Monday, July 28, 2014

Don't Count on Putin Blinking On Ukraine

With the EU rumored to be moving to Tier 3 sanctions by Tuesday,the emerging view among Western commentators who form opinions by talking to each other, is that Russian President Putin may have gone too far and may "blink" and reverse his Ukrainian strategy.

While is it encouraging to see how the Ukraine seems to be rallying its military forces and crowd funding drones to better target Russian-led separatists, it is another thing to believe that President Putin will suddenly say "Hold on, let's reconsider here." 

In the long run, there is no doubt that the Russian experiment, tied by the ultimate "cult of personality" to one man, is doomed for economic and demographic reasons, as well as by the very oligarchs who were created by plundering national resources at the start.  It's another thing to think that it stops here.

A "on again, off again" strategy of maintaining a continuing, low level instability in Ukraine, whose economy was already a basket case, through a winter will probably erode what looks like a unified domestic political front now. Also, President Putin knows that once U.S. election cycles kick into full swing, domestic issues like border security, young refugees, and corporate malfeasance will take center stage over foreign affairs.

Putting in place a meaningful menu of sanctions coordinated among North America and Europe is something that must be completed.  That will serve as an effective counterweight to a strategy of simmering tensions in Ukraine until next Spring, when a new crisis can manifest itself.

As Dmitri Trenin suggests, were President Putin to back down now, he would face the prospect of appearing to break faith the right wing Russian nationalists, perhaps one of the few political constituencies he has solidly in his pocket.

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