Tuesday, September 2, 2014
13

Putin’s World

VIENNA – The West is now living in Putin’s world. It is there not because Putin is right, or even because he is stronger, but because he is taking the initiative. Putin is “wild” while the West is “wary.” While European and American leaders recognize that the world order is undergoing a dramatic change, they cannot quite grasp it. They remain overwhelmed by Putin’s transformation from CEO of Russia, Inc., into an ideology-fueled national leader who will stop at nothing to restore his country’s influence.

International politics may be founded on treaties, but it functions on the basis of rational expectations. If those expectations turn out to be wrong, the prevailing international order collapses. That is precisely what has happened in the course of the Ukrainian crisis.

Just a few months ago, most Western politicians were convinced that in an interdependent world revisionism is too costly and that despite Putin’s determination to defend Russia’s interests in the post-Soviet space, he would not resort to military force to do so. It is now clear that they were sorely mistaken.

Then, after Russian troops occupied Crimea, international observers largely assumed that the Kremlin would support its secession from Ukraine but would stop short of making it part of the Russian Federation. That belief, too, proved to be entirely wrong.

At this point, the West has no idea what Russia is willing to do, but Russia knows exactly what the West will – and, more important, will not – do. This has created a dangerous asymmetry.

For example, when Moldova requests membership in the European Union, Russia may move to annex its breakaway region of Transnistria, where Russian troops have been stationed for two decades. And Moldova now knows that, should that happen, the West will not intervene militarily to protect its sovereignty.

When it comes to Ukraine, Russia has made it clear that it hopes to obstruct the May presidential election, which Western leaders hope will cement change in Ukraine, while turning the country’s constitutional negotiations into the opening act in the establishment of a new European order.

Russia envisions Ukraine becoming something akin to Bosnia – a radically federalized country comprising political units that each adhere to their own economic, cultural, and geopolitical preferences. In other words, while Ukraine’s territorial integrity would technically be preserved, the eastern part of the country would have closer ties with Russia than with the rest of Ukraine – similar to the relationship between Bosnia’s Republika Srpska and Serbia.

This creates a dilemma for Europe. While radical federalization could allow Ukraine to remain intact through the current crisis, it would most likely doom the country to disintegration and failure in the longer term. As Yugoslavia’s experience demonstrated, radical decentralization works in theory but does not always work in practice. The West will be confronted with the uneasy task of rejecting in the post-Soviet space solutions that it promoted two decades ago in the former Yugoslavia.

Confronted with Russia’s revisionism, the West resembles the proverbial drunkard searching for his lost keys under a streetlight, because that is where the light is. With their assumptions invalidated, Western leaders are struggling to craft an effective response.

In Europe, the strategies that have emerged – trivializing the annexation of Crimea or treating Putin as a madman – are self-defeating. The EU is oscillating between rhetorical extremism and policy minimalism. Though some have recommended an ill-advised expansion by NATO in the post-Soviet space, most are limiting themselves to support for symbolic sanctions, such as visa bans that affect a dozen or so Russian officials. But this could ratchet up pressure on non-sanctioned Russian elites to prove their loyalty to Putin, possibly even triggering a purge of the more pro-Western elements in Russia’s political class.

Indeed, no one actually believes that the visa bans will make a difference. They were imposed because doing so was the only action upon which Western governments could agree.

When it comes to Ukraine, both Western leaders and Western publics are in a mood of preventive disappointment. Burned by a decade of wishful thinking and over-expectations – from the “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet world to the Arab Spring – Western public opinion has chosen to hear only bad news now. And this is the real risk, because the future of the European order mostly depends on what happens next in Ukraine.

It is now clear that Crimea will not return to Kyiv; but it is also clear that postponement of the May election will mean the end of Ukraine, as we know it. It is the West’s responsibility to persuade Russia to support the elections – and to guarantee that the needed constitutional reforms will be decided in Kyiv, not in Dayton.

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  1. CommentedRoman Podolyan

    The Western leaders live in artificial reality, constructed for PR by themselves and their friends in new Ukrainian pro-Western regime.

