Putin’s Version of Post-Cold War history

Putin’s Version of Post-Cold War History

by

Howard Adelman

 

Putin’s current version of post-Cold War history consists of the following trajectory, one fully immersed in a culture of conspiracy, :

WOUNDED PRIDE

1. The end of the Cold War in 1991 was the result of internal initiatives within Russia to dissolve the Soviet Union and not the result of the Soviet Union dissolving in response to Western economic and political pressures; when the West takes the credit and claims to have won the Cold War, it is an insult to Russians because it defines Russia as a loser.

ENHANCED ANGER

2. NATO as a security alliance has ignored the detente arrived at through negotiations and has continued to treat Russia as an enemy by moving NATO assets increasingly closer to Russia, first into former states associated with the USSR and then into the three Baltic republics that were part of the Soviet Union, namely Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

PANIC

3. The effort to forge a political association agreement between Ukraine and the EU, with its own security as well as economic clauses, was the last straw in ignoring Russia’s legitimate and traditional sphere of interest and in pushing Russia into a corner.

THE CATALYST

4. The ouster of Ukraine’s legitimately elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych because he was unprepared to accept the EU’s association agreement and turned to Russia for financial aid, was a move fostered by Western political manoeuvres and financing of dissidents and even the rebellion and was the final straw, especially when an entirely Western-oriented government drawn largely from the protest leadership took control of the Ukraine. This step crossed the red line that Russia had signalled to the West, and did so in a manner that was both insensitive and irresponsible indicating that the West no longer wanted an international partnership with Russia.

PUSH BACK

5. Russia moved swiftly to annex the Crimea which it effectively controlled militarily, which had a majority Russian population, and with which Russia had deep historic, strategic and emotional ties, an annexation which reversed a historic mistake when the Ukrainian, Nikita Khrushchev, transferred the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 without consulting its population, and an annexation which will never be reversed no matter what actions are taken by the West.

RUSSIAN ASSERTION

6. The period of Russian passivity in the face of over two decades of Western aggressive political, economic and military moves to hem Russia in is now over; although Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine, annexing it or dismembering it, significant numbers of Russian troops and military assets have been deployed near, but deliberately not next to, eastern Ukraine’s eastern, the country’s industrial heartland with large Russian speaking minorities, in the clear and unequivocal message that if the interests of the Russian population is under threat, Russia reserves the right to come to their protection.

ACTION IN OTHER AREAS OF RUSSIA’S SPHERE OF INTEREST

7. The west can expect other initiatives in eastern Europe – such as in Moldova, in Georgia and in the Balkans – now that Russia is determined to act strictly from its own strategic interests where it has the clout to change the situation; the partnership with the West has been dissolved by the West.

RESPONSE TO SANCTIONS

8. The initial sanctions and contemplated stronger and broader sanctions that will be forthcoming not only will not deter Russia – which in its history has endured far worse – but, on the contrary, will be met with countermoves that will seriously undermine the efforts of the West to be the world’s hegemon.

EFFECTS ELSEWHERE

9. The West can no longer count on a Russian partnership in Iran, Syria or North Korea, though Russia will continue to work in the interests of peace, but no longer as a junior partner and fellow traveller to Western interests.

NATO

10. The West can expect a very serious response not only in eastern Ukraine but in other areas of the world, particularly in other areas of eastern Europe, if NATO takes initiatives to embrace Ukraine within the NATO fold.

The dilemma for the West is that in order to defend the eastern Ukraine from a Russian annexation under the pretext of “fraternal assistance” to ethnic Russians under assault, many see economic sanctions as insufficient. Ukrainian troops with foreign observers would have to be deployed along the eastern border, a deployment which would be seen as a provocative action and could expect an aggressive response. On the other hand, if Ukraine does not become a member of NATO and if troops, primarily Ukrainian, are not deployed along the eastern border, then Ukraine would be unable to defend itself against another annexation which would become a fait accompli.  The West does not believe Putin when he says he will not invade because it is a pledge that is conditional on how he regards the treatment of the Russian minority, especially if thugs are used to stir up the mob. Putin no longer believes that NATO is a defence organization but now reads any move as the dynamic initiatives of NATO’s expansion. If Putin is at base a bitter autocrat with dreams of restored Russian glory, if he truly harbours deep resentments about Russia’s alleged humiliations by the West, then there is a real risk he will move into Ukraine in full knowledge that Obama has taken a military response off the table and that the EU never put it on the table to begin with.

Obama knows all this. So he insists that he will restrict Western actions to the sanctions expressway while keeping the gates open for diplomacy. He knows that Russian forces are now massing near though not yet along Ukraine’s eastern borders, so he expanded the sanctions regime the third time in succession to twenty more top Russian officials, including Putin’s right hand man, Sergei Ivanov, and Bank Rossiya, a St. Petersburg-based bank used to launder the billions of roubles for the super-rich oligarchs of Russia who strongly support Putin, including Yuri Kovalchuck, Vladimir Yakunin and the Rotenberg brothers. It is not clear why Obama has left Roman Abromovich off the list. Obama has also threatened to take a fourth step and impose sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy – defence, energy, mining and financial services — if Russia, but only if Russia takes any further aggressive steps with respect to the Ukraine in full knowledge  that such sanctions will disrupt the global economy.

Will carrying the big economic stick be sufficient to get Putin to re-engage with the diplomatic route and savour his victory over Crimea given his reconstruction of post-Cold War history, or will the escalation continue unimpeded as we are thrust back to July of 1914? Will the West have to prepare to ship arms and equipment and trainers to the Ukraine and even Delta forces to support a long term underground war by Ukraine against Russia that must of necessity spread to Russia itself if the autocrat is to be stopped? The reduced number of provocateurs in Donetsk might be a dodge or, alternatively, a signal that Russia prefers to take the diplomatic road.

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