Streetwise Professor

July 6, 2014

Putin: Waging Not War, Not Peace in Ukraine.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:24 pm

The military and diplomatic situations in Ukraine are fluid and highly uncertain.

Under pressure from the Ukrainian army’s “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (“ATO”),  “separatists” in Slavyansk decamped suddenly for the city of Donetsk. Their shadowy commander, Girkin, offered another plea for Russian assistance, which has not been forthcoming-in the form of an outright invasion, anyways. The Ukrainian army is advancing elsewhere in the Donbas.

One would have thought that the fleeing rebels would have been extremely vulnerable to air attack, but most reports indicate that they made it to Donetsk largely unhindered. (I did see one Tweet that purports to show rebel vehicles that had been destroyed on the road, but one must be cautious about the veracity of Tweets, and even the Ukrainian government reports that the separatists are regrouping in Donetsk and does not claim to have mauled the rebels in their retreat.) This suggests (a) that the separatists left in a hurry,  (b) poor intelligence and reconnaissance by the Ukrainians, or (c) Ukrainian fear of MANPADS that have brought down several of their aircraft: the retreating column would have been vulnerable to air attack while on the run.

The priority for Ukraine should be to secure the border and to cut off the rebels from Russian logistical support. Deprived of supplies, arms, and reinforcements, the separatist force will surrender, disintegrate, or just fade away.

This puts Putin on the horns of a dilemma. He is already being blasted for abandoning the Russophone/Russophile forces. But overt intervention risks a more robust Western response, and the prospect of a military quagmire.

Of these, the military problem is more acute. Russia’s military still has (conscripted) feet of clay, and the invasion and occupation of a large territory is almost certainly beyond its capability.

What’s more, every signal emanating from the West is equivocal at best.

Multi-party talks last week saw Germany and France putting pressure on Ukraine to make concessions. The talks were held in Berlin, but Munich would have been a more appropriate setting for the appeasement and pressuring the victim of aggression that was on display:

Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, convened this meeting as an emergency response to Ukraine’s June 30 resumption of military operations against Russia’s proxy forces on Ukraine’s territory. Those forces had inflicted serious losses on Ukraine during the ten days’ ceasefire that Ukraine had unilaterally adhered to. Berlin had nudged Kyiv into that unilateral ceasefire (see EDM, June 21 through June 30).

Recognizing that the pro-Russia forces breached the ceasefire massively, Germany now seeks to establish a bilateral ceasefire and follow-up negotiations between the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russia secessionists, in a framework that includes Russia while excluding the West. These elements form the basis of a Russo-German consensus regarding Ukraine.

The “Joint Declaration by the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine” (, July 2) “stress[es] the necessity of a sustainable ceasefire to be agreed upon swiftly and observed by all concerned…Ministers agree to take all necessary measures and use their influence on the concerned parties with a view to achieving this goal.”

That implies: a) an unconditional ceasefire, thereby throwing out Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s June 20 peace plan, in which ceasefire is conditional upon disarmament of pro-Russia forces (in return for amnesty) and/or the evacuation of those forces from Ukraine to Russia; b) treating the “parties” (Ukrainian government and Russia’s armed proxies) on an equal footing by the Berlin document; c) Russia is asked to control its protégés in the field more tightly, in return for Germany and other West-European governments pressing Ukraine into giving up its right to self-defense.

Insofar as the British are concerned, Cameron gave a deadline of June 30 for Russia to bring the separatists into line. That deadline has passed, with not a peep from the UK. And the US is no better. On June 26, Kerry told Russia to disarm the separatists “within hours.” That is now more than 240 hours ago. And the US has done nothing. Not even the usual Kerry bluster followed by Obama inaction. Just. Nothing.

Yes, there are stories that Merkel is losing patience, and taking a “harder stance.” Maybe in the sense that pasta cooked for 15 minutes is harder than pasta cooked for 20. But it’s still limp. And you know that in the face of  intense whinging by big German businesses like that quoted in the linked FT story, and the even more intense opposition of the Putin understanders (especially in the SDP) she’ll find a pressing reason to do nothing, to find some hint of a “de-escalation” (ugh) by Putin. The fact that Nato just announced that it will not admit new members out of fear of offending Russia will only strengthen Putin’s conviction that the West not confront him in Ukraine even if he continues, or even increases, his support for the rebellion.

This all makes the current situation highly unpredictable. The military momentum has shifted decisively in favor of the Ukrainian government. Even though its military is a shambolic Sovok relic, it still overawes the rebels. Unless the rebels are reinforced, or the Russian military invades, the rebellion will eventually be crushed (or suffocated). This would be a stinging defeat for Putin.

Putin’s military instrument is superior to Ukraine’s, but only in the sense of being somewhat less shambolic. Moreover, its mission in Ukraine would be more challenging than what the Ukrainians are attempting. Moreover, the West might stir to do something that seriously hurts Russia if Putin escalates, and particularly if he invades. But there is substantial uncertainty about what the Western response would be, and it has been sufficiently pusillanimous heretofore that Putin could reasonably conclude that he could intervene more robustly without triggering a serious response.

