Staunton, March 4 – Asymmetric responses have been the hallmark of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, Moscow director Karen Shakhnazarov says; and if the West imposes draconian sanctions on Russia, as for example by blocking it from using the SWIFT bank transfer system, Russia will take action to ensure that the West will “lose Ukraine.”
Such “an asymmetric counterstrike would be very effective,” he continues because the West won’t fight for Ukraine if Moscow attacks. And thus the threat that Russia will do just that is something that Western governments and above all Washington must take into consideration before making a new decision on sanctions.
In calling attention to these bellicose threats, Russian commentator Igor Yakovenko notes that Russian government media, after ignoring Ukraine because of the pandemic, have now made it the leading subject in their coverage, an indication that what Shakhnazarov is saying reflects more than just his views (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=60411FD9CF3EC).
Other pro-Kremlin commentators are being openly aggressive. TV host Vladimir Solovyev suggests that Russia should not stop with a move against Ukraine – that would be “only the first step,” he says. And Semyon Bagadasarov says that because the West wants to destroy Russia, Russia must response as Ivan the Terrible did and attack the West’s allies.
Five centuries have passed since Ivan’s times, Yakovenko points out; but “Putin and his ‘experts’ think in the categories” of those the leaders of that time. They are animated by anger about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and they are “proud of the occupation of Crimea and part of the Donbass.” Consequently, they now want more or at least to threaten that possibility.
Alongside the West, Putin and his minions “hate progress and young people,” the commentator says; and that is why he has lashed out against the Internet this week at meetings with FSB and interior ministry officials. Such threats may in fact cause some in the West to become more cautious, but they are unlikely to be realized.
The times of Ivan the Terrible are “long past,” he continues. “The Soviet Union also no longer exists. And Putin has no chance to stop progress, shut down the Internet, or again drag Ukraine into Russia. All he can do is to try to scare the world with bombast and “small dirty tricks.”
The Kremlin still has “enough strength” for that. But it is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone inside Russia and beyond that Putin’s country doesn’t have enough to realize his threats. And because that is so, such threatening language is less an indication of intentions than a sign of weakness and even despair.