    How can any elections "cement" something already falling apart, if the elections gives nothing to the East of Ukraine except more and more "austerity measures" and oppression from whom they see as their adversaries, if not enemies?

    The East and South voted against candidates from West for decades. They doesn't accept the Western values — Ukrainian nationalism, glorification of historical Ukrainian nationalists of OUN nazi allies, and yes, they have more cultural and economical ties to Russia than to West. And East doesn't want to pay for what is imposed on it against it's will, pay to those who shoot Easterners.

    So this "cementation" on Western terms can be done only by brute force, by guns, terror and arrests. As local police doesn't want to shoot and terrorize the other locals (what Turchynov already recognized), Kiev sends their new "national guard" terror squads, like it was in Mariupol on May 9.

    And the more West oppress the East of Ukraine, the more resistance and antipathy it has. There are a lot of video where common people of the East shout at Ukrainian army soldiers "Fascists! Go away! Faggots!"

    So it's not "Putin's world", it's the West-supported coup which brought bloodiest and most illegitimate government in the history of Ukraine, and now encourages it's reign of terror.

    The calls "to cement Ukraine" are the calls to shed more and more and more blood.

  2. CommentedChristian Frace

    A splitup of Ukraine and its consolidation as a nation state is certainly better for European interests. Russia is an atomic power, so military confrontation is just possible on a different scale.

  3. CommentedDavid Donovan

    In predicting Putin’s behavior, it’s important to consider the domestic political factor in his thinking. That is what explains the annexation of Crimea, for instance, which in many other respects may have seemed unlikely before the fact.

  4. CommentedJohn Brian Shannon

    Hi Ivan,

    It seems the West is having difficulty making room at the table for a rising economic power. Russia is now the 6th-largest economy in the world (GDP by PPP) and 8th-largest (nominal GDP) depending on who is doing the counting.

    In any event, Russia has had upward economic mobility for some time and that trend is expected to continue.

    By 2016, Russia will overtake Germany's fifth-largest-economy-in-the-world position.

    And by 2020, Russia will be on solid economic ground and challenging Japan's fourth-place position.

    The question we in the West should be asking ourselves is; Should we be setting the seeds of future failure and discord with Russia, or seeds of future interdependence and cooperation?

    Not because we feel threatened, but because doing so is simply in our best interest.

    Best regards, JBS

      CommentedJean-Louis Piel

      Don't dream. -Russia is the 8th of World GDP meaning less than 3% of the World GDP and this year 2014 her economy will probably contract - around minus 2%. Plus 110 Ethnic Russians are not productive as any of the G7 countries citizens. Third 110 millions Ethnic Russians are a very small number compare to plus 7 billions of Human Beings. Fourth in a globalized economy Russia is less diversified as Soviet Union was . Isolated from the West it will be very difficult to modernize. Fifth China will swallow very easily this Russia. Sixth the commodities market in a way or another is becoming more fluid - it is already the case for oil, and will happen sooner than later for gaz - then Russia will have two other main clients China and India Most probably China first. Europe could find gaz and oil in other countries. Seventh this Russia is de facto our enemy then we will do we can to isolate ourselves from this Russia and to fight for our own security inside our militarily alliance. But we will also make stronger our relation with China with the goal that step by step this 110 millions of Ethnic Russians become citizens of a Chinese province.

  5. CommentedEdwin Hamilton

    I think this is a big time, serious issue for USA foreign policy.
    Our USA is living the big lie -- that is, these histories are kept out of sight of the people.
    "The Public Be Suckered"
    http://patrick.net/forum/?p=1230886
    I suppose that this status quo provides sizable leverage to Putin -- who has the continuing option to speak out.

    Note again that the foregoing postulates CONTINUING disadvantage to the USA of the status quo.

