Is Putin Winning?

photo chess

by Gordon M. Hahn

In a way he is. Increasingly, grudgingly, gradually and as quietly as possible, the Barack Obama Administration and Europe are accommodating Moscow and pressuring Kiev to do the same with regard to many of Moscow’s key positions on the Ukraine crisis. For example, the West is pressuring President Petro Poroshenko to grant the Donbass significant political and economic autonomy. At the May 6th Minsk 2 contact group meeting, Kiev was successfully nudged to agree to begin negotiating directly with the Donbass rebels on this as well as other issues. Kiev’s recent, failed albeit, efforts to rein in its neo-fascists from groups like Right Sector suggest similar Western efforts on this front. The U.S., British and other military training missions to Kiev have raised the costs of allowing the neo-fascists to continue their lawlessness too high for the West in PR terms. In addition, the West has ceased the hyperbolic and hysterical rhetoric about Putin being today’s Hitler, fascist Russia, ‘Russia’s war’ in Ukraine, ‘Russia’s invasion’ in eastern Ukraine (it was a temporary and targeted military intervention in Donbas), Putin’s intention to recreate the USSR, and the like. These changes in Western posture were manifested by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Sochi to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Putin.

It is very likely that the Western retreat is a consequence of a certain recognition of at least some of the following hard facts about the Ukraine crisis and its making.

Those hard facts include the following.

First, the evidence is becoming increasingly irrefutable that the Maidan revolution, though initially peaceful, was hijacked by radical neo-fascists and ultra-nationalists who broke initiated the 20 February 2014 ‘snipers’ massacre on the Maidan killing police and then both police and demonstraors before the police or special forces fired on demonstrators. Hence, the West was hasty, opportunistic and plainly wrong in promoting the version of events that placed the blame for the massacre solely on Yanukovich and his police.

Second, it was these radical forces who seized power illegally and violated the 21 February 2014 agreement that established a transition pact or roadmap for a regime transformation and the removal of Yanukovich by the end of the year sponsored by Germany, France, Poland, and Russia. Hence the West was wrong in engaging hastily and aggressively robust ‘democracy-promotion’ (for ‘dual use’ as revolutionary mobilizational and organizational tactics and strategy) and European integration in a country having both a rising nationalist, anti-Russian tide and objects of vital national security interest to Moscow and located on Russia’s border. The West was also wrong in denying the role of neo-fascism in the revolutionary coup, as Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland did at congressional hearings on the Ukraine crisis.

Third, despite some military intervention on the part of Moscow, the war in Ukraine was started by Kiev, which declared and started its ‘anti-terrorist operation’ before anyone in the Donbas fired a shot at a representative of the Maidan regime. Hence, the West was wrong in pushing relations with Russia to the brink by deploying insulting rhetoric and false propaganda devices such as the expression “Putin’s war” and by imposing sanctions after Putin’s overreraction by seizing Crimea.

Fourth, the West failed to understand Ukraine’s complexity, in particular, the deep civilizational differences that existed between western and eastern Ukraine and which the West encouraged Kiev in constructing and maximizing. Hence, the West was wrong in thinking it could build a new Ukraine on a unilateral, purely Western basis without taking the interests of Russia and the Russian-oriented portion of Ukraine’s population or splitting the country apart.

Fifth, with time, familiarity with the Maidan regime has bred suspicions in the West. NATO lamented that Ukraine’s Defense Ministry is unwilling to reform. The West and international lending and development institutions are increasingly aware that there is little political will in Kiev to impose the kind of austerity program they require. This week’s resignation of the Ukrainian-American first deputy economic development minister Sasha Borovik over Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s unwillingness to reform the economy rapidly enough is another sign. Politically, the Rada is often run in a less than democratic matter to push reforms through that later are not implemented, and the Maidan regime is allowing neo-fascists, like Right Sector, to maraud across the country attacking journalists and people tied to the old regime, seizing property, and intimidating opposition figures. Moreover, Poroshenko and other officials are steeped in corruption, and the present anti-corruption campaign is being used to target political opponents rather than root out all ‘corruptionaires.’ Hence, the West was wrong in thinking that the leaders of the Maidan opposition were significantly or even at all better than the Yanukovich regime. This casts the utility of Western policies such as democracy-promotion and support for regime change in doubt.

Sixth, Ukraine’s integration with Europe is bogged down as Moscow and others warned Kiev it would be. EU membership for Ukraine is a very long-term prospect. Implementation of the EU–Ukraine agreement will be delayed because the parties have agreed to negotiate its stipulations and implementation with Moscow in order to take into account Russian economic and trade interests, as Putin requested before the original European effort to have Kiev sign over Moscow’s head and without taking its interests into account. Furthermore, even the most basic agreement which would allow Ukrainians visa-free travel to EU countries is at best a mid-term prospect. Hence, Moscow was right and the West was wrong in urging Yanukovich to sign the EU agreement in October 2013, Yanukovich’s postponement of which set off the Maidan demonstrations that has led to the worst Russian-Western crisis since the end of the Cold War at a time when Russian-Western cooperation is sorely needed from Iran to Iraq to Syria and other issues.

