Will Putin's Gambit Backfire?

Vladimir Putin's Crimean gambit could prove to be the most fatal mistake of his political career -- a mistake that may well cost Russia the peace, economic and political stability that stand as chief monument to Putin's decade and a half in power. Full Story
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Since: Oct 08

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#1 Mar 2, 2014
Vladimir Putin’s Crimean gambit could prove to be the most fatal mistake of his political career -- a mistake that may well cost Russia the peace, economic and political stability that stand as chief monument to Putin's decade and a half in power.

Even as Russian Marines in unmarked uniforms surrounded Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, Putin’s spokesman continued to claim Sunday that Russia “respected Ukraine’s territorial integrity.” The problem for Putin is that the West isn’t buying his lies, And that makes this confrontation the most dangerous since the end of the Cold War.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry called the stealth invasion an “incredible act of aggression” on Sunday and warned that Russia could be expelled from the G8, face economic sanctions, visa bans, asset freezes and trade isolation as possible sanctions for violating Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. The US, Britain France and Canada pulled out of preparatory meetings for the G8 economic summit, scheduled to be held in June at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, two hour’s drive from Crimea. And Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said Russia has already “declared war” on Ukraine and warned that “we are on the brink of disaster.”

Yatsenyuk is right – the last thing that the precarious revolutionary government Ukraine needs is a shooting war with Russia, or even a serious crisis of governance with all the economic turmoil that that would entail. But such a conflict would be even more disastrous for Russia itself.

In August 2008 Putin sent Russian tanks and troops into two enclaves of Georgia and recognized them as independent states – and suffered next to no consequences. The West made some disapproving noises, then essentially went on with business with Moscow as usual.

But Crimea is different. Ukraine borders the EU and harbors real ambitions of one day becoming an EU member. Unlike the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which rebelled from the rule of Tbilisi as long ago as 1992, Crimea has been a peaceful part of the Ukrainian state since the breakup of the Soviet Union until last week’s de-facto seizure by the Russian military.

Most important of all, the West’s failure to properly censure Russia over its aggression in Georgia left the Eastern European members of NATO and the EU angry and resentful. Then, their Western partners traded justice for realpolitik. Now Poland, the Baltic Republics, the Czechs and Slovaks and Romania are determined that Moscow must not be allowed to get away with it a second time.

Putin is not oblivious to this line in the sand. That’s why he takes the trouble to maintain the fig-leaf of using unmarked armored personnel carriers to patrol the streets of the Crimean cities Simferopol and Sevastopol. But Putin’s tragedy -- and ultimately Russia’s -- is that he still sees the world in Cold War terms, a zero-sum game that can have only one winner and one loser.

“Unfortunately, in the eyes of the Russian leadership, true greatness requires the ability to dominate … geopolitically in large parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe and in its former empire above all,” says James Nixey, of the Royal Institute of Strategic Studies’ Russia and Eurasia Program.

What that means in practical terms is that Putin has come to believe his own propaganda – that he is has really succeeded in resurrecting the power of the Soviet Union, the demise of which he famously described as “the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.”

In a narrow sense, it’s true. Thanks to the billions of petro-dollars Putin has lavished on his military, he could roll over Ukraine’s entire army in days. The Russian military has 766,000 men under arms: Ukraine has just 160,000. Putin’s arsenal boasts over 4000 aircraft and helicopters to Ukraine’s 493. And so on.

Since: Oct 08

Location hidden

#2 Mar 2, 2014
But the point that Putin is missing is that unlike the once-mighty Soviet Union, Russia now accounts for just 2 percent of the world’s GDP. The endemic corruption of Russia’s vast bureaucracy has killed much of the real economy and put off foreign direct investment. As a result, Russia remains utterly dependent on export of oil and gas. Both are coming under pressure as the shale gas revolution has slashed US natural gas prices by two thirds and made America a net exporter of energy. True, Europe depends on the Russian gas giant Gazprom for nearly 40 percent of its supplies, much of it piped through Ukraine – but that dependence is a mutual one. Europe can, with the growth of the liquefied natural gas market, seek other sources. Russia has no other customers at the end of its multi-billion dollar gas pipelines than the Europeans. Oil prices, too, are slipping on the prospect of a Chinese economic slowdown.

