I am a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, at Stanford, and the Cullen Professor of Economics at the University of Houston. I am also a research professor at the German Institute for Economic Research Berlin. My specialties are Russia and Comparative Economics, and I am adding China to my portfolio. I have written more than 20 books on economics, Russia and comparative economics. I blog at paulgregorysblog.blogspot.com.
The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
President Vladimir Putin met today in the Kremlin with representatives of the Russian Press. Foreign journalists were excluded to prevent them from asking probing questions. Putin’s message: His invasion of Crimea was a fully legal response to protect the Russian-speaking inhabitants of Crimea from the unlawful actions of the Ukrainian government in Kiev. Putin regards the agreement signed by Yanukovich and the Ukrainian opposition leaders, brokered by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland, as binding. (Hence Yanukovich is still president of Ukraine until the elections). The armed coup that replaced the agreement was an illegal action. The current government in Kiev is illegitimate, and its orders have no legal standing. Russia had no choice but to protect its interests in this vacuum.
According to Putin, the Russian Federation has violated no international law with its military actions in Ukraine, and is prepared to participate in an international commission to resolve outstanding issues. Any sanctions imposed by the United State or any other country to punish Russian for its legitimate actions will only intensify tension and make matters worse.
Let me interpret Putin’s words: He has stated that he has legally occupied the Crimea, and he intends to stay there. If he magnanimously decides, he will annex no further territory, but that requires that Europe and the United States impose no sanctions and accept the status quo as a Fait accomplis.
As Putin spoke, his unidentified masked forces roam the streets of eastern and southern Ukraine. His FSB (KGB) agents stir up unrest and organize demonstrations, strikes, and stage incidents showing attacks on innocent Russian speakers. He has ordered Russian businesses to disrupt supplies and not take orders from east Ukrainian businesses in an organized campaign to paralyze Ukraine’s heavy industry.
In effect, Putin is now daring the United States even to hang sanctions on Russia for its ongoing invasion. If we keep our mouths shut and slink away with our tails between our legs, Putin will stop with Crimea, while quietly sabotaging the new Ukrainian government. He will play for time until the new Ukrainian government suffers economic and political collapse and is ready for a new Russian-friendly regime.
If the West signs on to Putin’s “suggestions,” Ukraine is lost. Putin will continue to be free to destabilize Ukraine from within. The United States and Europe are too timid even to condemn and punish naked aggression in violation of recognized treaties. Putin may even be upset by shipments of weapons and significant aid. Our failure to act decisively will deliver a clear message to Ukraine: You are on your own.
Putin is now telling the United States what to do and continues to call the shots in Ukraine. President Obama’s only visible response to date, other than warning of “consequences,” is a measly one billion dollar loan guarantee.
Putin’s means of bargaining is typical Russian. He does something wrong, while threatening to do something worse. He is like the bandit who cuts off a finger and then threatens to cut off the whole arm and maybe after that the head. When he tells his victim that he will stop with the finger, the victim praises him for his charity. That’s the message Putin’s press conference conveyed. President Obama: Are you going to be happy with the loss of a finger?
Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2014/03/01/alarm-putin-will-not-stop-with-crimea-paper-tiger-obama-will-do-nothing/
The Russian parliament has approved Vladimir Putin’s request to use military force in Ukraine (ominously, not just Crimea which Russian forces already control). Ukraine’s weak interim government has ordered mobilization. European heads of state have scheduled meetings for Monday (I guess they don’t want to spoil their weekends), and President Obama has warned Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity or else “there will be consequences.”
Putin’s open call for Russian military forces on Ukrainian territory departs from his tried-and-true script of masked Russian forces or proxy fighters. With the fugitive “legitimate” president of Ukraine at his side, Putin can claim that he is using Russian force to “protect” eastern and southern Ukraine from the illegitimate Nazis, skinheads, and rabid nationalists of Maidan square, backed by John Kerry and the CIA. Obama may be naïve enough to think that Putin will be deterred by international opprobrium. Nonsense. The constellation of forces – a political vacuum in Ukraine, a weak and indecisive U.S. president, and a European herd of cats — are aligned for him to get away with the annexation – formal or de facto – of a prized portion of Ukraine.
Putin counts among the world’s most predictable heads of state. If we listen to his words and watch his actions, we know exactly how he will behave in any specific situation. We know that Putin will not let the Assad regime fail, will continue to protect Iran’s nuclear ambitions, will pose a constant threat to democratic Georgia, and he will support any regime that bucks U.S. interests. We know that he will not accept the results of Ukraine’s Maidan revolution. He will play a maximalist game – the de facto partition of Ukraine – if he anticipates no real pushback from Europe and the United States. Crimea is gone to Russia for all practical purposes. Putin is now eying his next morsels.
Putin is predictable because his problems and goals are out in the open. He runs a corrupt regime that manages a weak economy dependent on oil and gas. He has lost the popularity of his early years. It is no longer enough just to pay pensions on time, and the years of rapid growth are over. The people have grown weary of corruption. Putin has taken his lesson from the Orange revolution and the Arab Spring: Small protests can escalate; therefore there will be zero tolerance for dissent. The small amount of media freedom permitted in Putin’s first two terms is becoming a thing of the past.
Putin has substituted Russian nationalism and Realpolitik for Soviet communist expansionism. As he declared in his first term, there is no such thing as “former KGB.” His lens on the world is that of a KGB officer cutting his teeth in Berlin during the embarrassing collapse of the Soviet Empire . Like many Russians of his generation, the loss of empire was the bitterest blow of his lifetime. Putin firmly believes the collapse was engineered by an expansionist West, led by the United States. His destiny is to restore what can be salvaged. There are no goals more important other than his own personal power.
