Staunton, October 20 – The meetings in Milan show that “Putin does not have a real alternative to the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis by the use of force, and that makes the Russian president really dangerous” in the coming days and weeks, according to Moscow commentator Boris Sokolov.
Putin’s goal of securing a pro-Russian government in Kyiv now seems further away than ever, given that few pro-Moscow deputies are likely to be elected to the Ukrainian parliament this fall, and consequently, the Russian president has every reason to try to employ the Russian army to force Kyiv to “capitulate” (grani.ru/opinion/sokolov/m.234135.html).
Such plans, the Russian liberal critic of Putin’s regime says, “can be blocked only by the effective resistance of the Ukrainian army and energetic pressure from the West.” Unfortunately, at Milan, no such resolve was demonstrated because Europeans fear that harsher sanctions might lead Putin to cut off their gas supplies, and they “are afraid of a cold winter.”
That, of course, “can only encourage the aggressor.”
Putin would be satisfied with “freezing” the conflict in southeastern Ukraine if Kyiv would pay the social costs of taking care of the more than 4.5 million people in the Donbas and would even be prepared to hand control of the Donbas back to Kyiv if the Ukrainian government would recognize as legitimate his occupation of Crimea.
But Kyiv isn’t prepared to do that, Sokolov says, and current polls suggest that “there will be almost no pro-Russian deputies” in the Verkhovna Rada to be elected on October 26. And Putin needs to achieve his goals in the next few months before the situation in the occupied territories becomes “truly catastrophic” and potentially explosive for Russia itself.
Given that confluence of events, the Moscow commentator says, it is likely that “soon Russian forces and separatists will step up their military activities in an attempt to defeat the Ukrainian army, to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the parliamentary elections, and to provoke in Ukraine a political crisis” that will end either by making the current regime more willing to make concessions or by bringing to power a pro-Moscow government.
Given the approach of winter and the reluctance of the EU to put its gas supplies at risk by a new round of sanctions, Putin has every reason to move quickly. And “if Russian forces and their allies in the Donbas do not achieve real successes, perhaps, they will attack along the entire line of the border under the banner of some kind of “Kharkov Peoples Republic.”