For the first time since the beginning of the natural resources bonanza of the 2000s, Russia’s budget has failed to balance this year. A budget deficit is no problem for a stable, respectable country that can borrow at low interest on international money markets. But a country facing US-led banking sanctions? Ask Iran. Despite its petro-wealth, the economy and currency have tanked under international economic sanctions without a shot being fired.

Putin may be reckless, but he knows that he cannot risk all-out confrontation with the West. Which is why he will adopt the same time-honored tactics that worked in Abkhazia and Ossetia – issue Russian passports to the local population, flood the territory with propaganda and money, destabilize the central government of Kiev and portray them as illegitimate extremists, and ultimately hold a referendum.

With Russia’s deep experience at election-rigging at home, there’s little doubt that such a plebiscite will return a ringing majority for (re)joining Russia. Crimea, Moscow will argue in the United Nations, is only part of Ukraine as an accident of history, signed over in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev as a present to his native Ukraine. Should the people of Crimea not be allowed to decide which country they want to be part of?

The problem is that letting Crimea go would be political suicide for any government in Kiev. More, in the Eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk the populations are more evenly divided between Russians and Ukrainians – indeed, in a plebiscite in 1991 on whether they wanted to be ruled by Kiev or Moscow both regions voted for Kiev. The makings of a messy civil war are evident.

Even in Putin’s best-case scenario – that he somehow manages to more or less peacefully detach Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine from Kiev’s rule – the consequences for Russia are disastrous.

“Ukraine is not a ‘prize’ to be won or lost by Russia or the EU,” says Roderic Lyne of the London based Chatham House think tank.“Ukraine, in its current state, is a liability, as shown by the costs of the mooted bail-out, some $15 billion from the IMF. It is a problem to which a lasting solution must come from within the country, but which will also require the active cooperation of both Russia and the West.”

In other words, Ukraine is an economic basket case, falling behind Russia, even behind Belarus, and far behind Poland over two wasted decades of mismanagement.

Does Putin really want to have that on his plate? More – can he afford it?

Moreover he will be importing another ethnic conflict into the borders of Russia. Around 12 percent of the population of Crimea are ethnic Tatars, who deeply resent Russian rule and have shown that they are willing to fight for their rights to remain in Ukraine. They're backed by a large diaspora in neighboring Turkey, another major Russian economic partner which will fall away if Putin continues with his annexation.

Since: Oct 08

Location hidden

#3 Mar 2, 2014
Putin is in a deadly fix: he will be damned as a coward at home if he lets Ukraine go, but he will be damned as an international aggressor if he intervenes. Post-Imperial Britain faced a similar moment in 1956 when a Arab nationalist government nationalized the Suez Canal. Britain and France parachuted troops into Egypt and easily occupied the Canal Zone – only to find that the rest of the world had turned against them. In trying to save their Empire, they ended up bringing it to ruin.

The Crimea is Putin’s Suez moment – the tragic slow-motion collision of a deluded Imperial vision against the hard realities of a global economy and the real-world limitations of Russia's regional power.
Casino Jack

United States

#4 Mar 2, 2014
What gambit? Crimea's already seceded. Game over. Bye Bye Ukraine.
Just a thought

Beloit, WI

#5 Mar 2, 2014
Putin is no fool.If he thought the Ukrainian incursion would come with political costs he would not have gone in.He gambled the Obama/"red line"factor..Obama is a boob that is in over his head.Warfare is the last resort of nations.
Casino Jack

United States

#6 Mar 2, 2014
Putin had his own red line in the Crimea...and we crossed it.

Hey, you win a few and you lose a few. You push the envelope and hope you don't rip the flap. C'est la vie.

Besides, who are we to stand in the way of a popular revolt against a popular revolt?

