Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Endgame for Putin in Ukraine?

LONDON – Vladimir Putin may (or may not) enjoy 80% public support in Russia for his Ukraine policy; but it has become increasingly clear that he has bitten off more than he can chew. The question is: At what point will his position as President become untenable?

Leave to one side the moral and geopolitical background of the Ukraine imbroglio. Russians are justified, I believe, in their view that the West took advantage of Russia’s post-communist weakness to encroach on their country’s historic space. The Monroe Doctrine may be incompatible with contemporary international law; but all powers strong enough to enforce a strategic sphere of interest do so.

There is merit, I also believe, in Putin’s contention that a multipolar world is better than a unipolar world for advancing the cause of human flourishing. No single power or coalition is wise or disinterested enough to claim universal sovereignty.

So it should be no surprise that Russia and other countries have started to build an institutional structure for multi-polarity. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China, and four ex-Soviet Central Asian states, was established in 2001. Last month, the five BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – established the New Development Bank and a contingent reserve fund to diversify sources of official lending to developing countries.

The BRICS’ “no strings” policy explicitly challenges the conditionality imposed on borrowers by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, though the policy remains untested. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine China’s leaders approving a loan to a country that, say, recognizes Taiwan or accepts Tibetan claims to independence.

But the fact remains that Russia is too weak to challenge the West further, at least in the way that it did in Ukraine. Russia’s GDP is around $2 trillion, and its population of 143 million is falling fast. The United States and the European Union have a combined GDP of about $34 trillion and a population of 822 million, with the US population growing rapidly. This means that the West can inflict much more damage on Russia than Russia can inflict on the West.

Even in its heyday, the Soviet Union was a one-track superpower. With an economy about a quarter of the size of America’s, it was able to maintain rough military parity by spending four times as much of its national income on defense as the US did – to the detriment of the living standards of ordinary citizens.

Today the balance of power is even more unfavorable. Russia’s economy is weaker, and its armaments are rusty. It retains a formidable nuclear capacity, but it is inconceivable that Russia would use it to secure its aims in Ukraine.

So we are left with a looming endgame in which Putin can neither retain his spoils – Crimea and control of Russian-speaking parts of eastern Ukraine – nor back down. Russia will be required to disgorge these acquisitions as a condition of normalizing its relations with the West. But Putin will most likely try to prop up eastern Ukraine’s separatists as long as he can – perhaps with military assistance disguised as humanitarian aid – and will absolutely refuse to give up Crimea.

This will lead to a further escalation of Western sanctions: restrictions on gas exports, general export restrictions, suspension from the World Trade Organization, withdrawal of the FIFA 2018 World Cup soccer tournament, and so on. This, in conjunction with the tightening of current sanctions, including the exclusion of Russian banks from Western capital markets, is bound to cause serious shortages, declining living standards, and major problems for Russia’s ownership class.

The Russian public’s natural reaction will be to rally to their leader. But support for Putin, though broad, may not be deep. It is support before, not after, the debate about the costs of Putin’s policy has taken place. And that debate is being silenced by state control of the media and the suppression of opposition.

It is natural and right to think of possible compromises: Ukraine’s guaranteed neutrality, greater regional autonomy within a federal Ukraine, an interim international administration in Crimea to supervise a referendum on its future, and the like.

The question is not how much of this kind of package Putin would accept, but whether any of it will be offered to him. The West no longer believes anything he says. US President Barack Obama has publicly accused him of lying. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, formerly Putin’s strongest backer in Europe, is reported to have described him as delusional. (The last straw for her apparently was his attempt to blame the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on the Ukrainian government.)

All leaders lie and dissemble to some extent; but the scale of disinformation coming from the Kremlin has been epic. So the question must be asked: Will the West be prepared to make peace with Putin?

Leaders whose foreign-policy adventures end in defeat do not usually survive long in office. Either formal mechanisms are used to dethrone them – as occurred, for example, in the Soviet Union, when the Central Committee forced Nikita Khrushchev out of power in 1964 – or informal mechanisms come into play. Putin’s power elite will start fracturing – indeed, that process may have begun already. Pressure will grow for him to step aside. There is no need, it will be said, for his country to go down with him.

Such a scenario, unimaginable a few months ago, may already be shaping up as the Ukraine drama moves to its endgame. The Putin era may be over sooner than we think.