My best guess is that due to the frailties of his military, and the risk of serious sanctions, Putin will not go all in and invade. He can achieve his basic objectives by maintaining a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine. As long as the Ukrainian government does not achieve a decisive victory, and as long as the rebels remain a force-in-being that occupy some major cities, Ukraine will be deprived a victory and will be hamstrung in its ability to reform and integrate more closely with Europe.

This means that it is imperative that Putin prevent the Ukrainians from sealing the border, and that he maintain a corridor to Donetsk and wherever else the separatists dig in. Maybe he will achieve this through the oxymoronic “peacekeeper” gambit employed previously in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria. Maybe he will employ artillery and air power, and justify this by claiming it is a response to a Ukrainian incursion into Russia. I don’t know, exactly. But in my view, Putin will try to modulate the violence. Just enough to keep a frozen conflict alive, but not so much as to compel the Euros and US to take actions that would hurt Russia seriously. Unfortunately, the obvious reluctance of Merkel, Obama, and Cameron, not to mention Hollande, to do anything serious gives Putin  considerable latitude.

If Ukraine does move robustly to seal the border things will come to a head quickly. No doubt the Euros will put pressure on Ukraine not to do that (and Obama will vote “present”-or maybe even “not present”). If this pressure prevails, the conflict will continue to simmer. If the Ukrainians buck the pressure, it will be Putin’s move. I doubt he will back down. I doubt that he will double down. He will instead strive for some middling way that will keep the rebellion alive but not provoke a serious confrontation with the West.

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  1. I have no tactical/strategic military knowledge at all, but I don’t see the point of a cease fire here. Isn’t it time that the Ukrainian army go for the jugular? They are getting close. Why do it’s “allies” throw a stick in their spokes. Let ’em finish it and remove the cancer once and for all. Am I missing something here? Are the citizens of Donetsk that fragile that they could switch sides en masse at any time if the army comes on too strong? I don’t get it.

    Comment by Howard Roark — July 6, 2014 @ 9:41 pm

  2. Ukrainian shells have been hitting Russian villages for the last couple of weeks. Whenever Syria does this to Turkey, it’s returned with interest. Yet Putler is mute on this.

    So far, Russia has

    returned all of Ukraine’s military equipment from Crimea.
    Supplied Ukraine with free gas for three months.
    Keeps buying Ukrainian bonds.
    Recognized Ukrainian elections.
    Buys Ukrainian electricity at ridiculous prices for Crimea.
    Provided zero support to the insurgents.

    What does Putler have to do to prove that he truly is the doormat that he is? Blow every leader in the G-7?

    Comment by So? — July 6, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

  3. @Howard-Good to hear from you. I agree that the Ukrainians should go for the jugular, but that doesn’t necessarily entail an assault on the city of Donetsk, which would pose some real challenges, especially for a still somewhat shaky military. I would first cut off the insurgents’ connection with Russia. That’s the real jugular.

    Putting a stick in the spokes is an excellent metaphor. One explanation I can offer is a fear of Putin. There are stories about that Merkel decided against Third Level sanctions because Russia had threatened to invade if these were imposed. That seems like a totally incredible bluff. I don’t know if it’s true that that’s what is keeping Merkel from supporting more vigorous sanctions, but if it is it is pathetic.

    Another explanation is that many elements in Europe, notably in Germany, France, and Italy, are focused on “normal”, commercially-oriented relations with Russia, and view Ukraine as an obstacle to this. So they want to get the Ukrainians to accept the amputation of large parts of their country, rather than making life difficult for the Putin understanders.

    Either way, it is utterly craven.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 6, 2014 @ 10:13 pm

  4. Girkin is a White reenactor. He’s re fighting the civil war.

    Comment by So? — July 6, 2014 @ 10:25 pm

  5. returned all of Ukraine’s military equipment from Crimea.

    That’s nice of him. It’s a bit like kicking somebody out of their house but letting them take the TV and microwave, but nice all the same.

    Comment by Tim Newman — July 7, 2014 @ 12:38 am

  6. My guess is that the Ukrainians have identified those units in their army which are willing to fight the separatists and will be loyal to the current Ukrainian government, and is now using them to good effect. The problem Ukraine had at the beginning was that they didn’t know which units would fight the pro-Russians and those that would not, which rendered the whole military ineffective. Now it appears as though that problem has been solved. I expect the Ukrainian army to kick the shit out of the separatists and strangle them where they cannot fight them head-on, i.e. in the streets. And if the Ukrainian government really has balls they would turn to Crimea immediately afterwards, but I can’t see that happening.

    What I do find amusing is that, according to my Russian friends, Russians are being “encouraged” to go on holiday to Crimea. By that, I mean state employees – policemen, Gazprom, Rosneft, civil servants, etc. – are being “told” to take their holidays in Crimea, no doubt in response to squeals from the Crimeans who voted overwhelmingly (sic) to join Russia and have no found their once source of income – tourism – evaporated overnight. I am not sure that the wife of a policeman in Arkangelsk, who no doubt cheered with her mates when Russia stormed into Crimea, is particularly happy that she now has to take her holidays in an expensive and deserted Yalta rather than Turkey, Cyprus, or Thailand. I’ve been to Yalta, and it is beautiful, but the shopping was slightly better in Dubai. Also amusingly, all this internal tourism was promised to Sochi, which is probably not too happy that everyone is being diverted to Yalta. But of course, Abkhazia was promised all this “investment” in 2008, until Sochi won the Olympic bid and everyone forgot about Abkhazia. I am far from convinced this Crimean adventure is going to turn out well for anybody. Let’s see when this bridge gets built…

    Comment by Tim Newman — July 7, 2014 @ 12:50 am

  7. As far as Poroshenko is concerned, Crimea’s status is non-negotiable. Therefore Putin’s usual capitulation shtick is also impossible. Good.

