Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Putin’s Strategy has Come Back to Haunt Him, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 11 – Vladimir Putin has succeeded up to now by opening a variety of fronts and thus keeping his opponents at home and abroad off balance, Sergey Shelin says; but now the Kremlin leader faces more conflicts than he has the resources to respond to, and what was once a winning strategy is rapidly becoming a dangerous liability.

            The Rosbalt commentator says that the Kremlin has gotten involved in “too many fronts,” has “too few resources,” and “absolutely no friends,” a situation that has prompted Putin to talk about the use of nuclear “wonder weapons” not as a last resort “but as the only one” (

            And this “effort in the terrible and multi-polar world of the 21st century to conduct oneself as a super-power like the Soviet Union was at the peak of its power cannot lead to anything else,” a truly frightening indication of where Russia now is but of what its leaders do not completely understand.

            Many in the political elite are quite willing to engage in the abstract speculation of Vladislav Surkov and his post-2014 world, Shelin says; but about the realities of the current situation, “the bosses know much less than about [this] abstract ‘geopolitical loneliness’ which it has been happy to impose on the country for several centuries ahead.”

            All too many conflicts with the West are passing “into a new stage or already have done so.”  The problem the Kremlin faces is that it can’t be sure what issue has driven the US to impose sanctions or whether as is more likely all of them feed on each other. If it were otherwise, Moscow would have an easier time responding as was the case in the wake of Crimea.

            But there is a further problem, Shelin points out. “Sanctions are only one of the hits which the sides are in a disorderly fashion striking out against each other.”  He says he won’t even discuss possible counter-measures when it comes to the economy because of the difference in size of the two. Any Russian move in that sphere would only make things worse for Russia

            “A complete economic boycott of Russia is possible in response not so much to potential economic counter-sanctions,” he says, “but rather in the event of a sharpening of conflicts on all fronts. And it is precisely that which is taking place today.”

            As for the Skripal case, the Kremlin has utterly failed to see that this is not some marginal affair but “the heaviest of foreign policy failures” and that while it might have been able to pick up the pieces earlier, “it does not have” such possibilities now especially since then case is “resonating” with Russian actions in Syria and the use of chemical weapons there.

            Shelin argues that “the participation of government and non-governmental contingents in a foreign war conducted in the interests of Iran. Hezbollah and Asad is not explicable in the language of rational politics.”  And it has only further isolated Russia without allowing it to gain anything of lasting value.

            No country is going to be willing to take any risks on Russia’s behalf given how its leadership has been behaving. “Not Belarus and not Kazakhstan, who on paper are its best friends and military partners but in practice are neutral. And what is the main thing, not China either.”

            Beijing in its new role of “elder brother” may be willing to abstain at the UN on resolutions Moscow doesn’t like, but there is no reason to expect any serious military help or defense from it.”  And still worse, Shelin says, “Moscow now will depend on Beijing still more strongly” than it did in the past. “That is completely obvious.”

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