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  1. CommentedAdrian Lucas

    So much confidence in predicting the future! Am I drinking the wrong drink? Am I eating the wrong food?For all we know, many Chinese confronted Chairman Mao, and paid with their lives. But few Germans dared confront Hitler, and those who did paid with their lives. Few Westerners dared confront the idiocy of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and those who did were ignored. Today few Westerners dare confront the compulsive ideology of neoliberalism, and those who do are ignored. Likewise few Europeans dare confront the ideology of austerity, and those who do are silenced. What I'm suggesting is that it's not so easy for the people of a country to stop their leaders from misleading their country, and from running it into the ground. In fact, it's almost normal for leaders to mislead their countries, and run them into the ground. Just as it is impossible for US Americans to put an end to the dysfunctionality of US politics, or for Indians to put an end to the criminal-political nexus of Indian politics, or for Europeans to put an end to Merkel's dysfunctional politics of austerity, it may be impossible for Russians to put an end to Putin's politics. Rather than speculate on whether the people of Russia will or will not confront Putin, Robert Skidelsky could more profitably share with us his judgement on a recent study by France's Conseil d'analyse économique (reported in the 2 September 2014 print edition of Le Monde), in which the authors (Patrick Artus, Cecilia Garcia-Penalosa and Pierre Mohnen) suggest that France's potential economic growth is 0.9%, and not the 1.6% that the French government assumes it to be. If the study's findings are correct, the implications for Europe will be even more serious than East Ukraine becoming a de facto occupied territory of the Russian Federation.

  2. CommentedJim Kelley

    To be even-handed you have to question the WH along with Putin. Is it our pit-bull biting eastern Ukraine? GDP is not very helpful, maybe GDP per capita. A shrinking population is a huge advantage. We seem to be forcing Russia to do just what it needs to do, become more self-sufficient, bolster its own agriculture.
    Where is the rest of the data on flight 17 and the proof it was not air to air encounter? The longer the delay the more likely it was something other than the separatists.
    Putin will outlast Obama.

  3. CommentedRonald Calitri

    Good simile. A chess team with an army!
    Enough semi-autonomous pieces to give stochasticity a bad name.
    The comments here, and the bobbling in the press, are disturbingly vacnt of information regarding the economic interests of Ukraine's inhabitants, especially those in the east. Ukraine's ppp/cap GDP is variously $ 7,423, 8,788, 7,400; Russia's is $ 17,884, 24,120, 18,100. The implication is that Ukranian wages are about half Russia's, meaning that this is all about maintaining a secondary labor market, to some of Russia's pieces. Admittedly, it is much easier to conceptualize a discounting on oil reserves, natural resources, and population, than the labor force. Since we are only allowed a few hundred gigatons of carbon with trillions in reserve, perhaps in the long run it will be better to supply enough armaments to Ukraine to freeze the situation for a few months, allowing Europe (I'm afraid including Russia) into, "Cold War" this winter. This would have a subsidiary effect of stimulating employment in old-fashioned retrofitting with a knock-on perhaps to US exports.

  4. Commentedrc whalen

    Great comment, but question in short term is does Putin care? The Soviet leader cares less about his own people than the people of Ukraine. If he does not advance aggressively, then he falls.

  5. Commentedhari naidu

    Putin's Noworossija (NewRussia) - after annexation of Crimea - demands contiguity from Russian mainland. He's decided to link eastern Ukrainia by land with Crimea - with assistance from separatists - financed by ex-KGB.

    Today he announced the creation of a new state in E.Ukrania. Both airports have been evacuated by Kiev forces.
    Neither US/NATO/EU have the capability to deter his ambition, so it seems right now.

  6. CommentedStephen Pain

    Those who defend the former Ukrainian President should ask themselves, who stole 60 Billion US dollars of money belonging to the Ukraine and New Russia as it is called?

  7. CommentedDavid Morgan

    Putin is a very dangerous delusional man, as long as he holds on to power he will try to enlarge Russia's influence, both by land grab and any other means he can. Whether legal or illegal, the man is like a rabid dog, I can imagine him going to bed at night crying for that limping dinosaur that was the Soviet Union. Having played a part in the Cold War, we were well aware of how weak it was, and just waited for the inevitable. Putin has grossly overplayed his hand, and now he is like a cornered animal and will fight to the last. He has succeeded only in causing massive damage to Russia. Well done Vladimir.

