Staunton, July 7 – The victorious advance of the Ukrainian military against the pro-Russian secessionists and the cries of despair from the latter are leading some to conclude that the Ukrainian crisis is over. But the intertwined fates of Vladimir Putin, Russia and Ukraine mean that such happy conclusions are at best premature and at worst completely unwarranted.
Indeed, many Russian analysts are pointing out that even if Putin has decided that he cannot send Russian troops into Ukraine to save the secessionists, he and his advisors have concluded that they cannot adopt a hands off approach and do nothing while Ukrainian forces restore control.
To do so, Dmitry Zovortny argues on the Forum-MSK.org portal, would not only weaken Russia’s hand in Ukraine itself, not to mention other former Soviet republics, but would undermine Putin’s standing among many Russians who have enthusiastically supported his promotion of “a Russian world” (forum-msk.org/material/power/10416083.html).
Moscow has decided against the open use of its military forces in Ukraine because “this would be a suicidal adventure which would be used by the West against [Russia]. Open interference could lead to tragic global consequences, Zovortny writes.
“But this does not mean that everything can remain as it is,” he continues. “The neutrality of Russia on this issue would be no less catastrophic,” he continues. It would put more Ukrainians at risk and cut Ukraine off completely from the ‘Russian world,’” which has been the aim of the West since the 1980s.
Moreover, the commentator says, it is critical that people in Moscow understand that cutting off Ukraine from Russia is “not the final goal” of the West but rather an “intermediate” one on the way to a strike at Russia itself. Given Russia’s current economic problems especially in the countryside, that is no idle threat.
It would be a bitter “irony of fate,” he says, “if the Russian authorities today do not support [the pro-Russian groups in Ukraine], and then tomorrow analogous rebels inside Russia will overthrow Russian power,” especially since those rebels would be more like the Ukrainian Right Sector than like the Donetsk and Luhansk fighters.
What is to be done? Zovortny asks. His answer is that the current situation “requires from Russia the maximum possible support of [pro-Russian groups in Ukraine] with the minimum amount of direct interference.”
Among the specific features of such an approach, he says, are the provision of arms and ammunition, diversionary activities to disorder the Ukrainian rear, the recruitment of Ukrainian officers, and the avoidance of large numbers of casualties lest that further enflame Ukrainian nationalism.
According to Zovortny, Moscow’s foreign policy is “balancing between two key tasks: the preservation of a monopoly on the export of energy sources to Europe and the preservation of its own sovereignty and strategic interests on the Eurasian continent.” But doing that is currently very hard, and “something has to be sacrificed.”
Zovortny says that “Russian wants to soften the Ukrainian crisis because it must launch South Stream because Russian big business is sensitive to sanctions and demands stability.” Among such people, voices are being heard saying that “Novorossiya’s time has not come.” But “that is a mistake,” he says.
Moscow may have to change its tactics, but its strategy must remain the same. And no one must ever be allowed to forget that “Ukraine could become a most powerful weapon against Russia.” Indeed, the Moscow commentator says, Russians should remember the words of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
He said that what the West had done in Yugoslavia is exactly what it wants to do in Russia. “Brother,” Milosevic said, “remember the fate of Yugoslavia!” Don’t let the West do the same to you.” Obviously, Zovortny doesn’t recall Milosevic’s fate, but it might be well for Putin to do so.