Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Putin Hasn't Lost. The Issue is Still in Doubt

As long as we don't let Russia get away with their aggression against Ukraine and threats to other neighbors, Putin's territorial conquests and foreign adventures can end up hurting Russia and Putin.

Yes, Putin's aggression in Ukraine and intervention in Syria, along with other acts intended to spread Russian influence (or blunt Western influence in Russia), haven't paid dividends to Russia:

Ever since the stunning Russian takeover of Crimea in early 2014, it has become popular to regard Russian President Vladimir Putin as some kind of geopolitical genius. The international media regularly depicts him as a James Bond-style supervillain, always a few steps ahead of his hapless Western opponents as he determines the fate of the world from the depths of his Kremlin lair. It is easy to imagine Putin taking personal pleasure in such hyperbole, seeing it as a reflection of Russia’s resurgence and his own prominent place in history. If he is honest with himself, however, there must also be moments when he reflects on the mounting costs of his Crimean conquest and regrets ever having given the fateful order to invade.

Not yet anyway. It depends on whether the West decides it has punished Russia enough and wants to get back to business as usual.

I suspect that if Russia had stopped with the seizure of Crimea that Russia could have gotten away with that lightning conquest against a country in chaos whose armed forces were temporarily neutralized by the street protests in Kiev that toppled the pro-Russian government.

The problem for Putin came with the follow-up low-level ongoing aggression against Ukraine's Donbas region that only partially worked and remains a source of tension in Western-Russian relations (not to mention Ukraine-Russian relations).

And of course, this should demonstrate the nonsense of painting Russia's subliminal war of necessity--against a country incapable of resistance--as a brilliant "hybrid" form of new warfare.

Russia would have been far better off if they could have pulled off a lightning conquest of the Donbas with Cold War-era tanks backed my Interior Ministry troops. But the Russians lacked the military to do that and so they used what they could while Western analysts claimed how brilliant Putin is.

And here they are. Russia hasn't won. Not yet anyway. And until they either win or retreat to restore ties to the West, Russia will endure pain.

The question is do we help Russia's enemies make sure that Russia doesn't manage to get a win out of their adventures.