    BTW, whenever they show the Ukrainian army fighting, hardly anyone speaks Ukrainian.

    Comment by So? — July 7, 2014 @ 1:47 am

  8. Another explanation I’ve heard for why the Ukrainians failed to attack the separatists’ column is there were hostages in some of the retreating vehicles.

    Comment by Alex K. — July 7, 2014 @ 2:29 am

  9. Professor,

    I find this perception of Putin as some kind Grosse Machinator highly amusing. As an economist you should know that luxuries requires a healthy surplus. Therefore the richer a country, the more meddlesome it can be and is in fact. Mali doesn’t meddle in France, it’s the other way around. The NSA budget alone is probably bigger than the whole Russian security budget. If you take into account that the Russian elite keeps its money and children in the West, it’s all the more preposterous. (The Indian nabobs made hardly an impact on the establishment. Ditto for the Russian ones. They are monkeys in suits to be milked.)

    Comment by So? — July 7, 2014 @ 5:29 am

  10. What I do find amusing is that, according to my Russian friends, Russians are being “encouraged” to go on holiday to Crimea.

    The substantial Russian tourism to Lvov and Kiev is apparently no more. Who knew that chanting “death to Moscals” would have such an effect?

    Comment by So? — July 7, 2014 @ 5:39 am

  11. Putin’s Zugzwang: The Russia-Ukraine Standoff

    Alexander J. Motyl

    The choice of outcome in the Russia-Ukraine standoff is largely Vladimir Putin’s. Ukraine and the West are not powerless, but they can at most anticipate, prepare for, and deter what might be Putin’s next move. This does not mean that they are victims of superior statecraft, however. His admirers may regard Putin as a master strategist, whose petulance and unpredictability give him the upper hand in relations with the West and Ukraine. In fact, the opposite is true. Putin has maneuvered himself, and Russia, into a position of Zugzwang—a chess term denoting a condition in which any possible move will worsen the player’s position.*

    Putin has twisted himself into policy as well as rhetorical knots as a result of his absurd insistence that Ukraine’s post-Yanukovych government is unconstitutional. Thus, even though Ukraine’s two unreservedly
 pro-Russian parties, the unreformed (formerly ruling) Party of Regions and the Communists, fielded candidates for the May 25th presidential ballot, Moscow declared the elections illegitimate well in advance and, with its sponsorship of terrorism in eastern Ukraine, indicated that
it would do all it could to sabotage them. But wouldn’t fair and free elections diminish the existential threat Putin claims Russians face in Ukraine? And wouldn’t unfair and unfree elections just prove his point that the Kyiv government is illegitimate? Even more illogically, Moscow demands constitutional reform from Kyiv, while continuing to insist the government is unconstitutional. But how can an unconstitutional government implement constitutionally valid constitutional change?

    Far from indicating a master strategist at work, Putin’s twisted logic and contradictory rhetoric have created a web of preposterous claims that, together with his imperialist policies, have forced him and Russia into a dead end with no easy way out. A would-be strongman who rips off his shirt to the delight of adoring Russian crowds, he dares not look or sound weak, while being hard-pressed to pursue policies that benefit Russia. Worse, uncertainty about Putin’s moves will force the West and Ukraine to pursue policies that oppose Russia’s interests. Since Putin is both unpredictable and dangerous, the world must prepare for the worst in its dealings with Moscow, causing Russia and the Russian people to suffer.

    If Russia continues to rattle sabers, threaten to invade, and foment unrest in Ukraine’s southeast, there will be cold war. If, instead of promoting instability, Russia merely refuses to recognize Ukraine’s democratic government and alter Crimea’s status, while simultaneously promoting terrorism and bogus referenda in eastern Ukraine, there will be cold peace. If Russia acts on the bogus referenda and invades more of Ukraine, there could be a hot war. If Russia recognizes Kyiv and “de-annexes” Crimea, warily neighborly relations—or a hot peace—will be possible. Which of these outcomes is Putin’s preference? No one, including quite possibly Putin himself, knows. Putin has become what Winston Churchill once called Russia under Joseph Stalin: “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Given Putin’s unpredictability, the best we can do is prepare for any of these outcomes.
    The least likely of the above four outcomes is a hot peace. Russia has made it amply clear that its annexation of Crimea is permanent. Since this Anschluss has become the basis of Putin’s appeal to Russia’s hyper-nationalists, he cannot easily embark on de-annexation, even if he wanted to. Whatever the Kremlin’s justifications for the occupation—Crimea was always Russian (not true), the ethnic Russians were being persecuted (not true), Crimea is no different than Kosovo (not true), the referendum was a genuine exercise of the popular will (not true)—the brute fact is that Russia’s imperialist landgrab violated every international norm in the book and threatens world peace. The United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—along with the United States, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Group of 7, and a slew of European and other countries (including, importantly, Turkey)—had no choice but to declare the annexation illegal. Russia’s relations with the West and Ukraine will remain “non-neighborly” for as long as Russia insists its imperialist adventure is legitimate.