  8. CommentedAlok Bhattacharyya

    Russia's GDP is lot lower than that of the USA and the EU's combined GDP. But the strength of a country cannot only be measured in terms of GDP. USA imposed sanctions on India after India's nuclear test in Pokhran in the early seventies. It only made India more self-reliant and stronger. Russia is resource rich. It is not technically incapable to produce goods that others may want to buy. It has a highly educated workforce. The sanctions may have some very short term efeect. But Russia will survive. The USA and EU banks will lose form the lost interest on loans created out of thin air. The exporters to Russia will lose the profit. Already Norway is trying to sell salmon to Russia from their plants outside EU from South America to circumvent Russian bans on imported foods. USA and EU are not the only places that produce goods that Russia may want to buy.

  9. CommentedDexter Sinister

    The interesting thing is that the West has never offered to integrate Russia, for example into the EU. The West seems to need to keep Russia apart as "The Other" When it is not being alienated by the West, Russia has wished for integration and recognition as being an existing, effectively "western" nation state, and the West has forever refused. The fact that the 1917 revolution could be considered over and done with by 1991, and that Russia had no more revolutionary rhetoric for export thereafter, has been explicitly deliberately ignored. So if you keep the Russians apart and denied, you have no right to criticize their behavior and they owe the West nothing.

    One central thing to point out is that while discussing "spoils" and "acquisitions", what the West has seized and keeps is never mentioned. It's only "grabbing" behavior if Russia does it. The way Skidelsky writes it and the comments seem to agree, Obama and Merkel are paragons of reasonable virtue and only Putin has any explaining to do. Germany and the US dismembered Yugoslavia so as to be able to impose so-called Free Market Capitalism on what had been a successful Socialist state, but that's okay - because that's what the West wanted, forget what the Yugoslavs themselves might have felt about self-determination. The West would like to integrate every nation into the EU excepting Russia, it seems, and that is accepted as reasonable. The fact that it's just Realpolitik as usual is not admitted as a possibility, nor does the West admit that there is any reason to oppose Western intentions.

    I would like to point out to Mr. Skidelsky that he takes Western reactions for granted, never holding them up for rational examination. You will never comprehend Putin's motives if you do that. I am not defending Putin so much as pointing out that he is not doing anything differently than what the West does; the only differences are that Putin "is not us" and so we find it easy to dismiss what he does in Russia's self-interest, as if Western Imperialism under the name of "Globalization" is already understood by all Western citizens as the new unquestionable reality; and Putin does not have any access to the Western Media to get his views across, in the way that Western Media defends every next Western Neoliberal/Neoconservative attack on Democracy and Human Freedom as being right, fitting and natural. They aren't crimes if the West commits them.

    I look forward to the Skidelsky piece "Endgame for Neoliberalism?" - perhaps Skidelsky should read David Harvey.

  10. CommentedTom Thibaud

    Mr Skidelsky is a fine biographer, but his judgment is poor (it was for good reason that he was "kicked out" of his preferred political party. Milosevic needs no shills in the House of Lords).

    Skidelsky's word choice is telling. When it's a matter of assessing right and wrong in Putin's invasion of a sovereign neighbor, Skidelsky prefers normative, Olympian terms: "It is natural and right to think of possible compromises", he intones, and then lists all of Putin's thuggish would-be extortions: " Ukraine’s guaranteed neutrality, greater regional autonomy within a federal Ukraine, an interim international administration in Crimea to supervise a referendum on its future...."

    But when Skidelsky turns to what is desired by us in the West - I here assume he still represents a constituency in the UK and his not joined ranks with Putin's little green men - Skidelsky abandons normative language and shifts to a cold assessment of behavior: "The West no longer believes anything [Putin] says.... Obama has publicly accused him of lying. Angela Merkel, formerly Putin’s strongest backer in Europe, is reported to have described him as delusional. (The last straw for her apparently was his attempt to blame the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on the Ukrainian government.)"

    Why the shift? Shouldn't these terms be inverted? Wouldn't it be "natural and right" to describe Putin as a liar, a thug and a kleptocrat with no respect whatsoever for the sovereignty of neighboring states? To point out his many lies using Skidelsky's own voice rather than coyly presenting the issue as one of subjective views and beliefs?

    Putin's Russia is not a great power that deserves respect for its "sphere of interest. Under Putin. Russia has become Nigeria North: a shit-show kleptocracy, a carnival of cruelty, thievery and state incompetence. Consider: each of Russia's non-Soviet neighbors to the west and east has vaulted far beyond Russia in building world-class technologies and global tech firms.