  6. CommentedJean-Louis Piel

    I agree with this article - mostly.
    I wrote "mostly" because I don't agree with the strategy towards Russia underlined in this article.
    Our Western strategy towards Russia in XXIth century is a new type of containment : our strategic goal is to help this Russia to become a Chinese province. In the same time to make a long term friendship and partnership alliance between the West and China.
    It is the best way that everybody - including the Ethnic Russians - will be happy en peaceful.
    The very short History of Russia - at best four Century - starting in 1703 really with one century of preparation - it's an history of colonization. The de-colonization of the World which has started in 1945 has not yet been done inside the Russian Federation but has been started within Soviet union.
    The Russian citizens have proven during these four centuries that they are unable to develop and to maintain a reasonable democratic Republic society and state. It is due that in the XIXth century the Russian colonization has been done with a great majority of Russian peasants who were "serf" ( almost "slaves"). The Russian state is built one the model of "slave" state to the one who is in charge - like it was for their Tartar Master during few centuries. The fundamental concept of this type of state is that the private property is not really recognized - because everything belongs to the "tsar".

    It has always been the tragedy of Russians - not be considered or to considered themselves as citizen - as free citizen. They are imperialist with a "slave mentality". They could live properly in their minds if they are "imperialist" meaning if they dominate other countries - even if themselves are not free citizens, but passive adorers of their "leader", dictator who needs himself to survive as dictator to organize wars against ennemies.

    Of course for us in the Western world - in particular for the Ukrainians - but in many parts of the World, it seems totally absurd, ridiculous to think and to act like that in a totally open world - interconnected world.

    Because we fail to realize that this open and interconnected World could stop to be open and to be interconnected.

    It is easy to realize that when you read the Russian and European medias - most of them care about two things: the tourist travel visa and the Visa or Master Visa payments outside and even inside Russia. They are trying to re-assure themselves that these travels will stay in place , that nobody will change that - in Spain, in Italy, in Greece, etc . Same for business inside Russia for the German industries and other European banks.

    But they are wrong. Step by step, the relations - including businesses , investments, finance of all types, tourism, etc - between this Russia and the rest the Western World will be stop in a very severe term. Of course Italians and Germans will resist during a period but they will have no choice because the security of Europe will be at stake and both Italy as Germany don't guaranty the security of Europe - at the opposite they are passive members of NATO.

    If the West follows the strategy that I suggest, step by step to isolate totally Russia from the West and to force Russia to become de facto a Chinese province - it could take 30 to 70 years. Then the Russians will be happy and secure because they will feel part of a great Empire, with a long tradition of dictatorship - the Chinese One - they will go back to their roots - to be submissive to the Asian power.
    The Ukrainians will be part of the European Union and Nato as it has been ignited in 2008 - and a new NATO will be created which will include China and the main Asian countries as Japan, Korea, Indonesia and probably India . It will be the new TransAltantic and Pacific Alliance.

    EU and North America will have a new partnership with Africa and South Americas.

    Then from the closing of an opening system - the one of now - in 50 to 100 years will appear a new open system when the population of the Earth will be at least around 10 to 14 billions and ethnic Russians less than 100 millions - when really nobody will care at all about them. The West will be around 1,5 billion and China , Africa, India around 2 to 3 billions.

      CommentedPatrick Lietz

      I have to disagree with your perspective.

      If you are European, and your use of French suggests you are, then upholding good relationships with Russia is actually more crucial than upholding those with the US.

      Russia is our main source for energy imports, gas in particular. This energy dependence has been recognized as problematic years ago, and has only been growing since then. We have no feasible alternative in the near to medium future, and potential gas deliveries form the US are a pipe dream since they need to import 60% of their needs themselves. This is despite all the ongoing fracking.

      We don't have that luxury. Economic relations with China, the US and other nations are important, but we simply cannot do without Russian gas.

      Europe is trapped and has no significant leverage against Russia. A complete breakdown in trade and relations would mean a catastrophic decline in GDP for Russia, until they sell their stuff to India, China and Japan, who are more than eager to do so.

      For Europe it means freezing in our homes, significant electricity shortages and breakdowns, and cold meals. There is no way that Europe would ever recover from that blow, or even maintain a prominent economic position.

      Until we solve the energy issue, we simply cannot afford an escalating confrontation with Russia.

      That is the simple truth

  7. Commentedhari naidu

    The fundamental q’s why did Putin consider it a realistic strategy to annex Crimea into Russian Federation at this particular point in time? Was it part of his Eurasian Union vision and more?