    None of this means that détente is impossible, but it does mean that rapprochement is extremely unlikely for as long as Putin remains in power. Western businesspeople may push covertly for sacrificing security for the sake of prosperity, and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt may call the Crimea landgrab “completely understandable,” but the reality of imperialism on Europe’s doorstep, and the possibility of Russia’s expansion to the EU’s borders, limits the degree to which economic interests can determine Western strategy. Even pro-appeasement types like Schmidt might find Russia’s occupation of northeastern Estonia, which is inhabited by Russians, less than verständlich.

    Permanently tense relations with what is acknowledged to be a rogue Russia need not result in hot war: that could come about only if Putin wills it. A hot war will always remain possible as long as Russian troops remain amassed on Ukraine’s borders and Putin retains the right, granted by the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian Parliament) on March 1st, to intervene wherever he believes “Russians” are threatened. That said, a hot war would be a high-risk undertaking for Putin, involving significant Russian casualties, a bloody long-term occupation, and enormous financial costs—as well as Western sanctions on Russia’s banking, energy, and armaments sectors and the likely provision to Ukraine of military hardware by the West. Occupying Crimea was a cakewalk; occupying Ukraine, or parts thereof, could be another Afghanistan.

    The most likely long-term outcomes are, thus, cold war or cold peace. Here, too, it is Russia that, ironically, is in Zugzwang. Because the central rationale of Moscow’s occupation of Crimea was the defense of supposedly threatened Russians, Putin and his minions must continue insisting that Ukraine’s Russians are under threat and that their rights are being systematically violated. But since there is absolutely no evidence of persecution, whether partial or total, Russia’s charges are as irrefutable as the beliefs of rabid anti-Semites who insist that Jews run the world: the very absence of evidence is ultimately employed as proof of the vast extent of the conspiracy.

    Russia must keep its troops stationed along Ukraine’s borders for as long as it claims Russians there are being threatened. And Moscow will claim that Russians are being threatened for as long as it insists that the democratic government in Kyiv is unconstitutional and that Viktor Yanukovych remains Ukraine’s legitimate president. It matters little to Putin’s twisted logic that the criminal Yanukovych regime had violated its social contract with the Ukrainian people, thereby enabling them to assert their natural democratic rights, in the exact same manner as the drafters of America’s Declaration of Independence did in 1776. Nor does he blush, as he should, at the idea of delivering lectures about constitutionality when, in 2004 and 2012, he prevailed in unfair and un-free presidential elections and thereby violated Russia’s Constitution. Putin’s devotion to constitutionality is selective: the outrage he expressed at Yanukovych’s ouster was decidedly absent when, in 2010, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was driven from power in Kyrgyzstan and replaced by a (pro-Russian!) interim government headed by opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva.

    Putin’s twisted logic, militarist rhetoric, and neo-imperial ambitions may doom Russia to cold war, even though the benefit Russians would derive from being on a constant war footing is nil and the costs increasingly high. Those costs include loss of prestige and influence, capital flight, declining foreign direct investment, the loss of the Ukrainian market, and growing isolation from the international community and the West. None of this may matter to Putin and his fans in the short run, as his popularity soars; but over time Russia’s economy will decline further, it will be more isolated from global structures, and will feel the full weight of hostility from those disgusted by Russian imperialism.

    Putin and his acolytes rationalize Russia’s growing isolation in terms of a civilizational clash between a declining West and a resurgent Russia. They are delusional to believe that the West is in decline and Russia is on the rise. Russia’s rise is illusory and contingent. The society is physically ill (with widespread diseases, high alcohol use, and low life expectancy and birth rates) and, thanks to the imperialist hysteria unleashed by the regime, psychologically unstable, while the state is over-centralized, inefficient, and corrupt. The army is large, but no match for a world-class power or even probably for the armies of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. And with the shale gas revolution, Russia’s energy reserves will no longer provide Putin with the vast wealth to grease his cronies, enrich himself (to the tune of some $45 billion), and keep the population docile. The West has serious problems, but Russia is a paper tiger whose roar is bigger than its bite. Even many Putinites must realize that a long-term confrontation with the West will result in Russia’s humiliation.

    A cold peace would be the most advantageous of the four courses open to Russia—as well as the most advantageous to Ukraine and the West—but Putin’s rhetoric and bluster make it impossible in the short run. In the medium term—say, in a year or two or three—it’s not impossible to imagine Putin coming around. Ukraine is planning to decentralize authority in a way that would radically transform the architecture of the Ukrainian state. Kyiv could easily meet eastern Ukrainian demands for enhanced status of the Russian language, already the status quo: the government need only place its imprimatur on the existing state of affairs and call it a concession. Finally, presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine will take place in 2014; both ballots should be fair and free and produce a legitimate government. If so inclined, Putin could use these linguistic and constitutional results to claim victory, asserting that, since Ukraine “finally listened” to Russia’s sage advice and adopted the changes it deemed necessary, the illusory threat to ethnic Russians has disappeared, thereby obviating the need for a Russian troop presence along Ukraine’s border. The only sticking point between Russia and the West and Ukraine would be the Anschluss of Crimea, which could slip into the status of a noxious but acceptable fait accompli if all other things become “normal.”

