, in the crucible of Orthodox civilisation?

Let us all hope that whatever happens, it doesn’t, despite all the rhetoric to date, include ethnic cleansing.

Posted by Ian_Kemmish | Report as abusive

Putin is overreaching. He probably thinks Russia is economically able to spend limitless amounts of money on his military services to keep up with the US? He should not.

Since the demise of the Soviet Bloc, Russia has been living off borrowed time economically. That is, its economic resurrection has demonstrated a compound growth rate of 7.6%, which is considerable.

However, that growth was based upon the expansion of industrial capacity that already existed and was unused since the heyday of the Cold War. Russian industry is very swiftly coming up against a capacity ceiling – and its industry does not have the financial wherewithal to invest in its expansion.

It is altogether possible that Putin is bluffing, and he knows it. Nobody wants to believe that Vladimir wants a war. But there is only so far he can get with bluffing.

Frankly, Russia deserves to reclaim the Crimean peninsula where its navy has an important exit to the Mediterranean Sea via the Dardanelles. After all, it was relegated to the Ukraine by Khrushchev and beforehand had been Russian territory.

But that’s about it. And maybe the Ukraine should ask to be compensated by having its $2B debt to GazProm forgiven … ?

Posted by deLafayette | Report as abusive

{sarkozyrocks: A dramatically botched US-led coup hijacked by Neo-Nazi’s created this calamity for the West, and Ukraine.}

Oh, really? You were there? You saw the US agents fomenting trouble in Maidan Square yourself? Gee whiz, I missed that one!

What nonsense. This as truly a people uprising, having been pressed to the wall by one of the most corrupt oligarchs in its history.

This “revolution” was all theirs, and not the least bit Uncle Sam’s. For what purpose? Giving Putin the finger for his defense of Assad in Syria?

So, after straightening out Central Africa, Hollande will send the French Army to Syria? Yeah, right!

Will conspiracy theory ever end? Not for some …

Posted by deLafayette | Report as abusive

deLafayette, spot on. And, this is Putin’s test of all time. Do not let McCain be right. L.

Posted by 2Borknot2B | Report as abusive

People are making such a big deal out of this. Really.
Just because Putin sent some people to a navel base the whole world cries ‘cold war’ and makes up all sorts of illusions and hype. It’s not like they’re doing anything there. If Obama’s USA or one of the Western nations did this, we’d be cheering them on.

Posted by CKU | Report as abusive

Putinism flunks test!

Fascinating article in the Moscow Times: le/professor-says-sacked-over-opinion-ar ticle-against-possible-ukraine-invasion/ 495616.html

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

What’s 50 + 67 equal? I believe it’s 117 Right? So then the year 1967 plus 50 years would equal the year 2017 right?

And the year is now 2014 so in 3 more years the American Freedom of Information Act allows the world to view the first Photographs that must be made public of the USS Liberty Massacre where Israel ordered its Army, Navy, and Air Force to destroy our American war vessel by bombs, Torpedoes, Strafing, and Shooting the American Officers and Enlisted Men in International Sea Waters that immediately killed 37, and wounded 170 that have died and been dying from their wounds in the 1967 Israeli 3 Day War.

No Enteral Flame has ever been erected in Arlington National Cemetery for these brave dead American Soldiers, no mention of their sacrifices in any American High School History Books, no President, Senator, or Representative has shown any public display of gratitude for their courage in this conflict, all those who were there and died have been all but forgotten but in 3 years the world will come to know the truth.

President Johnson was suspected of the JFK assasination by conspiracy theorists and the conspiracy to keep quite the USS Liberty Massacre for the last 50 years came on President Johnson’s shift so is there a link between the two conspiracies with the same man involved?

Posted by 1justmyopinion | Report as abusive