Long and short of it is, we're amateurs. We should stick to playing checkers.
Knight Hospitaller

Georgia

#7 Mar 3, 2014
We see once more the aggressive nature of Putin's politics. It is obvious that those uncivilized actions will backfire. We have already seen that Russia is under threat to be forced out of G8, as well as other severe economic sanctions. It's only matter of time until Russian people realize the devastating costs of tolerating a dictator.
LOL

United States

#8 Mar 3, 2014
Wow, looks like all the international neo-nazis are joining the forum now for a ritual book-burning.

Where's David Duke? You'd think he'd be marching around Kiev now in a white hijab and a burning cross.
George

Red Deer, Canada

#9 Mar 3, 2014
just a guy i knew wrote:
Putin is in a deadly fix: he will be damned as a coward at home if he lets Ukraine go, but he will be damned as an international aggressor if he intervenes. Post-Imperial Britain faced a similar moment in 1956 when a Arab nationalist government nationalized the Suez Canal. Britain and France parachuted troops into Egypt and easily occupied the Canal Zone – only to find that the rest of the world had turned against them. In trying to save their Empire, they ended up bringing it to ruin.
The Crimea is Putin’s Suez moment – the tragic slow-motion collision of a deluded Imperial vision against the hard realities of a global economy and the real-world limitations of Russia's regional power.
You have given us a very good summary, thanks. Germany called Putin yesterday and is sending a team to Crimea to investigate the allegations that the Russian speaking people are being treated unfairly and Putin agreed to stand down while this goes on, maybe she can make some sense out of this.\

When the Ukraine was given Crimea they surrendered all nuclear weapons to Russia as part of a legal contract, so it is 100% Ukranian owned and an act of aggression by Russia is an act of war
well

Toronto, Canada

#10 Mar 3, 2014
Just a thought wrote:
Putin is no fool.If he thought the Ukrainian incursion would come with political costs he would not have gone in.He gambled the Obama/"red line"factor..Obama is a boob that is in over his head.Warfare is the last resort of nations.
Are you sure Putin is not a fool? Three days after Olympic games ended in Sochi he decided to invade Ukraine. I bet just like Hitler he wanted his own Olympic games, and right after he got them just like Hitler with Sudetenland he got his Crimea. Didn't Hitler invade Czechoslovakia also based on protecting German speaking people there? It's mind boggling to see how similar these two dictators are. There are Russian speaking people in Poland, Baltic countries. Is he going to "protect" them too?
Brit Expat

Montpellier, France

#11 Mar 3, 2014
George wrote:
<quoted text>
You have given us a very good summary, thanks. Germany called Putin yesterday and is sending a team to Crimea to investigate the allegations that the Russian speaking people are being treated unfairly and Putin agreed to stand down while this goes on, maybe she can make some sense out of this.\
When the Ukraine was given Crimea they surrendered all nuclear weapons to Russia as part of a legal contract, so it is 100% Ukranian owned and an act of aggression by Russia is an act of war
George! As usual. Your post reflects the simpleton.

But have a nice day.
Oliver Cromwell

Accrington, UK

#12 Mar 3, 2014
LOL wrote:
Wow, looks like all the international neo-nazis are joining the forum now for a ritual book-burning.
Where's David Duke? You'd think he'd be marching around Kiev now in a white hijab and a burning cross.
Maybe they could make insane McCain the grand Wizard of the Kiev KKK.
Oliver Cromwell

Accrington, UK

#13 Mar 3, 2014
well wrote:
<quoted text>Are you sure Putin is not a fool? Three days after Olympic games ended in Sochi he decided to invade Ukraine. I bet just like Hitler he wanted his own Olympic games, and right after he got them just like Hitler with Sudetenland he got his Crimea. Didn't Hitler invade Czechoslovakia also based on protecting German speaking people there? It's mind boggling to see how similar these two dictators are. There are Russian speaking people in Poland, Baltic countries. Is he going to "protect" them too?
He didn't invade Ukraine dipstick if he had Russia tanks would be in Kiev,an invasion looks like what we did in Iraq,bombing for weeks on end then thousand of troops going in blowing anthing and anyone away that even looks like a threat,result hundreds of thousands dead and a Country in ruins.
UKRAINE IN EUROPE