    For now, however, hot war, cold peace, and cold war will remain possible until Putin makes up his mind which course to choose. Some analysts claim he is captive to an all-encompassing imperialist ideology pushing him to continual expansion and war. Others argue that, although he may have a vision of a globally powerful Russia, he is also motivated by geopolitical interests and personal goals. Statements he has made offer little insight into his thinking, since so many of them were misleading or mendacious in the past. In sum, although we do know he has spun a rhetorical web in which he is trapped, we cannot know what Putin’s intentions vis-à-vis Ukraine and the world are.

    If states cannot calculate how an adversary will behave, they have no choice but to hope for the best and prepare for the almost-worst and the worst: the almost-worst is Russia’s full embrace of a cold war, while the worst is a hot war. Ukraine and the West must assume that Putin is unreliable, unpredictable, and dangerous—and plan accordingly. For now, Ukraine’s short-, medium-, and long-term priorities are threefold.
    First, it must safeguard its own security. International agreements such as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances can be violated, as Russia did by annexing Crimea, or not enforced, as the United States and the United Kingdom did by acquiescing in this Anschluss. Ukraine must look to itself and develop a credible army at all costs. Ukraine need not be able to defeat Russia; it need only deter it and crush the terrorist assaults that form a large part of Putin’s strategy to keep Ukraine unstable and thus pliable.

    Second, Ukraine must jump-start its economy with radical economic reforms. A strong economy is the only long-term guarantee of a strong military, which is the sine qua non of Ukraine security. Russia’s aggression in the Crimea, its support of terrorist commandos in eastern Ukraine, and its permanent threat of hot war should consolidate Ukrainians around painful reforms that enhance their security. Transferring many state functions downwards will reduce corruption: central bureaucrats will have fewer opportunities to demand bribes, while local bureaucrats will have to temper their thievery or face the ire of their neighbors.

    And third, in order to remain democratic in a tough neighborhood dominated by a neo-fascist bully, Ukraine will have to embed itself in the West. Membership in the European Union is the ultimate prize, but any form of affiliation that promotes the deeper Westernization of Ukraine’s culture, education, laws, and institutions will help ensure survival.

    Looked at from the West’s perspective, a strong and democratic Ukraine is its own best defense against an imperialist Russia. That’s why doing everything possible—immediately—to help Ukraine build a strong military, a dynamic economy, and a Western-oriented democracy is crucial. Loans are fine, but the West must go the next step and provide its military with hardware, training, and advisers as a way of making cold peace more attractive than cold or hot war. The West should not be content with threatening Russia with draconian sanctions if its imperialism goes too far: that’s an invitation to Putin to test the “decadent” West. Instead, the United States and Europe should impose painful sanctions immediately and offer to withdraw them only in exchange for good behavior. The West’s third line of defense consists of promoting strong non-Russian states, especially Moldova, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, where large Russian minorities could invite Russian imperialism.

    These harder-line policies presuppose a strategic shift in the West’s thinking—from the illusory belief that Russia will cooperate in resolving the issues it has inflamed to a hard-headed realization that Putinism threatens world peace. As difficult as it may be for Germany, France, and the United Kingdom to sacrifice lucrative economic ties with Russia, they—and especially Germany, whose social-democratic elites have an incomprehensible love affair with a dictator who resembles Adolf Hitler in both word and deed—must understand that, if Putin continues to call the shots, the EU’s security, stability, and survival will be at risk. Der Spiegel editor Christian Neef’s advice to Berlin is right on the money and applies to Germany’s allies as well: “If we don’t finally take a sober look at Russia, one that is erased of all romanticizing and historical baggage that distorts our view of Putin’s world, then we will never succeed in finding a reasonable strategy.”

    Over time, some combination of cold war, cold peace, and hot war will transform Ukraine into a South Korea, Taiwan, or Israel. Ukraine will have to live with the permanent threat of Russian aggression, but that threat could have a silver lining: compelling it to become a vigorous democracy with a strong economy and a strong army.

    Russia’s future is less clear. If Putin stays in power for another twenty years, it could become an impoverished garrison state such as North Korea. If Putin departs well before he becomes an octogenarian, Russia could become a second China. More likely than not, Putin will keep on posturing, and Russia will remain an ossified and increasingly unstable petro-state like Saudi Arabia.

    Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. He blogs about Ukraine weekly for World Affairs.

    *The print version of this article, as well as a previous online version, mistakenly described Zugzwang as “a chess term denoting a condition in which one’s king has to move, but cannot, because any move would result in check.”