    And why did mainland China abstain from UNSC resolution on Crimea condemning Russian infringement of Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty?

    Meanwhile President Xi - during his first state visit to Brussels - proposed the conclusion of a strategic partnership with EU and a bilateral Treaty on Trade and Investment.



    “…For that we need to build four bridges, for peace, growth, reform and progress of civilization, so that China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership will take on even greater global significance. We need to build a bridge of peace and stability, linking the two strong forces of China and EU. Together china and the EU take up one tenth of total area of the earth, and one forth of the world's population. Together we take three seats on the United Nations Security Council. We all need peace, multilateralism and dialogue, instead of war, unilateralism, and confrontation. We need to enhance communication and coordination on global issues, and play a key role in safeguarding world peace and stability. Civilization and culture can spread, and so can peace and development. China stands ready to work with the EU to let the sunlight of peace drive away the shadow of war, and the bonfire of prosperity warm up the global economy in the cold early spring, and enable the whole mankind to embark on the path of peaceful development and win-win cooperation…..” Xi spoke at the College of Europe (Bruges, Apr 2’14)



    In 1954, China adopted Panchshila (literally: five principles) with Nehru’s India: Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which are mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. In 1955, at Bandung (Indonesia) it was adopted by Asia-African Non-Aligned Movement under Sukarno. The Cold War entrenched itself with advent of the Korean War and ensuing Indochina (Vietnam) conflict. In 1962, Sino-Indian Boarder conflict broke out – as Cuban Crisis engulfed US-Soviet relation – followed by PLA marching into Indian territory. First time, PRC invaded a sovereign neighbor. However PLA did not occupy Indian territory; it retrenched and moved out voluntarily to its own sovereign boarders across the Himalayas in short notice. It was the first time in modern China’s history that PLA entered and occupied a foreign territory. Tibet was historically an autonomous region of mainland China and its incorporation was acknowledged by India in 1954 Treaty.

    My suspicion is that Sino-Russian relation will not go well after Putin’s annexation of Crimea. There may be a political paradigm shift in strategic bilateral outlook. Far example, there remains outstanding territorial issues in Central Asia, since the days of Soviet Union, bordering between China and Russia.

    XI provided a political synopsis of ancient China’s history, its intellectual and cultural ideas which guide it today; he declared in Bruges the need for peace and multilateralism and dialogue, and not unilateralism and confrontation. Putin’s strategic logic in annexing Crimea notwithstanding, Xi appeared not pleased with sabre rattling from Moscow and the disruption of world peace and stability.

    Mainland China therefore needs a peaceful global scenario based on Panchshila to realize its emerging development needs.

      CommentedJean-Louis Piel

      I agree with you - a friendship and partnership between EU and China is vital, essential for the peace in the continent where both we live - Russia is fate to become a province of China.

  8. CommentedJason Gower

    Follow the money...there's no mystery what is going on here politically or otherwise. That goes for both sides: economic interests of Europe (energy) as well as the limit on Russian resources to carry out this massive imperialist policy that is so popular to read the past few weeks. Add it up and the potential for crippling economic sanctions by the west against Russia along with the combined strength of a US militarily-backed Europe paints a bit of a different picture. Hard to understand how Russia is a member (however questionable) of the overused "BRICS" group of EMERGING economies one day and a global power with the might to take over the world the next. We haven't heard much from Asia on this whole issue but we know where the largest economies fall and at least diplomatically China denounced Russia's adventurism during Xi's visit to Germany last week. The reality is that both Russia and Europe need each other economically right now so the odds of rapid escalation seem to be small. In the event that it does, Europe's strengths in such a scenario seem to be a bit underestimated.