Surrey, Canada

#14 Mar 3, 2014
Oliver Cromwell wrote:
<quoted text> He didn't invade Ukraine dipstick if he had Russia tanks would be in Kiev,an invasion looks like what we did in Iraq,bombing for weeks on end then thousand of troops going in blowing anthing and anyone away that even looks like a threat,result hundreds of thousands dead and a Country in ruins.
Then what are thousands of Russian troops doing occupying part of the territory of Ukraine, "Oliver Hardy"? Are they LOST, or are their commanders really stupid?

Putin wants to protect not Russians, but the Black Sea Fleet. Putin won't invade Western Ukraine because he knows he will be in for a fight that will be the ruin of his Regime.
reality knocks

United States

#15 Mar 3, 2014
UKRAINE IN EUROPE wrote:
<quoted text>
Putin won't invade Western Ukraine because he knows he will be in for a fight that will be the ruin of his Regime.
Of course he won't. So, why not pack up your worry beads, pick up your marbles and go home? The East wants nothing to do with you. Let them live free.

Fly, little birdie, fly. You're free now. He He.
LOL

United States

#16 Mar 3, 2014
UKRAINE IN EUROPE wrote:
<quoted text>
Then what are thousands of Russian troops doing occupying part of the territory of Ukraine,
Well, the long and the short of it is, it's only the territory of Ukraine because a drunken sot named Krushchev decided to give it to them in between shoe poundings at the UN.

As a proud Ukrainian patriot, you really wouldn't want to be hanging your hat on what a Communist peasant awarded you during a hangover, do you? That would be quite an embarrassing legacy, I should think.
Brit Expat

Montpellier, France

#17 Mar 3, 2014
UKRAINE IN EUROPE wrote:
<quoted text>
Then what are thousands of Russian troops doing occupying part of the territory of Ukraine, "Oliver Hardy"? Are they LOST, or are their commanders really stupid?
Putin wants to protect not Russians, but the Black Sea Fleet. Putin won't invade Western Ukraine because he knows he will be in for a fight that will be the ruin of his Regime.
Thanks for your post? Just a thought??? Do you really get all of your knowledge on world events from FOXCRAP and CBC?

just asking.
Oliver Cromwell

Accrington, UK

#18 Mar 3, 2014
UKRAINE IN EUROPE wrote:
<quoted text>
Then what are thousands of Russian troops doing occupying part of the territory of Ukraine, "Oliver Hardy"? Are they LOST, or are their commanders really stupid?
Putin wants to protect not Russians, but the Black Sea Fleet. Putin won't invade Western Ukraine because he knows he will be in for a fight that will be the ruin of his Regime.
Of course he wants to protect the Black sea fleet Mr Bandera,because you clowns would hand it to Nato.that will not be allowed to happen.
UKRAINE IN EUROPE

Surrey, Canada

#19 Mar 3, 2014
LOL wrote:
<quoted text>
Well, the long and the short of it is, it's only the territory of Ukraine because a drunken sot named Krushchev decided to give it to them in between shoe poundings at the UN.
As a proud Ukrainian patriot, you really wouldn't want to be hanging your hat on what a Communist peasant awarded you during a hangover, do you? That would be quite an embarrassing legacy, I should think.
So it IS an invasion now? Make up your mind.

Funny you Yanks are not embarrassed by having had to BUY parts of America, including Alaska! Talk about EMBARRASSING LEGACIES!

Yes, Crimea is a legacy of past efforts by the USSR to win favour and stop Ukrainian Independence fighters, who were active well into the 50's. But, Putin should buy it back now, if he wants it so badly, or advocate for a vote, not steal it.
UKRAINE IN EUROPE

Surrey, Canada

#20 Mar 3, 2014
Brit Expat wrote:
<quoted text>
Thanks for your post? Just a thought??? Do you really get all of your knowledge on world events from FOXCRAP and CBC?
just asking.
You still get your information from the voices in your head?

Just asking.

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