Staunton, August 16 – Russia under Vladimir Putin is “a deeply ill country which does not have the chance to realize its imperial ambitions,” according to Andrey Zubov. But because Putin is trying to do just that, he is at risk of losing everything: his own popularity, control over Ukraine, and the Russian military-industrial complex which is deeply dependent on Ukraine.
In a wide-ranging interview with Artem Dekhtyarenko of Kyiv’s Apostrophe portal, the Russina historian says that the fundamental weakness of Russia is what sets Putin’s country today apart from Nazi Germany 75 years ago (apostrophe.com.ua/article/politics/2015-08-16/peregovoryi-ob-uhode-rossii-s-donbassa-uje-idut-istorik-iz-rf/2091).
“In order to defeat Germany,” Zubov says, “the strongest powers of the world needed five years, but the situation with regard to Russia today is entirely different. Putin calculated that everyone would close their eyes to the annexation [of Crimea] and possibly on some further actions regarding Ukraine.”
Moreover, he assumed that half of Ukraine would support him given the way in which the eastern portions of that country had voted since the 1990s. “But nothing came of this. All [Putin’s] calculations turned out to be incorrect.” Indeed, Putin and his team have made “a whole series of very crude mistakes.”
After an initial burst of euphoria, Crimea has turned out to be a burden rather than a victory; Ukrainians in the east have not supported Putin’s aggression, and “besides, the West is acting in a very monolithic and consolidated way by introducing serious sanctions which are constantly being intensified. At the same time, no one supports Russia,” not even its “closest and most dependent” neighbors.
“There is a Russian proverb,” Zubov says. “’From love to hatred is a single step.’ When an impulsive, spontaneous affection arises with people then typically after it, if this love disappoints comes a similarly irrational hatred. I fear that we are at the beginning of this second stage” in Russia.
Crimea cannot be reclaimed by military means, he continues, adding that Western pressure will help. But at the same time, Zubov says, Ukrainians need to ask themselves whether they want it back or whether they might be better off not getting it back given the attitudes of people there. The only way to move forward, he suggests, is with a new referendum.
Eastern Ukraine resembles Transdniestria but not really Abkhazia or South Osetia, Zubov suggests. Both places are ones in which “the soviet mentality dominates.” For Ukraine’s future, “it is very important that this mentality be overcome,” and that will require tact and care in dealing with the population of the east once Russian forces leave.
Once Moscow pulls its forces out, Zubov argues, pro-Moscow groups “will not hold out two weeks. They understand that perfectly well, and therefore as soon as Russia leaves the Donbas, they will go with it, surrender or flee. The so-called LNR and DNR will cease their existence very quickly.”
And Russia will leave because it does not want to suffer further sanctions and become a large North Korea. According to Zubov, “unofficial talks are going on about this now.” Their task is simple: how can Russia leave without losing face. “But apparently, it won’t be able to do so without losing face.” Thus, Ukraine will have to show great tact in dealing with the situation.
Putin wasn’t prepared for all this because he had not prepared for war. Indeed, Zubov says, “no one seriously thought about war even in Soviet times, and when Khrushchev attempted to do something in Cuba in 1962, he was immediately removed. Everyone understands that nuclear war is impossible. Therefore Russia only uses this as a threat.”
Zubov says that in his view, Putin launched his aggression in Ukraine for three reasons: to boost his popularity, to keep Ukraine from leaving the Russian sphere of influence, and to ensure that Russia’s military-industrial complex would not suffer given the importance of Ukrainian plants for its operation.
But because he miscalculated, the Kremlin leader “has lost everything.”
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