Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Putin/Moscow - Forced into playing the Crimea card

I feel compelled to attach a disclaimer to this post this morning. I'm writing via a mobile device. My grammatical and spelling errors will be even more pronounced than usual.

Speaking of compulsion, I feel I absolutely need to address the western medias love affair with Vladimir Putin. Especially his action on Ukraine and the Crimea situation. Every time I search through open source media the headlines all say the same thing. Typically how Putin had out smarted or out maneuvered the EU and the United States.

I'll put it as bluntly as I can: This was a huge LOSS for Moscow.

The lessons from the Cold War haven't been forgotten. The Soviet Union was too spread out, responsible for too much territory, and its military too spread thin. Occupying such a large amount of space both politically and militarily taxes your economy beyond it's capability. The Soviet Union needed all that space as a buffer to the west but occupation wasn't the answer.

Ever since Putin came to power he's been slowly trying to bring Russia back to it's former glory. Where as the Russia of old dominated with their superior army Putin has chosen a different approach. His weapons are economic and demographic. Russia has slowly became relevant again by bullying their periphery with energy and economic restrictions that force them into their trade and military unions. What happens if anyone resists their economic/energy strong arm? Moscow stokes the ethnic flames of the millions of ethnic Russians that are spread out all over Russia's periphery. The fruits of russification during the Soviet era.

The overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych's government in Ukraine was a huge loss to Moscow. Putin's goal has always been to keep Ukraine neutral. The Maidan protests in a matter of weeks completely destroyed a decade of work Putin had invested into Ukraine. Crimea was Moscow's only card they had to play. It was a retaliatory move that showed how desperate Putin was. He was now on the defensive in his periphery for the first time in a long time.

Putin does not want a foreign policy of annexation. The more land he's responsible for the closer he gets to the mistakes of old. Nations with a high percentage of ethnic Russians are far more valuable to use as a threat than an actual weapon. With them he was able to coerce Ukraine into neutrality even with a heavily EU dominated western half. With them he was able to slow down Georgia's strides towards NATO.

Stoking ethnic flames is dangerous. Putin won't continue this beyond Crimea...unless he's forced to. It's always been his last option when all else has failed. Every time he plays this card he risks uniting the rest of that country even stronger than before against him. In fact if I'm Putin I'm telling ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine to calm down. Don't get too crazy. Your more dangerous as leverage...not as a first strike weapon. The more states that break from Ukraine the stronger Kiev's stance against Moscow will get. The goal is neutrality. He's not looking for a strong enemy right on his most vulnerable flank.

So Putin has won Crimea but lost Ukraine. This is a gigantic win for the west and a tremendous loss for Russia. Putin now has to go on the offensive, so expect things to happen. He'll counter U.S. strategic goals with Iran and China. I may not agree with the current administration's foreign policy methods, but their eventual goal of disengagement with  strong regional counter balances is still on track.