      CommentedJean-Louis Piel

      Ce commentaire fait la supposition que la Russie et l Europe sont de la meme taille - le GDP de la Russie est moins de 3% et celui de l Europe plus de 25%. Les liens entre l Europe et les Etats Unis d'une part, et l Europe et l Asie du Nord sont bien plus important. Le développement des relations de l Europe et de l Amerique Latine ou de l Afrique our du Moyen Orient ou de l Asie du Sud Est sont bien plus important qur'avec la Russie. Les Russes Ethnicues ne sont que 111 millions et ils sont en diminution - l Asie du Nord ou du Sud c'est près de 2 milliards, l Afrique plus de 1 milliard etc.
      Le développement scientifique et technologique est encore dominant à l Ouest ainsi que dans plusieurs parties de l Asie - Japon , Corée, Taiwan, Chine et Inde. La Russie n'est pas un acteur important dans ce domaine au point de ne pas pouvoir s'en passer.
      Par contre la Russie aura du mal à se passer de l Europe.
      L Europe ne peut plus considerer la Russie comme partenaire si celle-ci mets en cause sa sécurité.
      Si les Ukrainiens font le choix librement d'être plus proche du modèle de développement de l Europe que celui de la Russie comment les en empêcher? En les envahissant et en les occupant, en installant une dictature comme est en train de faire la Russie avec la Crimée, parue intégrante du territoire de l Ukraine? Bien sur c'est possible mais ce serait une victoire stupide car en peu de temps cette invasion et tentative d'annexion sera renversée - y compris la Crimée.
      Il est certain qu aujourd'hui la majorité des Ukrainians veulent l indépendance et considèrent les Russes comme leurs ennemis - est-ce une victoire que de transformer ses voisins les plus proches comme ennemis? Je ne pense pas.

  9. CommentedJim Nail

    In predicting Putin’s behavior, it’s important to consider the domestic political factor in his thinking. That is what explains the annexation of Crimea, for instance, which in many other respects may have seemed unlikely before the fact. As comments by Sergei Markov and others have revealed, Putin feared that the Maidan could open a Pandora's box in Russia if not slapped down hard. It is unclear how the balance of domestic calculations will play out in the coming weeks -- and what this may mean for Europe -- but let me offer a few points as food for thought.

    (1) The Russian economy has slowed dramatically and its outlook is grim. Russia has exhausted the long free ride of its trade-factor benefits resulting from devaluation and secular commodities price growth. They have managed this very well since 1999, sterilizing vast amounts of inflationary trade surplus, but the process could not continue forever unless commodity prices kept growing.

    (2) Putin’s success in holding power for 14 years has largely been the product of an implicit bargain with the public, that they will close an eye to creeping dictatorship and other government misdeeds in exchange for dizzying growth in real personal incomes (especially as measured in import spending power).

    (3) As growth rates have slipped, a wave of disaffection has begun spreading -- especially since about 2010, and especially among the tech-savvy youth and urban middle-class. For instance, Alexei Navalny got 27% of the vote in recent Moscow mayoral elections on a platform of nothing but anti-corruption and opposition to Putin. And this despite a total media embargo, a criminal conviction during the election, and daily administrative/police obstacles to his grass-roots campaign.

    (4) In the face of these trends, Putin has been casting about for a solution. Part of it has been to tighten the screws on opposition, including for the first time police measures against the internet.

    (5) The Maidan revolution represents everything Putin fears.

    (6) There is nothing new about authoritarian leaders’ getting a popularity boost through military adventures — Putin himself knows this from experience thanks to his Chechen and Georgian incursions, both of which resulted in huge gains for him in the polls. Opposition leaders began predicting perhaps a year ago that “Putin needs a small war.” In Crimea he found one.

    (7) The question going forward is, does he want a larger one? A more serious confrontation with the West would give Putin the context for ending any momentum that might otherwise have splashed over into Russia from the Maidan. Confrontation would allow him to blame economic recession on “anti-Russian forces,” instead of accepting that Russia’s resource-led growth has run into the limitations of the country’s own legal system and business climate. Most importantly, he could really take the gloves off domestically, get rid of his opponents supported by war hysteria in the media, and perhaps build a secure institutional base for himself and his allies well into the future. On the other hand, such a policy raises the stakes. He might like his chances, but he must realize that he would come out of such a multi-year struggle either as victor or as victim. A “moderate” outcome would be less likely. He must be balancing these concerns, while asking himself what the West might be prepared to offer him in exchange for peace.

