As I said yesterday, the appetite comes with the eating, and Putin would snap up the rest of Ukraine. Having finished up the appetizer of Crimea, he is now digging into the main course. Today the upper chamber of the Russian trained seal show, aka its parliament, approved Putin’s request for authorization to send Russian military forces into Ukraine. Not Crimea. All of Ukraine. It was sure a cliffhanger following the debate and vote on Twitter. The issue was in doubt to the very last vote.
Sorry. In times like these one needs to find humor where one can, and black humor and sarcasm are about all that work.
Putin’s “request” for authorization included all of the elements laid out by Medvedev and Lavrov and others in the Russian hierarchy in the immediate aftermath of Yanukovych’s fall. Like I said, they were building the justification for intervention in Ukraine. This was in the works from the very beginning of the crisis.
Why is Putin moving so quickly? I think this is overdetermined. A mixture of personal/subjective and objective/pragmatic considerations.
First, as I said from the very early days of this blog, Putin is a man in a hurry: it is part of his nature. His impatience was no doubt increased by the burning desire to revenge what he views as a personal humiliation inflicted on him by the Ukrainian revolutionaries at the climax of his Olympic extravaganza.
Second, Ukraine is in a chaotic state, as is every government in the immediate aftermath of a revolution. The military is no doubt reeling and riven by dissent and rivalry. The government has little idea of which units and commanders it can rely on. There is no experienced competent authority in place, especially in the defense and interior ministries. There cannot be a unity of command in such circumstances. Moreover, parts of the country are ripe for putsches by fifth columns supported and guided by Moscow. (During the Cold War, Soviet operational plans for an invasion of Europe included extensive provisions for sowing chaos in rear areas, including by fomenting civil unrest.) A disorganized, chaotic polity is much easier picking than would be the case in a few months, or even a few weeks, when it has had time to get its feet under it.
Third, Putin has taken the measure of his opponents in the West, and found them lacking. Note the timing. Within mere hours of Obama’s craven and empty warning, Putin moves to war. He knows he has nothing to fear from Obama. Obama’s warning turned out to be less of a deterrent, and more of an invitation. Obama’s pre-gala dinner act had pretty much the same effect on Putin as Dean Acheson’s neglect to mention that South Korea was in the US security perimeter had on Stalin. And you know that Putin has nothing but scorn for the Euros.
Fourth, knowing the dithering nature of the Western leadership, he wants to get inside their slow decision loop (I don’t call it an OODA loop because there is considerable doubt whether any “Act” would be involved). By moving fast, he can present them with facts on the ground that will be virtually impossible to reverse. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.
So here we are.
A couple of other points must be made.
First, this has to be the most complete public humiliation inflicted on any American president ever. Obama gave what he thought was a stern warning, and within hours Putin defied it with relish. Such defiance is a sign of complete disrespect.
Second, this represents another utter and abject failure of US intelligence, which evidently had concluded that Putin would not invade. In this, they were at one with the bien pensant set, epitomized by Dmitri Trenin, but which sadly in this instance included Mark Galeotti, who is usually more wise to Putin’s thuggery.
If I had to guess at a diagnosis, I would say that this is a case of projection and mirror imaging. Rather than seeing Putin as he is, the intelligence community assumed that Putin is a rational actor not really different from any Western leader. Putin is a rational actor, perhaps, but his premises, goals, and interests are far different. By failing to understand him, the IC completely miscalculated and misunderstood.
Then there is one other aspect to this. Was it an analytical failure only? Or was there an information failure? Indulging in some speculation, I wonder if it is possible that information obtained from Snowden allowed the Russians to identify and plug some vulnerabilities in their communications that deprived us of vital information precisely when it was needed.
Regardless. This whole episode is an utterly ignominious failure by the US and European “leadership.”
Somewhere Chamberlain is smiling. He has company.