    Tiny Finland dwarfs Russia and so does South Korea - despite Putin's having inherited vast reserves of technical and scientific talent. Why? Because Putin's Russia is such a shambles that no rational investor would dream of investing in any Russian company where the major asset is IP rather than oil in the ground. (And even the oil isn't a real asset: as the saying goes in Russia: "The oil's in the ground ... But the money's in Switzerland!")

    Russia has become an African kleptocracy. Russia deserves no influence over neighboring states whose people are desperate to lead normal lives free of Putinesque thuggery and thievery, in nations that simply have normal rule of law.

  11. CommentedJerzy Pryhozen

    In this article, Mr.Robert Skydelski, did not go into any meaningful considerations of moral grounds to support Ukraine, Russia, U.S. or EU behavior. His analysis goes deep, when it comes to the political and economic power, that the major players have and use to back up their policies. Skydelski may be right from the position of a power-monger. He is totally oblivious to the fact, that moral aspects of the Ukrainian conflict can be a game changer. So far, Western "free and independent" media do a good job of painting Putin in evil colors. However, people are not 'buying' it, because what the media is not saying overshadows that, which it is saying. The "free and independent" news outlets are not interested in explaining, and thus complicit, in U.S. State Department role in instigating the overthrow of constitutional and democratic government, Maidan Square sniper deaths, participation of the CIA and BlackWater/Academi troops in Ukrainian conflict, the Pentagon not providing any satellite footage on the downing of MH 17, etc., etc.. The list is long. We learned to see through this manipulation.

  12. CommentedPhilip Palij

    The democraticaly elected President of the Ukraine, who the Russian speakers voted for, was deposed by an armed insurrection of Neo-NAZI's nurtered and brought to fruition by the EU and US and NATO in pursuit of hegemony and expansionism. The Russian speakers were told that in addition tobeing governed by a Neo Nazi regime they never voted for their Russion lanquage would no longer be official.
    US backed mercenaries are occupying rooms in the Ukrainian ministry of defense. Bombing and shelling and deaths on a huge scale have been visited on heads of these Eastern Ukrainians. Hospitals, schools, bus shelters. Loved ones lost.

    There is merit in you getting a truth enema if you think this is Putin's endgame. You have no idea of the resolve in the Russian people to resist. It is the EU/US warmongers and empire builders of the new world order you should be aiming your words at on capitol hill and Brussels.

    You are witnessing the endgame for democracy and it is US inspired. The school 0f 1776 will be collectively turning in its grave with shame at the abuse of the nation they fought for by gangs of bankers tyrants an despots lording it over them from Washington.

  13. CommentedVid Beldavs

    Angel Merkel comment that Putin is delusional is spot on. In the Minsk Summit he was conciliatory and even offered Russia's support for President Poroshenko's peace process, while denying any Russian involvement. The next day he denied that anything had been discussed and the day after a large number of Russian troops and tanks entered Ukraine. Earlier, on the first day of the cease-fire declared by President Poroshenko "separatist" forces then led by Col. Strelkov (Girkin) a Russian citizen from Moscow, shot down a Ukrainian transport killing all 49 onboard. Clearly someone is taking action to make substantive discussions impossible. Poroshenko did send former President Kuchma to engage in informal discussions with "separatists". Sanctions will only strengthen Putin's hand to mobilize the people of Russia to face an external threat. No doubt Putin often thinks about the successes achieved in WWII through patriotism to defend the homeland. I believe this problem needs to be reframed in a manner that the Russian homeland is not threatened in any manner while Russia's future options are shrunk. This could be done through a large-scale international initiative led by a US-China partnership. Space is particularly promising due to Russia's significant achievements in that realm. Russia has signaled the intent to withdraw from the international Space Station, the largest, international cooperative project in history that has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. ISS can be extended to include broader collaboration with a base on the Moon initiated by a decade long effort, the International Lunar Decade to explore the Moon and develop an approach for its ultimate industrial development. I have outlined this approach in my article http://thespacereview.com/article/2582/1

      CommentedVid Beldavs

      If Russia reaches a peaceful resolution with Ukraine, Russia could be invited to participate in the project that could include billions of investment in Russia's and Ukraine's space sector.

  14. CommentedAlan Rabunski

    Russia operates like a big oil company run by the mafia. Sooner or later there will likely be a gangland fight to control the spoils.