    More about:
    Europe and Central Asia [1],
    Russia [2],
    Ukraine [3],
    Vladimir Putin [4],
    Viktor Yanukovych [5]
    Source URL:

    Comment by Peter M Todebush — July 7, 2014 @ 7:45 am

  12. Tim, I agree that one reason for the improved performance of Ukraine is that loyal units/personnel have been identified and being used instead of more disloyal units. Ukraine has also had more time to prepare their strategy and operations. Earlier is was clear many units did not know what to do. However, the main difference I see is that Poroshenko has decided to call Putin’s bluff. I think the provisional government was much less sure what to do. They knew they’d be stepping down and didn’t want to inadvertently prompt a Russian invasion for Poroshenko (or whoever the election winner would be) to deal with. Poroshenko however knows there is no one after him to deal with this. He has to resolve the situation; if he does nothing and let Putin win, his presidency is ruined. I think he evaluated the chance of Russian direct intervention and decided the rewards were worth the risk. This is why Ukraine is continuing its offensive instead of calling it off which has been done multiple times before under Russian protest.

    The response of the West has been shambolic and awful, but tepid support for Ukraine is better than outright abandonment.

    Comment by Chris — July 7, 2014 @ 10:40 am

  13. Subject: Twitter Storm — Take the 2018 World Cup away from Russia.
    How can it be right for Russia, that has engineered a
    take-over of Crimea, to be allowed to host the Football
    World cup. Would you have gone to Berlin in 1940 for
    a sporting event and there-by show support to Hitler.

    At 12.00h EDT =16.00h GMT=17.00h BST Tues 8 July

    Comment by Brit in Kiev — July 7, 2014 @ 11:29 am

  14. How does the saying go? Lies, damn lies and So?’s statements, something like that?

    > returned all of Ukraine’s military equipment from Crimea

    ridiculous lie

    > Supplied Ukraine with free gas for three months

    dumb lie

    > Keeps buying Ukrainian bonds.

    that’s called hedging: after Putin fails miserably in his other endeavours in Ukraine, he will at least have his coupons

    > Provided zero support to the insurgents

    Russian lie. As in such a level of undiluted idiocy can hardly be found anywhere outside Russian propaganda.

    Comment by Ivan — July 7, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

  15. The gas was pumped for 3 months without payment. Try not paying your bill for your utilities.
    Virtually all of Ukrainian military gear has been returned.

    Any other sane independent country would have cut off the gas on day one and established a no fly zone. The Resource Federation is a colony.

    Comment by So? — July 7, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

  16. Alternatively, maybe the Ukrainians are content with driving the pro-Russian separatists back and out of Ukraine and into Russia mostly unharmed. If they capture them or set up a cordon sanitaire to contain them, they’ll have to deal with them at some point. Easier in the short term to drive them into Russia and make them far more of Russia’s problem.

    Comment by Blackshoe — July 7, 2014 @ 8:23 pm

  17. Any other sane independent country would have cut off the gas on day one and established a no fly zone.

    They wouldn’t, for two reasons:

    1) Europe would be asking “Where’s our f*cking gas?!” and the ordinary Germans would be squealing a lot louder in Merkel’s ear than Siemens executives.
    2) Ukraine could switch off Crimea’s water supply, should Russia switch off Ukraine’s gas supply.

    Comment by Tim Newman — July 8, 2014 @ 3:45 am

  18. @So? 1:47

    Most troops are speaking Russian because most troops are Russian, they are volunteer battalions from Donbas itself, from Dnipropetrovske, from Kharkiv, Odesa and Zaporizhya.

    What better proof that the meme “Russia and the rebels are making it safe for Russians” is a crock of shyt.

    Comment by Gordon — July 8, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

  19. They speak Russian because ukrainianisation has been an abject failure. You can have 90% of schools as Ukrainian, yet none wants to speak this goddamn worthless ebonic volapuk. And you’re right it’s Russians killing Russians. Ukraine is Galicia.

    Comment by So? — July 8, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

  20. WOW!! I must’ve touched a nerve.

    Comment by Gordon — July 8, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

  21. If the gummint forced you to speak Ebonics, you’d reach for your gun too.

    When I was in Crimea 30 years ago, all the signage was in Ukrainian. Yet I never heard it spoken even once. Yet according to the likes of you:
    “Крим – це Украина!”
    Yeah, right.

    Comment by So? — July 8, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

  22. So? is a typical Russian scumbag. Their culture is a cancer. Period.

    Comment by Andrew — July 9, 2014 @ 12:32 am

  23. The only things of value produced by Georgian culture have been during the “Russian occupation”. Before and after it’s zero and less than zero respectively. Not surprising, since Georgia is a Russian creation like Ukraine.

    Comment by So? — July 9, 2014 @ 7:27 am

  24. Not really So? Georgia has produced a great deal before and after the hell hole that was Russian scum, such as yourself, brought your barbarism. Just because you can’t appreciate it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.

    Russia is a Mongol creation. Russia is an amalgam of all the worst aspects of Slavic and Mongol culture.

    A lying little do nothing dirtball like yourself is a prime example.

    Interesting to see the butt hurt from people like So? at the current defeat of pro Russian traitors and Russian war criminal volunteers.

