Staunton, February 16 – Many in Ukraine and elsewhere are fearful that Vladimir Putin will expand his aggression into other regions of Ukraine, but, according to Ivan Yakovina of Novoye Vremya, he does not at least at the present time have “the strength, the motive or the opportunity” to do so.
There are six compelling reasons why this is so, Yakovina says, and to those who say that Putin is irrational and therefore will go ahead anyway, he responds that Putin may be able to “run from reality” for a time, but eventually “reality catches up” – and it will catch up to him in “two to three months.”
Concerns that Putin won’t stop are “completely rational and sensible,” Yakovina says. “We all have already more than once been witness to the Kremlin raising the stakes, beginning new attacks in one or another direction and sometimes with the direct participation of Russian military units.”
Russian propaganda and Russia’s agents in the Donbas so often suggest that Moscow could take Kyiv or any other part of Ukraine whenever it wants to that some have come to accept this as true and even inevitable. But there are six serious obstacles to that happening, and it is important to take them into consideration too.
The first obstacle is within Russia itself. “However much Russian propaganda tries” to suggest otherwise, Russians are fed up with the fighting. “They would with enormous joy receive the news that Kyiv had ‘let go’ the DNR and the LNR. In their eyes, this would be a pure victory.”
But inside Russia, Yakovina argues, “the popularity of continuing military actions after such an obvious victory would be minimal.”
The second obstacle is diplomatic. Putin very much wants to have direct dialogue with Western leaders. He got that at Minsk although his dreams of “sitting at one table with Barack Obama” and discussing the future of Ukraine have not yet been realized. Any broader attack on Ukraine would end both possibilities, and “Putin is not prepared” for that.
The third obstacle is foreign economics. Putin wants them eased or lifted. If he broadened his attacks in Ukraine they would be “intensified many times over.” Given the current rapid decline of Russia’s GDP, that price would be “unacceptable” to him and to Russians more generally.
The fourth obstacle is related to these: the price of controlling Donetsk and Luhansk is much lower than would be the price of controlling any other part of Ukraine. There would be fewer supporters of Moscow and far more opponents of a Russian occupation direct or as in the Donbas indirect.
Consequently, if Putin were to advance further, he would face “a situation different in principle” with the one he now faces in the Donbas. A partisan war would start, there would be massive civil disobedience, and he would need “an enormous repressive apparatus.”He doesn’t have the money, the people or the desire to create such a thing.
The fifth obstacle is related: “If the territory under the control of the militants increased significantly and there were no hopes for financing from Kyiv, then almost immediately there would be a humanitarian catastrophe and a social explosion,” Yakovina continues. Moreover, in such a case, Moscow would find it difficult if not impossible to “blame” Kyiv.
And the sixth obstacle, the one that the Ukrainian journalist suggests is the most important, is that Moscow would find it difficult to organize and carry out a military advance. Its troops have not performed all that well against a determined Ukrainian army, and they would do less and less well and suffer more losses the further they were from Russia’s borders.
These considerations apply equally to any talk about opening a land corridor to Crimea. Moreover, Yakovina says, there is an additional reason for thinking Moscow could not advance in that direction easily. All Soviet and Russian military doctrine is based on the use of railroads – and “along the Azov coast, there are none.”
But looming behind these six reasons why Putin won’t go further are his strategic goals, which do not include the seizure of Ukrainian territory as such but rather “the establishment of control over Kyiv with the help of ‘a special status’ for a certain territory completely under Moscow’s political control.”
“The size of this territory does not have particular significance,” he suggests. Indeed, it may very well be that “the more compact it will be, the better.” That also means that if Ukraine were to give up its claim to these territories, Putin’s plan would fail – and that he would have more reason for invading some other part of Ukraine, whatever the costs.
Unfortunately, the Kyiv journalist says, one has to deal with the reality that Putin acts irrationally and is certainly not a reader of Novoye Vremya. But the key fact is that “an individual living in a world of illusions, sooner or later encounters reality,” however much he seeks to run from it.
In the current case, that encounter will take the following forms: “a decline in his poll numbers, international isolation and sanctions, the collapse of the Russian economy, enormous losses at the front, a partisan movement, a humanitarian catastrophe and uprisings in the Donbas and in Russia, hatred from the oligarchs, and at the end” an attack on his person.