Seventh, Russia is the regional power in central Eurasia and a major power in Eurasia writ large and globally. No matter what costs the West is prepared to bear in acting unilaterally in Ukraine, Georgia or elsewhere along Russia’s borders, Russia is prepared to accept greater costs and exert greater effort to protect its interests in the region. Hence, the West was wrong in acting unilaterally against Russian interests and not expecting a costly response from Moscow.

Despite these realizations, we are from out of the woods. Either side on the ground – Kiev or Donbass – can re-start the war by provocation or miscalaculation. Once the war re-starts, Russian-Western relations will revert to the brinkmanship of the past year, with pressure from hardliners on both sides to escalate the conflict by intervening in greater force. Also, a Western or Russian misstep can lead to a broader European war with the potential ensuing consequences on the table, including the nuclear option. This will be an especially dangerous time, especially if a Republican other than Rand Paul wins the White House. Therefore, Moscow and especially Washington must intensify efforts to push the Donbass and Kiev to move much more quickly on the military, political and economic stipulations of Minsk 2, before this last best chance is lost. And all sides should, however difficult it is, focus less on winning and more on maintaining the peace and ‘satisficing’ their basic security, political, and economic requirements. Even if it means Putin is or is perceived to be the winner.

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Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation. He is also Analyst/Consultant for ‘Russia Other Points of View’ (www.russiaotherpointsofview.com) and an Adjunct Professor and Senior Researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and its Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics. Dr. Hahn has been a visiting scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. (2011-2013), the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. (1995 and 2005), and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, San Francisco State, and St. Petersburg State (Russia) Universities.

8 thoughts on “Is Putin Winning?

  1. It’s probably true that Kiev is trying to control the far right groups, but it’s also obviously true that they are in fact controlled by the US State Department/Intelligence/NGO apparatus in Ukraine.

    When Poroshenko was talking about making peace with the East, he was invited (summoned) to Washington for a visit with Obama and Biden.

    When he returned the neofascists were waiting in the Maidan being interviewed by Ukrainian reporters, and say that if Poroshenko doesn’t give the army what it needs to “expel the invaders”, they’d throw him out like they had thrown out Yanukovich.

    The neofascists pressure the Ukrainian government in the way the US wants them to, so they effectively control it and the US government controls them.

    I don’t know if they still control it. The government got Dimitry Yarosh to accept a position in their military command structure, but he had said that if the government makes peace before it’s stated goals are achieved the far right groups would continue fighting. He was not arrested for saying that either. What does that suggest?

    Also, Putin did not “seize” Crimea. The Crimeans are more than 58% Russian, and they VOTED to rejoin Russia.

    They had been part of Russia until the ’50s when Krushchev decided to give Crimea to the Ukrainians (he was probably drunk at the time).

    In any case, it’s obvious they didn’t want to live under the rule of neofascists anymore than the people of Donbas do.

    “The West and international lending and development institutions are increasingly aware that there is little political will in Kiev to impose the kind of austerity program they require.”

    Right, and THAT is where the corruption is, far moreso than even in Kiev.

    The IMF made it’s 17 billion dollar loan to Kiev conditional on Kiev “relaxing” land ownership rules in Ukraine… to let Monsanto onto some of the most pristine farmland in all of Europe.

    Don’t dare pretend that Ukraine is in any way too corrupt for Western financial institutions to become involved in. If there’s a problem for them it’s that Ukraine is not corrupt enough.

    “…and the Maidan regime is allowing neo-fascists, like Right Sector, to maraud across the country attacking journalists and people tied to the old regime, seizing property, and intimidating opposition figures.”

    No, actually what they’ve done is set up a website giving the names and addresses of people they suspect are more favourable toward the old regime, to get them assassinated, and it’s been happening.

    Also, don’t go blaming this solely on the US. The EU representatives who first pitched the EU trade and association agreement to Yanukovich told him he could sign it or the next president would. They were coordinating with their US counterparts too.

    By the way, it wasn’t Yanukovich’s postponement of signing the EU trade and association deal that led to the Maidan riots.

    If the Western Ukrainians are so ecstatic about the government the US has given them, where are all the interviews with Western Ukrainians that we should be seeing on CNN.

    The US State Department would have you believe that everyone in Crimea wanted to remain part of Ukraine. For proof we have an interview by a CNN reporter with a small family of Tatars (ONE family) who are unhappy about the reunification.

    Well, if that’s not proof I don’t know what is. I mean normally that wouldn’t be enough, but since John Kerry approved that message…

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  2. If you read any of the prophecies predicting the end of days, a major confrontation involving economics involving the US and Russia is right at the top. It’s not just about reading “The End of Days” – there are many people through history that have predicted the events leading up to it.

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  3. this article is part of the U turn . It still doesn’t face reality or acknowledge many instances which are well known in Russia and beyond: the role of snipers who fired on cops and demonstrators like just like they did in Syria; the killing of journalists and opposition people 24 roughly murders so far; nor the massacre at the Odessa town hall nor the fact that sanctions and isolation aren’t working and in fact on this issue, US and the English speaking world are more isolated than Russia –long way to go

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    1. I guess you did not spend much time reading the other articles on the site, in particular the one right next to the one you have commented on. I have written about these subjects perhaps more than anyone.

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About Gordon M. Hahn