    Putin was forced to deal with the Chinese on gas, who extracted a very good price, knowing Putin was desperate.

    America must lead on energy and delivering weapons to Ukraine, who have shown a desire to fight. America, in concert with Germany and Britain must
    Help to secure the Baltic, Poland and Romania. The French are too weak and need to sell sophisticated military equipment to Putin and their growth model and work ethic has deteriorated.

    Unfortunately, Obama is very weak - he gives good speeches, but when he speaks extemporaneously he makes big mistakes - better to say nothing than to announce no strategy on ISIS. His Secretary of State pines for a Nobel Peace prize to match that of his boss.

    Obama should consider releasing some of the oil in the strategic reserve and to allow export of liquified natural gas.

    Follow the money - allow Putin to swallow his gas.

    Unfortunately, this may be a pipe dream.

    Too many fires to deal with and America can usually only deal with one at a time. And Obama is looking at his place in the history books as time is running out and he needs a victory to justify his peace prize which has become his albatross. Iran waits on the sidelines of the General Assembly hoping to exploit his need to make a speech that he has accomplished something.

  15. CommentedMikko Lehtovirta

    The real problem will be, who is / are those successing Putin. The "it's all due to what the West did and did not that caused this crisis" is a pathognomonic reflex Russian style: there is always the other to blame for everything. Look now what you did and made me do. Pathetic.

  16. CommentedPaul Daley

    If international affairs were handled rationally in Europe, it would be fairly easy to predict the outcome of the current crisis in the Ukraine. Everybody would take a step back and work out ground rules for the EU's expansion into Eastern Europe that would take Russia's interests fully into account. That would probably mean simultaneous negotiations with all four of the major successor states to the Soviet Union and an understanding that none would be admitted until all were satisfied. Would that infringe Ukraine's sovereignty? A bit, but Ukraine's integrity may be at stake. Which is more important?

    In that context, it is interesting to see Russia move forward along the Black Sea coast. It is almost as though Russia is threatening to cut the Ukraine off from the Black Sea just as the EU's incorporation of the Ukraine would have cut off Russia. Is turnabout fair play? Perhaps, but only if it leads to a rational outcome.

      CommentedVid Beldavs

      Mr. Putin had full opportunty with foreign minister Lavrov to address the opportunity of an EU-Ukraine-Russia partnership. Such discussions should have been underway years earlier. Instead, Mr. Putin waited until the last moment, when opinion polls showed an astonishingly high support for EU entry by Ukraine to compel Yanukovych to choose Russia instead of the EU. Yanukovych had been elected in part because he supported EU entry and he championed this cause during his presidency up until his meeting with Putin in Sochi in late 2013. It was political stupidity of the lowest order to attempt such a reversal in direction. There was support for EU entry from all regions of Ukraine - the parliament voted 318 out of 449 votes in mid 2013 for EU entry. Russia appears to have had no understanding of the political situation in Ukraine. Where was the vaunted Russian intelligence service when it should have counseled Putin that compelling Yanukovych to reverse course would probably lead to a popular revolution? If this matter was so important, why didn't Putin discuss the matter with Merkel a year earlier and where was Lavrov'? It would have made far more sense to simply let Yanukovych sign the agreement while voicing Russian concerns to Merkel and others in the EU. Yanukovych would have returned to Kiev a hero, with support even from the nationalists, but still a friend of Russia and Russian security interests would not have been compromised and there would have been no Maidan revolution.

  17. CommentedRoman Podolyan

    This article is built on the popular in West, but false view that Putin is to blame for everything happening in Ukraine now. In fact he's not: actually Western politicians and their Ukrainian pro-Western friends did much for all this to happen.

    Ukraine was politically divided for a long time, candidates from West never had good chances in the East and vice versa.It has many reasons, — historical, political, economical, cultural.

    Federalist-separatist moves took place long before this year — in Crimea even in 1990s, and in East in 2005 (Yanukovich Party of Regions tried to initiate some federalism). Also, Yanukovich's party of Regions was official parther of Putin's party since 2005. This was negative only for West, not for East of Ukraine, which continued to support Putin's partners agains the West.
    Majority of Crimeans never felt themselves Ukrainian — poll of 2008 "What culture do you think you belong to?" said that 55% are of Russian culture and 15% of Soviet. So for majority of them Russian action this year are like "back home" not like invasion and annexation. Donbass also wasn't fond of Ukrainian politics.