      CommentedJean-Louis Piel

      Very intelligent and very brilliant comment. Thank you.
      However I could like to ask few questions and answers for part of them.
      I agree that the war against this Russia will growing up because it is the only way that Putin could stay in place.
      The fire of hate against the West that he has put in the soul of ordinary Russians is so deep and so strong that he couldn't stop it if he wants to stay in power.
      This hate of the West for the Russians is part of their history, their mentality, their vision of the World.
      Except it is a XVIII and XIXth centuries 's vision.
      In the XXIst century what has changed radically is the World population.
      From 1 billion in the beginning of XXth century we are more than 7 billions and at 2050 around 10 Billions.
      Who will care of 110 ( or even 120 if you include the Russians outside RF) millions ethnic Russians? What will be their influence with a World GDP less than 3%?
      It is time to realize that - we don't care of what Putin thinks, we need to care of what we think and what are our interest in the World.
      Our main interest in the XXist century for the West is our relations with Asia - mainly China, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia etc - and South America, Middle East and Africa.
      Africa will be 2 billions in 2050.
      Our main focus inside the West will be Scientific Researches and technological developments. We need to be the best or among the best in the competition with other areas like Asia or Sout America or Africa or Middle East. Russia is not a competitor - and will be less and less if we isolate Russia from the West.
      Then what must be our strategic policy in front of Russia?
      We have hoped during the last two decades that Russia will be part of EU, of the West. But Russia is refusing. Then we will follow what they want and push them to become a Chinese province because it is the best place that they could have in the XXIst century.

  10. CommentedJim Nail

    In predicting Putin’s behavior, it’s important to consider the domestic political factor in his thinking. That is what explains the annexation of Crimea, for instance, which in many other respects may have seemed unlikely before the fact. As comments by Sergei Markov and others have revealed, Putin feared that the Maidan could open a Pandora's box in Russia if not slapped down hard. It is unclear how the balance of domestic calculations will play out in the coming weeks -- and what this may mean for Europe -- but let me offer a few points as food for thought.

    (1) The Russian economy has slowed dramatically and its outlook is grim. Russia has exhausted the long free ride of its trade-factor benefits resulting from devaluation and secular commodities price growth. They have managed this very well since 1999, sterilizing vast amounts of inflationary trade surplus, but the process could not continue forever unless commodity prices kept growing.

    (2) Putin’s success in holding power for 14 years has largely been the product of an implicit bargain with the public, that they will close an eye to creeping dictatorship and other government misdeeds in exchange for dizzying growth in real personal incomes (especially as measured in import spending power).

    (3) As growth rates have slipped, a wave of disaffection has begun spreading -- especially since about 2010, and especially among the tech-savvy youth and urban middle-class. For instance, Alexei Navalny got 27% of the vote in recent Moscow mayoral elections on a platform of nothing but anti-corruption and opposition to Putin. And this despite a total media embargo, a criminal conviction during the election, and daily administrative/police obstacles to his grass-roots campaign.

    (4) In the face of these trends, Putin has been casting about for a solution. Part of it has been to tighten the screws on opposition, including for the first time police measures against the internet.

    (5) The Maidan revolution represents everything Putin fears.

    (6) There is nothing new about authoritarian leaders’ getting a popularity boost through military adventures — Putin himself knows this from experience thanks to his Chechen and Georgian incursions, both of which resulted in huge gains for him in the polls. Opposition leaders began predicting perhaps a year ago that “Putin needs a small war.” In Crimea he found one.

    (7) The question going forward is, does he want a larger one? A more serious confrontation with the West would give Putin the context for ending any momentum that might otherwise have splashed over into Russia from the Maidan. Confrontation would allow him to blame economic recession on “anti-Russian forces,” instead of accepting that Russia’s resource-led growth has run into the limitations of the country’s own legal system and business climate. Most importantly, he could really take the gloves off domestically, get rid of his opponents supported by war hysteria in the media, and perhaps build a secure institutional base for himself and his allies well into the future. On the other hand, such a policy raises the stakes. He might like his chances, but he must realize that he would come out of such a multi-year struggle either as victor or as victim. A “moderate” outcome would be less likely. He must be balancing these concerns, while asking himself what the West might be prepared to offer him in exchange for peace.

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