Posted by Curt on 8 September, 2014 at 8:28 pm. Be the first to comment!


The Economist:

IN HIS undeclared, unprovoked, grisly war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin enjoys several telling advantages. Unlike the bickering Western leaders who have failed to deter him, he is answerable only to himself. He has no real allies, and, because he silences his critics as ruthlessly as he violates his neighbours’ sovereignty, few domestic constraints. Nor, plainly, is he constrained by shame: witness his staggering lies over Russia’s role in the fighting, and his decision, even after flight MH17 was shot down by his proxies, to send in more tanks and troops.

Above all, Mr Putin cares more about the outcome than the West does. His geopolitical paranoia, his obsession with the territory lost at the end of the cold war, and the personal prestige he has staked on victory make it essential. And he has a modern army he is willing to use. Because of these imbalances Mr Putin is winning, at least by his own warped calculus. Yet in doing so he has forfeited another edge that he held until too recently, namely the willingness of some Western dupes to see him as a reasonable interlocutor, even a partner. Even the most purblind now know him for what he is: less a statesman than a brigand, not a partner but a foe.

That overdue clarity should guide the West in the ongoing struggle for Ukraine. And it should prepare its leaders for the longer and broader confrontation with Russia that lies ahead, which may stretch all round its borders.

The fog of hybrid war

Hopes of a ceasefire in Ukraine this week were undermined by Mr Putin’s ludicrous insistence that Russia is not a belligerent. But as things stand, any truce will be on his terms. Since regular Russian forces helped the ragtag separatists to turn back Ukraine’s army in devastating style (see article), Ukrainian generals are less concerned with defeating the rebels than resisting a full-scale Russian invasion; Mr Putin’s thuggish boast that he could “take Kiev in two weeks” is dreadfully plausible. Most likely his plan remains a federal Ukraine, with an eastern region controlled by Moscow, or, failing that, a simmering, low-intensity conflict. Either arrangement would wreck Ukraine’s dream of integrating with the European Union and NATO.

Even the whiff of peace will encourage some Europeans to argue that Mr Putin need not be punished further—just as there were some who used his denials of involvement as a pretext to equivocate. That would be an inexcusable mistake. As Angela Merkel says, Russia cannot simply be allowed to invade its neighbours and shift Europe’s borders with impunity. The measures under discussion in Washington and Brussels should be much tougher than previous sanctions, including the limp reaction to the annexation of Crimea. Every member of Russian’s craven parliament, security services and government should face visa bans and asset freezes. The offshore assets of top Russian kleptocrats should be identified and seized. Russia’s energy and defence sectors must be squeezed and its sovereign bonds should be shunned: Western lenders should not finance Mr Putin’s warmongering.

One aim of all this should be to bolster Ukraine’s hand in the negotiations that, sooner or later, it will probably have to enter. (More generous financial aid, to save its free-falling economy and help pay its energy bills, is needed too.) The other aim is to put pressure on Mr Putin. The propaganda pumped out by Kremlin-run television has maintained Russians’ support both for the war and for him; but as the rouble falls, capital flees Moscow and the body bags of Russian soldiers covertly return, his political problems will mount. And even if Western punishment fails to modify his behaviour in the short term, the underlying goal should be to tame him (and perhaps his successors) in the future, for Ukraine is plainly not the end.

Kiev and beyond

Mr Putin’s first choice was to suborn Ukraine without invading it, but by demonstrating his willingness to use force, he has sown fear—and, for Mr Putin, fear is the basic currency of politics. A puny, divided response has emasculated the West, which he thinks is bent on weakening and encircling Russia. For him, Russia’s post-Soviet history has been a catalogue of American-inflicted humiliation, which it is his mission to reverse. He wants his neighbours to be weak more than he wants Russians to be prosperous; he prefers vassals to allies.

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