    Actually in 2010-2011 two of famous Ukrainian writes called Donbass and Crimea "part of the Russian nation" and said like "everything Ukrainan is alien for that regions".

    But the main reason was even materialistic: what maidan-2004 brought to power were neo-liberals who led country into credit bubble trap like European GIPSI countries. So for East rule of West means nothing good, that's why they hated pro-Western politicians more than Yanukovich.

    Some numbers:

    Сurrent account balance for Ukraine (National Bank):
    2005: +2.531 $ bln
    2006: -1.617 $ bln
    2007: -5.272 $ bln
    2008: -12.763 $ bln
    2009: -1.732 $ bln
    2010: -3.018 $ bln
    2011: -10.245 $ bln
    2012: -14.761 $ bln
    2013: -16.355 $ bln
    by 1.04.2014: -1.328 $ bln

    Ukrainian debt total (National Bank):
    01.01.2005: 30.647 $ bln
    01.01.2006: 38.633 $ bln
    01.01.2007: 54.512 $ bln
    01.01.2008: 82.663 $ bln
    01.01.2009: 101.654 $ bln
    01.01.2010: 103.396 $ bln
    01.01.2011: 117.345 $ bln
    01.01.2012: 126.236 $ bln
    01.01.2013: 135.065 $ bln
    01.01.2014: 142.520 $ bln
    01.04.2014: 137.382 $ bln

    While Putin is neoliberal too, his rule didn't become complete ruin of Russian manufacturing, and didn't bring Russia so deeply in debt, so pro-Russian positon was strong in East of Ukraine not only because of historical, language and cultural divide, but also because "for us pro-Western parties mean only chauvinism and desctruction, and even Putin is better". The uprising in the East hoped for something like Crimea scenario — move to Russia from Ukrainian debt and austerity, as their economy were much Eastern-oriented and expecting nothing good from pro-Western powers.

    As you may see from numbers, Ukraine is deep in debt and now, when Russian market is closing for it, Ukrainian economy is going to cotract by double-digit number, the prospects are even more dire for Ukraine.

    So Putin's game is more than just ambiton: he maid it clear for the West that support of Ukraine are on them, and he is not going to help Ukraine to pay it's huge debts.

    The question is, how much West is going to lose money on Ukraine, losing money since 2006 and accumulated debt amounting almost 80% of it's GDP.

    Do they really want to bail Ukraine out and continue their support as Ukraine is not going to be able to pay for itself anytime soon?

  18. CommentedGeorge Fisher

    You are not the first to say " he has bitten off more than he can chew". But he and his army seem to be chewing up Eastern Ukraine just fine.

    What I don't understand is why he needs to lie about all this. If he had announced to the world that he was going to annex Crimea and a land bridge to it, and then immediately proceeded efficiently to do so, this "crisis" would already be forgotten.

  19. Commentedben aris

    analysis lacks basic understand of Russia. "Russian population shrinking fast" is flat our wrong; has been growing for last 5 years, including natural population for last two years. Also assumes that Russia has interest in normalising relaitons with west - but we are well beyond that. Crimea will remain Russia in the way North Cyprus remains Turkish. Europe will never ever cut off Russian gas as they would have turn its factories off if did. Sanctions hurt western Europe as much as russia as most recent Eurostat results so. Q is how can stand economic pain the longest: with $500bn in resreves and 14% GDP debt in Russia vs thin reserves and 100% GDP debt in Western Europe actually Russia in position to tough it out longer than western Europe. This analysis is based on assumption that west is strong, unified and determined to face Russia down -- all of which is wrong. Perosnally I think Putin has already won the showdown but not gone in fro the kill yet.

  20. Commentededward goldberg

    Putin has already lost. He has become a prisoner of his policy. He has united the west, made Germany the leader on this issue ( a historic nightmare for Russia), cemented the EU/Ukraine relationship, brought NATO back to life, and forced Europe to go into over drive looking for alternative energy sources.

