Putin, Redux

July 9, 2014, 6:04 pm

Old Blood and Iron Himself
Otto Von Bismarck

Wait, you mean that Putin is now backing off Ukraine?

Now that he’s sown chaos in Ukraine—but uneager to participate in someone else’s civil war—President Vladimir Putin has thrown the rebels under the bus. In June, rebel leader Igor Strelkov said that “Putin betrayed us,” and that betrayal has only deepened as Kiev launched its all-out offensive last week. Moscow, having started all this, has offered no help to the rebels.

Kevin Drum thinks this entire bit of aggression was a misstep by Putin:

That Putin. He’s quite the guy, isn’t he? It appears that he eventually figured out that Ukraine wasn’t going to fall neatly into his lap, and the cost of fomenting an all-out war there was simply too great.

Maybe. But look at the result: Russia has neatly acquired the Crimea, stirred up enough trouble in Ukraine that Western governments have largely stopped talking about that annexation, and all without committing any substantial forces or getting pulled into a Ukrainian civil war. Ukraine is more pro-west, now, sure, but it’s weakened by the loss of the Crimea and the political chaos. Russia’s other neighbors are suspicious of Putin, but, realistically, they’re also aware of their own vulnerability, and are likely to believe (as with the invasion of Georgia) that the west will reconcile with the Russians after a decent interval. What is the statute of limitations for territorial annexation?

It looks like a pretty deft piece of great power maneuvering. Otto von Bismarck would be, not proud (Russians!), but at least respectful.

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