Saturday, March 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Entourage Could Turn on Him over Crimea, Bukovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 15 – By his invasion of Crimea, Vladimir Putin has not only unified Ukraine as a nation but is provoking the West into taking the kind of steps that will not only alienate many Russians but what is critical many of the chief supporters of his own power, Vladimir Bukovsky told a Polish radio station.

            The kind of sanctions against Russia that many Western leaders are now talking about will limit the ability of members of the Russian elite to travel, to educate their children abroad, and to keep their wealth in foreign banks, he said, adding that “This is no way will please Putin’s entourage” ( from

            That could lead to a real struggle in the Kremlin, even to the point of violence against Putin, Bukovsky continued.  The former Soviet dissident said that one must keep in mind that those around Putin are like a criminal band, a group that operates according to “the simple principle: the head of the band works for the band, and the band for him.”

            “If this principle is violated” – and the fallout from Crimea could lead some of the band members to conclude that – Bukovsky suggested, then the leader is in trouble as are those around him who may decide that the world that allowed them to “steal for 14 years” and take the benefits is collapsing around them.

            But Putin’s Crimean adventure has already had another dramatic consequence, Bukovsky said. The Kremlin leader unintentionally and against his own interests “has achieved that which no one had been able to do before: he has unified the Ukrainian people” to an extent that no one had ever done before, despite its ethnic, religious and geographic diversity.

            Bukovsky said that at the same time, Crimea is a test of the international community.  “If the great powers cannot keep their promises, then this will be an enormous blow to their prestige and a step to the spread of nuclear weapons” to countries which do not know have them, a development that potentially will have even more serious consequences.

            He said that while some in Ukraine, Poland and Belarus may have expected the West to do more than it has, nonetheless “the reaction has been much greater than it might have been possible to hope.” On the basis of his “almost 40 years in the West,” Bukovsky said he knows that “it is impossible” to expect a clear and sensible Western response to Russian aggression.

            But Russian weaknesses – its military is in the midst of being reformed and popular support for Putin is the ephemeral result of a massive propaganda effort – will soon be highlighted by those sanctions Western governments are almost certain to impose after the illegitimate referendum in Crimea.

            As that becomes clear -- and it will -- those who back Putin now will turn away from him, Bukovsky concluded, leaving the Kremlin leader without the popular support he now claims or the elite backing on which he or any other Russian leader depends.  As a result, the Crimean crisis could mark the beginning of the end of Putin and Putin’s regime.

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