  21. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

    Lord Robert Skidelsky, how soon do you see "an endgame for Putin in Ukraine"? Putin has a huge appetite - to restore the Novorossiya. Even if "he has bitten off more than he can chew", he still wants to keep his plate full.
    It's true that Putin enjoys support "for his Ukraine policy" at home, because the annexation of Crimea in March looked so painless and the transfer of power bloodless. Besides Russia got away with impunity in 2008 after a short war with Georgia. It ended after some EU leaders hurriedly brokered a peace deal which left South Ossetia and Abkhazia nominally independent but actually in Russia's orbit.
    When Putin started to destabilise Eastern Ukraine, despite denials of Russian military involvement, he probably thought that once again EU leaders would weigh their economic interests and conclude that a damaging row with Russia was something they could not afford. He has tried to push his strategy to the limit and calculated he would go as far as he could without bearing too much cost. Yet he has underestimated his opponents.
    The conflict in Eastern Ukraine has turned out to be a bloody, murky business. The new government in Kiev under Poroshenko has rsponded more toughly than Putin expected. He ordered the army into the eastern region to push the rebels out, while trying to negotiate a peace deal. The West too has been more firm and less forgiving than Putin thought. Russia's 2008 invasion in Georgia hasn't been forgotten. It has imposed "sanctions, including the exclusion of Russian banks from Western capital markets". They are "bound to cause serious shortages, declining living standards, and major problems for Russia’s ownership class".
    Given the "state control of the media and the suppression of opposition", ordinary Russians are oblivious to reality on the ground, but they still "rally to their leader". The question: "At what point will his position as President become untenable" is as intriguing as Putin's biography. His next steps in eastern Ukraine and where is this country heading are as uncertain as a weather forecast.
    Putin's "endgame" depends on the two forces that have a say in Russia. On the one hand the nationalists and conservatives - including many involved in defence and security - who see the West as hostile and unfriendly and welcome sanctions as a means to become autarkic, a dream from the Soviet era. On the other hand there are pro-Western liberals and reformers who believe a long term rift with the West would be disastrous for Russia's economy. Which side is Putin on? He gambles with nationalism. As a pragmatist he plays by ear.

  22. CommentedJean-Louis Piel

    Great article. Thank you.
    I would like to add that Russia is composed by 110 millions ethnic Russians. How could they invade and control a country like Ukraine of 46 millions !!! It is physically impossible .
    The last century has demonstrated that it is impossible to oppose by force the desire of independence of a country like Ukraine after more than two centuries of brutal Russian colonization . Even much smaller countries and much poorer have succeeded like Vietnam.

      CommentedRoman Podolyan

      JEAN-LOUIS PIEL,
      there is an illusion in the world that Ukraine is (or ever was) something united and homogeneous. In fact it never was. Crimea felt it more part of Russia in Ukraine, and in Donbass 90% of the population do prefer to be with Russia than fight Russia, even defending Ukraine from Russia.

      Actually the same was in 1917-1921 and 1939-1945, when more from East of Ukraine fought side by side with Russians, not against Russians like those in the West of Ukraine.

      So the answer to you question is simple: there is no "control" of Putin over Crimea and Donbass, it's true secession of regions who doesn't want pro-Western rule, and not the Putin, but Ukraine would be spending enormous sum of money to keep Eastern regions not loyal and friendly to it's West — if it is going to take it back under Ukrainian rule.

      CommentedTatiana Fazio

      I wonder what you mean by "two centuries of brutal Russian colonization". The first medieval Russian state (Kievan Rus) had it centre in Kiev. It disintegrated due to a Mongol invasion that lasted for a few centuries, until Moscow princes have finally evicted them in 1480, with much of Kievan Rus falling under the rule of Poland (Poland & Lithuania at the time). Following a rebellion against Catholic (Polish) rule, the lands to the East of the Dnepr river and Kiev went under the rule of the Moscow tsar in 1654 and only became a separate state in 1991.

  23. CommentedCHRISTOPHER BOWEN

    Russia has always been more 'Asian' than 'European'. Its society and government are largely a product of the Mongol occupation 1250-1550. Insularity and exclusion of foreign 'influences' has characterized Russia for centuries. Putin's biggest mistake is shifting Russian oil revenue dependence from the West to China. Despite wishful propaganda, Chinese dislike, even despise, Russians and historically China claims all of Siberia east of the Yenesei River as Chinese territory. Eventually China will de facto occupy Siberia (1.3 billion vs. 140 and declining million people) which has all the resources (water, arable land, minerals, oil, gas, forest products,...) China desperately needs. Any sane Russian would see and seek to avoid dependence on China. That will be the turning point for Putin. Europe is reliable, pays its bills and is not a threat to Russia. China is THE long term threat to Russia.

      CommentedJean-Louis Piel

      Very good comment .
      However I do think that is our the West, best strategy - to push Russia to be dependent from China.
      But Chinese have demonstrated during their long History many ways to control a country .
      I bet that Russia will be controlled like Indonesia, or Philippines : with less of 1% of population , they will control 80% of the Russian economy.

