Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Unless West Sets ‘Clear Limits,’ Putin Will Expand Russia Up to NATO’s Borders, Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – Vladimir Putin will seek to expand Russia’s influence and control right up to the borders of NATO because the West has shown that it is not ready to interfere in any serious way to defend countries that have not been able to get into the Western alliance up to now, according to a Russian political scientist and commentator.

            That is “an enormous tragedy” for Ukraine and the other non-Russian countries but it is one for Russia itself, Aleksandr Avmalgin says. Moscow’s advance is “not for Russia but for the Putin criminal group which is engaged in a raiding action at the international level even as it puts in place an autarchic economic model” at home (

            Putin’s aggression, he continues, is leading to “the degradation of Russian society itself,” in much the same way that Hitler’s war led to a similar decay in German society of the 1930s.”

            Consequently, Avmalgin argues, “if the West does not show Putin clear limits beyond which he must not go, they he will not stop, and the world could move toward a nuclear war.” Unfortunately, he says, “the West does not have such a plan now,” and that promises the continuation of a “lengthy” period of uncertainty.
            According to Avmalgin, Putin is acting the way he is both because of tendencies typical of aging authoritarian regimes which see their power slipping and decide to double their bets and because of the increasing willingness of the Kremlin to listen to the hitherto marginal neo-imperialist ideas of people like Aleksandr Prokhanov.

            Until the Crimean Anschluss, Putin appeared to be acting as someone who wanted to boost Russia’s standing by promoting himself as the leader of “’a conservative international,’” a policy which “in principle, people in the West were prepared for.”  But after Crimea, no one in the West could accept that that was really all that the Kremlin leader wants.

            Instead, it became obvious, Avmalgin continues, that Putin wanted to “reshuffle the deck” of the international order so as to gain greater power at home and abroad.  But it is his international actions that are the most frightening because if Putin thinks he can cut off Russia from the world as Stalin did, then we are dealing with someone who is out of touch with reality.

            Such an effort would ultimately fail but it would lead to a significant further degradation of Russian society, a society so weakened already that there is unlikely to be any rising against Putin. The Kremlin leader is already “conducting a bloodless purge,” allowing those who disagree to leave and rewarding with the spoils of conquest those who agree to stay.

            With regard to Ukraine, however, that strategy didn’t work and won’t, Avmalgin says.  “Putin’s policy toward Ukraine will be much harsher.”  He will seize as much as he can territorially and seek to put the rest of Ukraine under oligarchs loyal to himself.  “Unfortunately,” the analyst says, Putin’s “chances for this are not bad.”

            Ukrainians and the West need to recognize that that second part of Putin’s program will represent “an enormous historical challenge, more than the loss of Crimea or the Donbass represent.”  It would put in Putin’s hands “enormous resources” and show that “it is possible to buy everyone and everything.”

            Putin’s moves up to now, Avmalgin says, have been those of a coolly calculating security officer. One can’t oppose that “with the aide of sincerity and openness.”  Such things only give the Kremlin new openings.

            “The people in the Kremlin,” he says, “having the psychology of intelligence officers do not believe in the sincerity of revolutions, ideological breakthroughs or public policy.” Instead, they believe that everything public is organized by people like themselves behind the scenes and they act accordingly.

            “The Kremlin uses the tactic of diversionists and of ‘green men,’ constantly lies and when the other side wants to know how it is possible to lie that way, it laughs” because it thinks that “we all are intelligence officers.”

            Avmalgin notes that the situation now is much worse even than in Brezhnev’s times because then at least, even as the regime used the KGB more or less freely, it always did so together with “appeals to universalistic values.”  Putin’s regime has dispensed with this: it lies, and it takes what it wants.

            According to the Russian analyst, Moscow is going to organize “’a Bosnian scenario’” in the Donbass,” leaving it within the borders of Ukraine “formally” but making it so autonomous as to be beyond the control of Kyiv,” much as it has already done in Moldova’s Transdniestria.  This will create “’a gray zone’” which will like radiation have an impact on the rest of Ukraine.

            Because of this, some are saying that Ukraine would be better off to cede this territory. That would be true but only under one condition: Ukraine would have to receive the guarantees of EU and NATO membership so that any concession now would not simply create a new place des armes for further Russian demands and destabilization in the future.

            But there is another problem that Ukrainians and the West must face up to.  All societies are “corrupt, but the situation in the Ukrainian elite is especially bad. Many of the leaders are pursuing their own agendas rather than acting in the best interests of Ukraine.  And there is the very real fear that one or another of them could be bought off and betray Ukraine.

            Dealing with that is Ukraine’s first challenge. Unless it is met, Avmalgin suggests, the future will be very bleak indeed, whatever else Moscow does.   But it is likely to prove impossible unless NATO and the West impose limits on Putin's aggression.

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