Monday, July 07, 2014

Another Geopolitical Triumph For Vladimir Putin! (Kevin Drum)

Kevin Drum on March 2:
No, Vladimir Putin Is Not a Cunning Geopolitical Chess Player

   From House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers:
Putin is playing chess and I think we are playing marbles, and I don’t think it’s even close. They’ve been running circles around us.
This kind of knee-jerk reaction is unsurprising, but it's also nuts. Has Rogers even been following events in Ukraine lately? The reason Putin has sent troops into Crimea is because everything he's done over the past year has blown up in his face. This was a last-ditch effort to avoid a fool's mate, not some deeply-calculated bit of geopolitical strategy.  [....]
That was a useful, and characteristically sensible, corrective to much of the prevailing chatter.

Of course, we shouldn't overdo the debunking. Putin did manage to grab the Crimea and get away with it. The extent to which western governments were so visibly startled and flummoxed by this exercise of traditional power politics, and the degree of confusion and uncertainty in their initial responses, did leave them looking feckless and unprepared. The political disarray in Ukraine, as well as the inability of the Ukrainian government to hold on to major cities in eastern Ukraine taken over by Russian-supported separatist militias, seemed to confirm Putin's claim that Ukraine isn't a real country anyway. And Putin's popularity at home has certainly soared to new heights, riding a wave of jingoistic enthusiasm in Russian public opinion.

But Drum was right to emphasize that Putin was clearly reacting to a situation in which his long-term machinations had blown up in his face. So Putin raised the stakes by escalating to the undisguised use of military force for an irredentist land grab in Ukraine. That move was obviously successful in the short run, but it might well carry significant geopolitical and economic costs in the long run—depending in part on how the rest of the world, especially Europe and the US, responds.

=> So how are things working out? Now here's a sarcastic follow-up by Kevin Drum on June 26:
Another Geopolitical Triumph For Vladimir Putin!

   From the Guardian:
It was the document that started a revolution and ended up bringing Europe to the brink of war. Ukraine's association agreement with the European Union, a mainly economic document setting up a free trade area that nevertheless has political and strategic ramifications, will finally be signed on Friday.

Along with Georgia and Moldova, two other post-Soviet countries keen to move out of Moscow's orbit, Kiev will sign the deal with Brussels to establish a free-trade area and introduce a raft of measures designed to synchronise economies with EU nations, as well as improve rule of law and human rights.
Yep, that Putin is a geopolitical strategic mastermind, isn't he? Every country on Russia's border is now hellbent on better economic and military ties with the West. Nice work.
Furthermore, while Putin had been effectively orchestrating separatist violence and general destabilization in eastern Ukraine, that operation may not be working out quite as successfully as it seemed, either. A few days ago Ukrainian government forces, which had been looking incurably ineffective and inept, recaptured one of the key cities held by Russian-backed separatist militias, Slovyansk, as the rebel forces fled. Also, there are signs that the Russian economy may be taking a significant hit from the drying-up of foreign investments and other effects of the international crisis provoked by Russia's military intervention in Ukraine. If that trend turns out to be real and persistent, it's the sort of thing that could reverse the surge in Putin's domestic popularity.

Once again, though, we shouldn't start drawing premature conclusions. Life is more complicated than that. From Putin's point of view, he is still the leader who recovered Crimea for Russia. I'm sure he regards that as a historic achievement that outweighs a lot of actual and potential complications. And we don't yet know what his next set of countermoves will be. Stay tuned.

—Jeff Weintraub