A dictator like Putin cannot survive without an external threat, real or imagined. Since his first days in power, Putin has consistently preached that the United States is enemy number one, intent on encircling Russia and diminishing its sphere of influence. The United States sows internal dissent to weaken his regime. He claims his most serious challenge to date – the demonstrations following the rigged Duma election of December 2011 – was fomented by none other than Hillary Clinton. Russia needs an “iron fist” to protect itself from such vicious enemies. Moreover, the Russian people enjoy watching the spectacle of their leader running rings around a hapless U.S. president. Good for the ratings.
To restore as much of the Soviet Empire as possible, Putin first had to insure no further losses. Any former Soviet state thinking of deserting to the West must be threatened or even attacked. Putin’s armed attack and annexation of Abkhazia from Georgia clearly display his script for wavering countries like Armenia and Moldavia. Try to join Europe and we will crush you. Ukraine is now on line to learn its lesson.
Ukraine represents the Holy Grail of Putin’s restoration policy. If Ukraine is lost, his policy has failed, and Putin cannot accept defeat unless the costs of fighting the battle are in the stratosphere. He has already calculated that the costs, if any, will be modest and the returns exceptional.
The current Ukrainian turmoil provides Putin an ideal playing field for his machinations. As a minimalist variant, he first replayed the Georgian game, in which his Russian troops, in disguise or as paramilitary units, take over territory at the invitation of “legitimate” local authorities to protect them from Ukrainian nationalists, Russian haters, and Nazis, backed by the United States. Putin has already made Crimea, like Georgian Abkhazia, an “autonomous state” that takes its orders from Russia. His proxies have surrounded Ukrainian troops in Kharkiv and Donetsk regions. According to today’s Russian parliament decree, Putin can drop the ruse of local freedom fighters. The tanks, troops, helicopters, and supply trucks and planes can openly display the insignia of the Russian Federation.
As the protector of Viktor Yanukovich, the “legitimate president of all Ukraine” from his sanctuary in Russia, Putin can claim legitimacy to act on behalf of the Ukrainian people. We can be sure that Putin’s security forces were behind Yanukovich’s escape to Russia, where he could serve as the figurehead of Ukrainian opposition. Under this guise of legitimacy, Putin can readily arrange takeovers of regional governments in East and South Ukraine and stage incidents of crazed Ukrainian Nazis out to get Russian-speaking Easterners. Russian troops will be greeted by jubilant “liberated” citizens. Former Ukrainian territory becomes de facto “autonomous regions,” which are really part of the Putin Empire. He will seize the very territories through which Russia’s Gazprom pipelines can run, ridding himself of the irritant of having to deal with Ukraine on gas transport matters.
Throughout the de facto breakup and annexation of significant territories of Ukraine, Putin can play his usual “who me?” game of innocence. He as a conscientious world leader must answer the call of a democratically elected neighbor president illegally overthrown by fascists, Nazis, hooligans and agents of the CIA and State Department. His response to protests from Angela Merkel or Francoise Hollande will be one of surprise. How do they expect him to stand by idly when his beloved neighbors are under attack from evil and sinister forces. These things are beyond his control. And so what if Barack Obama cancels another meeting. That’s his problem not mine.
Conditions favor a Putin victory of the maximalist variant. The new Ukrainian government is engaged in political squabbling and will require months to get its act together, if ever. Control of the military and Berkut riot police is up in the air. Ukraine domestic politics offer Putin an ideal vacuum into which his proxies and operatives can flow.
Barack Obama represents the most useful tool in Putin’s armory. Putin understands that he and Obama share a common belief that the United States overextended itself overseas under George W. Bush, and needs to scale back on its foreign involvements, irrespective of their costs and benefits. Obama’s naïve “reset” policy delivered into Putin’s hands virtually everything he wanted – withdrawal of missile systems from Eastern Europe, inaction on Georgia, silence with respect to human rights violations – while demanding no concessions in return. He has watched, and played host to Edward Snowden, as Obama sets “red lines” and warns of “consequences” and then does nothing. Putin must laugh when Obama’s apologists argue that we must tread lightly with Russia because we need their help with respect to Iran and Syria. What help and when will it come? What fools, he must think.
Without a strong U.S. hand, we cannot count on those countries most immediately affected – Poland, Germany and France — to counter Putin’s expansionism. They will wring their hands, consult among themselves, and watch as the inevitable occurs.
We must turn from the heady days of the Maidan revolution back to the scary reality of Russian expansionism, a Ukrainian political vacuum, a hapless European Union, and a Paper Tiger Barack Obama. Those who argue that Putin will not want to risk international opprobrium, especially after the $50 billion boost to his image at Sochi, do not understand one Vladimir Putin.
To Barack Obama: True the United States is tired of fighting battles in faraway exotic lands in which friend is scarcely distinguishable from foe. But the United States must be prepared to fight the good battles. If there were ever a time for standing tall and firm, it is now. If not, we shall see ourselves increasingly at the mercy of a dictator for life, backed by a pipsqueak economy, who uses threats, bullying, and the actual use of force to dictate foreign policy to a supine world that is afraid of its shadow.
In the past, the U.S. and the world has paid a price for perceived weakness in the U.S. president. Leonid Brezhnev would not have ordered the invasion of Afghanistan if he had sized up Jimmy Carter as a strong president. Vladimir Putin would not be invading Ukraine if he thought that Barack Obama had a backbone.
The author serves on the International Academic Advisory Board of the Kiev School of Economics. The views are those of the author and not the school.
The author’s latest book is Women of the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives.