Staunton, September 6 – That Vladimir Putin has won another round in his invasion of Ukraine seems clear: he has forced Kiev to reach agreements with Moscow-backed secessionists, he has effectively taken his Anschluss of Crimea off the table of discussion, and he has further undermined Western unity concerning the imposition of sanctions.
In all those areas, the Kremlin leader is achieving exactly what he wants and in a way that does not limit his future room for maneuver, including additional aggression against Ukraine or other countries, Moscow economist Sergey Aleksashenko says, adding only that these victories are likely to prove “Pyrrhic.”
Putin has asserted that “Russia is not a participant in the conflict in Ukraine, Aleksashenko says, and in one sense he is right. It cannot be because today in Russia “there are no political or state institutions” which limit “the autocratic character of the power of the Russian president.” Putin, like Louis XVI, is the state, and he not Russia is “a participant” in Ukraine.
That means, the economist continues, that the key question is: “what does Putin want?” It is clear that over the last few days or weeks, his position has “been sharply radicalized” in the face of the victories of Ukrainian forces over the pro-Moscow insurgents in Ukraine and thus in the danger that he would not be able to block Ukraine from joining NATO.
Consequently, the Russian president has sent in Russian troops to demonstrate to Kiev and the world that the Ukrainians may have been able to defeat the insurgents, but they are no match for the Russian army and that Kiev and the West should not hold out any hope that the pro-Moscow side can be defeated without Western intervention, something that won’t happen.
The West’s failure to do more strongly suggests that its leaders do not “adequately understand with whom they are dealing.” Putin “respects only force and treats any concessions in negotiations as a sign of weakness.” Consequently, one can force him to negotiate and make compromises only from a position of strength not weakness.
“The present line of behavior of the West does not have any chance to stop the Russian president who is ready to suffer serious losses,” Aleksashenko says. He will simply continue his “judo-style” strategy of “stop, be patient, wait a moment and then make a leap forward” as he has in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk, Mariupol, and other places as well.
But all this does not mean that Ukraine is going to back down. “There is no party in Ukraine today which is prepared to advance the slogan of a close union with Russia.” Moreover, none will agree to the separation of Novorossiya from Ukraine as a whole. Any who tried to push that idea in the October elections would suffer a rout.
That in turn will mean that Kiev won’t make the compromises that Moscow wants and that the West sees as a way out of the crisis. And as a result, Putin will use Ukrainian resistance as a way of undermining further any possibility of Western support for Ukraine. Moreover, he will become even harsher and more uncompromising himself.
Thus, the ceasefire declared on 5 September “undoubtedly represents a tactic victory” for Putin. The separatists have gained control over much of Novorossiya, and the ceasefire “will give them a breathing space for the de facto formation of their power institutions on this territory” separate from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian authorities cannot easily resume their anti-terrorist operation because of Western opposition and the certainty of an even greater Russian intervention. Consequently, the outcome is going to be “de facto” a Transdniestria situation within Ukraine, and that means “Ukraine cannot become a member of NATO,” exactly what Putin sought as the outcome.
Putin and his supporters will celebrate this triumph, Alaksashenko says. “but this will be ‘a Pyrrhic victory’” because of the costs that Moscow will incur as a result not only because Western sanctions will continue but because the Russian government will now have to spend money in “Novorossiya.”
Given that the population of Donetsk and Luhansk is about three times that of Crimea and assuming that Moscow will have to spend approximately the same amount per capita in it that is now planning to spend in the occupied peninsula, the Russian government will need to dispatch a half trillion rubles (15 billion US dollars) there every year well into the future.
That could prove the budgetary straw that broke the camel’s back, he says.
Today as in the past, “Putin’s policy from a position of strength has brought him success. But at the same time,” it has created a situation for Russia which has the potential to grow into a “full-scale crisis” that could be set off by “the smallest spark,” a danger that should be giving Putin something to worry about.