  24. CommentedCharles Zigmund

    This prediction of Putin's exit doesn't take into account the anti-Western chauvinism of the Russian people, which has undergirded Russia's foreign policy for many generations. The humiliating loss of the entire Soviet empire was minimally mitigated by the retention of Crimea and putatively eastern Ukraine. Economic factors may not be as important to the masses as the fierce determination to salve national pride and to salvage something from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Crimea and eastern Ukraine are historically virtually parts of Russia, and Putin's determination to keep them resonates deeply within the breast of the average Russian.

  25. Commentedhari naidu

    For some reason Project Syndicate is commissioning a lot of wishful thinking punditry, as globalization is on its way out of the WTO front door.
    No Kremlinologist today would be able to claim they understand what's in Putin's mind...as he moves forward with his so-called neo-classical Customs Union with former bloc members. No one seems to understand why mainland China is NOT propagating Putin's policy going forward. Xi is simply interested in keeping Putin in power, so Russia doesn't disintegrate (again).

    The end game for Putin, methinks, is moving Berlin ever closer to Russia.

  26. CommentedVelko Simeonov

    .The whole idea how Russia is going to give up Crimea is completely absurd and is nothing more than wishful thinking. Putin has much more aces in his sleeve than Mr. Skidelsky assumes. It is strange how no one mentions China and its position in this geopolitical chess game. I am rather confident that a weaker US not being able to meddle in their part of the globe is an unstated Chinese policy. I am also sure that the Chinese following Sun Tzu’s advice “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” are thrilled to the see Russians doing their job. Yes the west could further restrict Russia’s ability to borrow, but the Chinese are right next door, and they have a lot of dollars they will gladly get rid of by providing them as financing to the ruskies. I am sorry Robert but the world where the US and Western Europe could effectively exclude a nation from the world political affairs and financial markets is gone. It’s time for European and US policy makers to wake up to that reality.

      CommentedJean-Louis Piel

      You dream.
      Of course you, Russians, you will be forced to give up Crimea and Donbass. And later surely more. You are only 110 millions of Ethnic Russians.
      You seem to know nothing about China. The Chinese don't care about Russia at all. The wast interests of China in the West - not to forget that the West is by far is biggest client but also investor. Then if a deal happens between China and the West in regards of Russia, Russia will have nothing to say.
      Russia is only a provider of raw materials like African, Middle East or South American countries. Africa, for example, is much more important than Russia for China.
      China will never be a militarily ally of Russia . Chinese have very bad memories of their relation with Russia between 1949 and 1989 . Chinese don't forget that it is because they open to the West since 1972-1992 than they become prosper . They have no desire to return to isolation with Russia against the West. Their interdependence with the West is so high that they will never risk to break up. For a simple the Chinese leader who will try to make the Chinese isolated will immediately lose power. The Chinese power have had an idea how quick it could happen in 1989.
      In a World of more than 7,5 billions human. Beings where China,India, the West with his allies (Turkey, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea) , Islamist countries ( Indonesia, Pakistan, etc ) Africa are above 1 billion people, who care of what. 110 millions Ethnic Russians , isolated. Will do ?

  27. Commentedslightly optimistic

    Trade and investment with Russia seems to be the only concern of the German chancellor - Europe's leading politician and maybe the key destroyer of the security alliance NATO.
    EUObserver reports Angela Merkel: "I want to find a way, as many others do, which does not damage Russia. We [Germany] want to have good trade relations with Russia as well. We want reasonable relations with Russia. We are depending on one another and there are so many other conflicts in the world where we should work together, so I hope we can make progress”.
    However there is disagreement within Germany. "Economic globalization has so far not given rise to a framework for global governance. . .an old, fundamental normative conflict between idealism and realism, or a value-based and an interest-based foreign policy wrote former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer this week https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/joschka-fischer-wonders-how-global-security-can-be-secured--given-the-decline-of-pax-americana.

  28. CommentedGeorge Moukazis

    Too much of wishful thinking is not good, I think.

      CommentedSamantha Blair

      oh yes another Putin is finished article...hmmm how many have there been , at least one a week ??? So his approval rating is almost 90% but it will be the 10% that ask him "to step aside" this is nonsense & yes wishful thinking on the part of Mr. Skidelsky....Mr. Putin isn't going anywhere

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