WHAT NEXT FOR UKRAINE AND FOR PUTIN AND HIS RUSSIA?
Harry C. Blaney III
The actions of the last few days have sent mixed signals but most of them pointing towards greater unrest and Russian continued escalation of the conflict along with mixed results of Ukrainian efforts to regain authority in the region. The capture of the O.S.C.E military observers by pro-Russian forces and rump Russian instigated local anti- Kiev regimes, and continued occupation of armed pro-Russian units, indicates that the Geneva agreement has been honored in the breach and the added Russian army maneuvers on the border seem added acts of provocation.
As of now there remains some doubt as to the final outcome of the Ukraine crisis. But there is less doubt about the impact on Putin and perhaps Russia. Putin’s playing with fire may have gain him Crimea, but already the cost of even that “victory” may outweigh any real gain for Russia. Now Putin has responsibility for an added 2 million people who were already in some economic distress, and must supply them with food, fuel, pensions, work and all the services that an government must provide. This in an already distressed “inner” Russia.
As Putin contemplates the question of upping the ante beyond his special service thugs instigating unrest and setting up puppet shadow Russian run regimes in key cities in Eastern Ukraine and arming more and more right-wing militia, If he was a normal statesman he just might pause and think of the “cost-benefit” long term of an action of sending his troops over the Ukraine border. One of the unsettled debates here, among so-called experts is, is he rational or a bit of a mad man.
His actions so far will cost him more than any “rent” Russia paid for their bases in Crimea. But that is the small change cost. The larger cost is the reactions to his aggressive and reckless provocations in both taking over Crimea and his efforts to destabilize Eastern Ukraine and perhaps even the entire country by just those countries that he wants most to control.
Not least in the bag of costs to Putin is the still delayed actions of all sectors in the West in looking at a leader which they can never trust nor feel even safe with. Putin has broken a certain tie of unstated understanding between him and the West. After the many blatant lies told by Putin and his Foreign Minister and his other associates about his actions, intentions, and promises there is little room for confidence in the future in any agreements and understandings unless it is clearly in Putin’s interest, and perhaps not even then.
Already, there has been a exit of money from the country (some estimate at $40 billion), the Ruble has fallen, and the stock market is down. The more engaged, international orientated, the middle class connected young, and intelligentsia of Russia have now voiced fears of a growing closing of the range of dialogue and creation of a narrow closed authoritarian state.
The problem of confidence probably has eroded almost beyond repair. Here the key will be if there is a brutal further push for aggression and use of force in Ukraine and in other “near afar” nations that Putin sees as his “sphere of interest.”
We may be approaching a point of fundamental re-assessment of our interests and strategy both in the short but especially in the long-term of our dealings with Putin. The initial debate is now just over “soft” and “hard” sanctions but soon, very soon depending on Putin’s actions, we will need to weigh the balance between the several important interests we have in dealing with Russia like access to Afghanistan, arms control, terrorism, Iran, and other issues and the problem of “containing” Putin’s aggressions against the nations of the “near afar” who are now independent of Russia. These nations, which were part of the Russian/Soviet empire and the Warsaw Pact, are also re-examining their own interests, security, and economic situation in light of Ukraine and not least the growing authoritarian trends in their nearby most potent neighbor. Weighing this balance will not be easy as we need, as we have stated here earlier, keep open a diplomatic and person-to-person dialogue and relationship in order to achieve, over time, a better relationship based on mutual interests and larger strategic goals of both nations. Thus the ranting of those that seem elated in a new Cold War conflict and military confrontation should not be the path forward.
The debate today, as we have said, is about the extent of sanctions and the need to coordinate with our allies to give some appearance of unity. Harder choices are ahead. In a future blog posts we will examine some more of the strategies and policies that look to this longer term and contribute to lessening the threat to Eastern Europe and to the NATO nations and keep open room for diplomacy. Secretary John Kerry was right to test Putin in Geneva but the next stage will be more difficult and uncertain.
We welcome your comments!