    Comment by Andrew — July 9, 2014 @ 8:25 am

  25. Ukraine is about evenly split between Russian and Ukrainian speakers, with Ukrainian speakers in the West and rural Center and South, and Russian speakers in the East and urban Center and South. The situation of the Ukrainian language is considerably better than that of Gaelic – less than 10% of Irish speak that language (is SO? shocked that most IRA members speak English?). Speaking Russian does not necessarily make someone a Russian in Ukraine. And, indeed, even most Russian speakers support Ukrainianization of Ukraine’s schools and Ukraine’s tilt westwards towards Europe and away from Russia.

    A lot of the people fighting against the Russians in Donbas are eastern Ukrainians, who speak Russian.

    Comment by AP — July 9, 2014 @ 8:29 am

  26. So? believes that all Russian speakers have to be stupid, just because he is. Pretty stupid of him :)

    Comment by Ivan — July 9, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

  27. Yeah, yeah, I head it all before. Georgians walked with the dinosaurs, and mighty Ukrs pre-date them.

    Andrew, considering how much time you spend here, (and not only here?) ranting and raving like a potty mouthed child, you’re a projecting nobody.

    Comment by So? — July 9, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

  28. Georgia is a creation of Russia? The Georgian nation is one of the older nations in antiquity. The Romans and Greeks knew about them. It was the hone of the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology, and one of the first nations to adopt Christianity. The Russian people didn’t even exist at this time; even Kievan Rus was several centuries in the future. Georgia had a Golden Age in the Medieval Era under Queen Tamar the Great the David the Builder; it left a rich cultural legacy. Georgia continued to survive as nation and retain an independent identity despite terrible invasions by the Persians, Tamerlane, and the Ottomans. Russia did not become involved with Georgia until it invaded the kingdom in the early nineteenth century. Russian occupation of Georgia is thus more like the colonial conquests of other European countries of the same era. Its independence is thus a return to the historical norm.

    Georgian is not a Slavic language, but Kartvelian. It is not even Indo-European! Georgian uses its own written language invented five hundred years before Cyrilic. While the dominant religion is Orthodox Christianity, the Georgian Orthodox Church is separate from the Russian Orthodox Church having been established a thousand years earlier.

    The idea that Russia “created” Georgia or is solely responsible for any of its culture is bizarre and simply wrong.

    Comment by Chris — July 9, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

  29. Chris,

    The more insignificant a country’s present, the more delusional and inflated is its past. And who gives a crap about antiquity, really? You were either a Roman or a savage.

    Like Ukraine’s present territory, Georgia’s present-day territory was conquered from others by Russia. Georgians were about to go extinct. This wasn’t done out of charity. BUT BEGGARS CAN’T BE CHOOSERS. And the Russian self-interest aligned far more with the Georgian one than the British one did with that of their Indian subjects. The Georgian nobility integrated with the Russian one. The British did not allow this anywhere. As for culture, what has Georgia produced since the “damned oppressive Sovok” went away? Correlation is not causation, but “free” Georgia has little to show for the last 25 years (so does “free” Russia for that matter).

    Comment by So? — July 10, 2014 @ 3:32 am

  30. And, indeed, even most Russian speakers support Ukrainianization of Ukraine’s schools and Ukraine’s tilt westwards towards Europe and away from Russia.

    Yeah, right. Choosing country Ebonics dialect over a proper city language is somehow a Western choice. But then this is Ukr logic… According to which “the Odessa colorados immolated themselves”. The internet does not bear this out. Ukrainian language presence on the internet is miniscule. Most of the maidan propagandists use either Facebook or… VKontakte, and post in Russian, because no 2 Ukrainians can understand each other. Watching Maidowners arguing with each other on youtube was hilarious. It’s Russian, Russian, Russian, then they realise they’re on camera and start the Ukrainian mimicry. But evidently the language does not support complex expressions and concepts, so visibly frustrated and exhausted they fall back to Moscal-speak.

    If Ukraine so much desired to move away from Russia, it should have chosen a proper world language like English.

    Comment by So? — July 10, 2014 @ 3:50 am

  31. “Yeah, right. Choosing country Ebonics dialect over a proper city language

    I think we’ve gone over this already. Both Russian and Ukrainian languages are standardized forms of peasant speech. As are Czech, Finnish, and most other languages. The only difference is in terms of when city people starting using them.

    Given the fact that the Russian language is more vulgar, however, it would seem to fit the definition of Ebonics (in which vulgarity and curse words are defining features) much better than would the Ukrainian language. As I had written earlier:

    As for ebonics, ebonics sounds vulgar to those who speak standard English. Ukrainian does not, in contrast, sound vulgar to Russian ears – it sounds cute and funny. It is how Czech sounds to Poles.

    In contrast, Russian does sound vulgar or crude to Ukrainian ears who are not used to it. Instead of “yak” Russians say “kak”; if Russians don’t care about something they say they spit on it. And Russian mat’ (swearing) is incredibly detailed and diverse, as is Ebonics’ use of m-f. Of course, this does not mean that Russian, or Ebonics, are bad ways of speaking. In both cases they probably reflect more of a brutal existence and hardship during the time when Ebonics and the Russian speech were formed.

