Ukrainians Cannot Count on Sanctions or Falling Oil Prices to Stop Putin, Illarionov Says

December 2, 2014
Photo by TASS

Staunton, December 2 – Many in Ukraine and elsewhere think that falling oil prices or increased Western sanctions or more sensible people in his entourage will convince Vladimir Putin to change course and end his aggressive policies, but they are wrong because none of these things will affect Putin’s pursuit of his goals, according to Andrey Illarionov.

At a press conference in Kyiv yesterday, the Russian analyst said that none of these things will have an impact at least in the short term and that Putin will continue to pursue his strategic goals of establishing “political, economic and financial control over Ukraine.”

Ukrainians and their supporters must not count on anything else, he said. Instead, they must be prepared for “a very long drawn-out struggle in order to defend [Ukraine’s] sovereignty and independence,” and Ukrainians must work to increase their ability to defend their country militarily and economically.

Among the steps Ukrainians must take, the Russian economist said, are “economic reforms, avoiding default, the liquidation of the budget deficit and a radical reduction of budgetary expenditures,” even as they continue to fight against an invader. Such steps are equally necessary to defeat him.

It is vitally important that Ukrainians and their supporters stop putting their faith in things that will not work, he continued. Putin’s entourage, even though it may contain people who individually and personally oppose his policies in Ukraine is not going to have the impact they hope for.

“Putin’s entourage does not take strategic decisions,” Illarionov pointed out. “In practice, one man takes such strategic decisions in Russia,” and that man is Putin.

Nor is the hope that falling oil prices will cause him to cease and desire a real one. Despite the economic hardships these things are imposing on Russia, there is little chance that there will be the kind of unrest that would force Putin to change course. And the collapse of the ruble won’t either because it will in fact make Russian exports more competitive, not less.

The issue of Putin’s relationship with those around him is increasingly the subject of discussions both in Moscow and in the West, with many as Illarionov noted placing their hopes in “cooler heads” in the Kremlin to bring Putin around. But Putin’s concentration of power in his hands makes that unlikely, as the commentator says.

Moreover, there is another consequence of Putin’s concentration of power that is a matter for serious concern: he has sufficiently insulated himself from those around him and even from reality that he is no longer in a position to reliably assess what the situation really is.

And that in turn leads to greater unpredictability, greater uncertainty, and thus greater danger for Ukraine and Russia’s other neighbors, for Russia, but ultimately for Putin himself, even though as a result of the system he has created, the Kremlin leader increasingly does not seem to be aware of that possibility.