Staunton, May 18 – Using subversion, Vladimir Putin has not been able to split Ukraine, to take control over Kharkhiv, Mykolayev, or Odessa, or create “’a Novorossiya,’” and that consequently, “without a massive Russian intervention,” he will succeed in detaching only Donetsk and Luhgansk and those only temporarily, according to a Moscow commentator.
But what must be even more disturbing to the Kremlin leader is that if the Donetsk an Luhansk “regimes” fall, Igor Eidman says, “a mass of armed radicals and criminals will run from there into Russia” and contribute to the growth of “a right-radical terrorist undergrounds” which thanks to Moscow media coverage will enjoy “the sympathy of the population.”
And it will not be a surprise to him, the Kasparov.ru commentator says, if these people, accustomed as they are to engaging in violence, will become “the nucleus of an armed struggle against the ruling regime in Russia itself,” a development that could prove “fatal” for Putin’s regime.
Putin’s efforts have not succeeded in making Donetsk or Luhansk into something like Transdniestria, a place where there has been a real national conflict and where the leaders enjoy a certain support from the population. Instead, all he has managed is to set up “’pirate republics’” which are “absolutely artificial” and have been “imposed from outside.”
The leaderships of the two oblasts are “in part local marginal and in part Russian ‘volunteers’ (who are also marginal),” Eidman writes. They are not “rooted in these places and do not have serious authority among the residents.” The latter support them only as means to unification with Russia and an increase in their standard of living.
If Moscow doesn’t take them in, “the meaning of the entire adventure with the proclamation of independence from Ukraine disappears for them.” And with time, a conflict between the population and “the leadership of the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ will become inevitable.” Even before that, “the unity of the separatists” will be cast into question.
“The only chance the separatists have is for open Russian intervention,” but “Putin doesn’t need Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. He is interested in the strategically and economically more important regions: Kharkiv, Dneprpetrovsk, Odessa, and in a corridor to Crimea.” But he won’t get any of this “without a broad-scale war with the Ukrainian people.”
“And he is still not ready for that,” Eidman says. Such a war would lead to a greater confrontation with the West and require Moscow to feed more than 6.5 million people. Those two things alone could prove fatal for the Russian economy.” Moreover, Putin would have to “impose order in the regions he would seize,” something far more difficult than letting “the genie of ‘the Russian bunt’” out of the bottle in the first place.
What is possible is that Putin will try to trade his withdrawal of support for the Donbas separatists for international recognition of the Russian annexation of Crimea.” But “the precedent of changing borders in Europe by force is sufficiently dangerous that neither Ukraine nor even more the West will agree.”
Thus the trap that Putin built for Ukraine in the Donbas has turned out to be a hole into which he personally has fallen and out of which he does not have a good way of getting out. “Time will work for Ukraine.” The presidential elections will take place. And “gradually the situation in Ukraine will be stabilized and the state strengthened.”
As that happens, he says, Kyiv “will have every opportunity for establishing its control” over Donetsk and Luhansk.” Indeed, “if direct massive military assistance by Russia doesn’t come, [these regimes] will fall quite quickly.”
Putin will not be able to get out of this situation “without serious negative consequences” at home. Many Russians will view any retreat, given the Kremlin’s propaganda effort, “as treason.” And as a result, “the Crimean euphoria” will give way to “the Donbas hangover,” with Putin no longer viewed as a hero but rather as a traitor.”
Such a shift in attitudes together with the arrival in Russia of the marginal elements from Donetsk, Luhansk and other parts of Ukraine could create the greatest threat to Putin’s continuation in office that he has ever faced.