    Russian vulgarity is well-known; there is even a wikipedia page dedicated to it (google Mat (Russian profanity)”. From that article:

    “Obscenities are among the earliest recorded attestations of the Russian language (the first written mat words date to the Middle Ages[5]). It was first introduced into literature in the 18th century by the poet Ivan Barkov, whose poetry, combining lofty lyrics with brutally obscene words, may be regarded as a forerunner of Russian literary parody. The use of mat is widespread, especially in the army, the criminal world,[6] and many other all-male milieus. A detailed article by Victor Erofeyev (translated by Andrew Bromfeld) analyzing the history, overtones, and sociology of mat appeared in the 15 September 2003 issue of The New Yorker.”

    In the Russian language there are at least 500 expressions using the word khui (“dick.”). Just like in Ebonics, where m-f is ubiquitous.

    While the ubiquity and high level of development of vulgar swear words in the Russian language is objective and demonstrable, I suppose that “harshness” is subjective. Nevertheless, most people consider Ukrainian to be a softer language than Russian. Feel free to google comparisons between the two, and you will see that Russian is viewed as harsher, and not vice versa, by those who comment on on that. For example:


    “Tell better how Russian sounds in comparison to Ukrainian – like a harsh dialect.”


    “Yes,like harsh. It sounds more primitive but has power in it,like it is the real thing it expresses an authentic soul.”

    Just like the poetry of rap lyrics.

    Comment by AP — July 10, 2014 @ 7:50 am

  32. +++The more insignificant a country’s present, the more delusional and inflated is its past.+++

    That is the essense of the Russian problem.

    Comment by LL — July 10, 2014 @ 11:09 am

  33. ####That is the essense of the Russian problem.####

    At least Russians, unlike proto-Ukrs, don’t claim to have walked with the dinosaurs.

    Comment by So? — July 10, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

  34. “At least Russians, unlike proto-Ukrs, don’t claim to have walked with the dinosaurs”

    Who among Ukrainians claims this? Did you find a schizophrenic with a webpage? This sort is found among Russians also.

    Comment by AP — July 10, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

  35. >> At least Russians, unlike proto-Ukrs, don’t claim to have walked with the dinosaurs.

    To the contrary, lunatic Russians like yourself are the only source of this claim.

    Comment by Ivan — July 10, 2014 @ 11:44 pm

  36. Russians had been claiming that their country is the birthplace of elephants.

    Comment by LL — July 11, 2014 @ 10:49 am

  37. I wish someone was not too lazy to translate this interview into English:

    Comment by LL — July 11, 2014 @ 10:50 am

  38. +++ Russians had been claiming that their country is the birthplace of elephants. +++

    You of course know that it’s a self-effacing joke in the vein of “Наши поезда самые поездатые в мире” or “no equivalent anywhere in the world” – “yeah because no-one else would waste their time building this crap”.

    Comment by So? — July 12, 2014 @ 12:06 am

  39. I did not mean how vulgar or rough the language sounds. It’s a matter of taste. Poles hiss like snakes. Germans bark like dogs. But their languages are successful and Ukrainian and Ebonics are not. What would compel a Russian to learn Ukrainian (no literature, no television, no internet)? To be “more Western”? They why not just learn English and be done with it. And which Ukrainian is the right one? The one they speak in the West is very different to the one in the East. Russian is the same everywhere.

    Comment by So? — July 12, 2014 @ 12:34 am

  40. Ah the great Russian imperialist myths that So? faps himself to sleep with every night.

    Actually the Georgians suffered great population loss during the early 19th century because of racist misrule from Russia, and horrific repression of their language, laws, church, and culture. All of which the lying Russian imperialist vermin had promised to protect. Instead there was the deliberate Russian attempt to destroy the Georgian culture. Georgian nobility was not integrated in the way you claim, aside from a few exceptions. Contrary to what a know nothing like you understands So? Is that the British tended to rule through local nobility rather than deliberately impoverish them.

    One is reminded of your retarded claim that Russians were poorer than all their subject peoples. Another lie. Aside from the Baltic republics, Russians were considerably richer than all their subject peoples, including the Georgians and Armenians. Both in the Tsarist and Communist periods.

    Comment by Andrew — July 12, 2014 @ 5:03 am

  41. “I did not mean how vulgar or rough the language sounds. It’s a matter of taste. Poles hiss like snakes. Germans bark like dogs. But their languages are successful and Ukrainian and Ebonics are not.

    But vulgarity, for Ebonics as for Russian, is a defining feature. And this is objective – 500 uses for the word “khui” in the Russian language is a measurable fact. Obscurity isn’t what makes Ebonics Ebonics. If you wanted to highlight the Ukrainian language’s obscurity you could have compared it to Slovak, or Finnish, or Bulgarian, Catalan, etc. Russian harshness may be a matter of taste or opinion, but its vulgarity is not.

    As for success of the Ukrainian language – it is indeed comparable to Bulgarian, or Finnish, or Slovak. The Ukrainian-speaking “core” where 95% of the population speak Ukrainian (Galicia, Volhynia, etc. in the West) with its capital city of Lviv has a larger population than Slovakia. Lviv has about 900,000 people, Bratislava 500,000. The Western 7 oblasts have about 9 million people, Slovakia has 5.5 million. (the Ukrainian language is spoken outside this region also, but mostly in rural parts, whereas in this region it is an urban language also).

    Comment by AP — July 12, 2014 @ 7:34 am

  42. And yet and yet the Ukrainian language is dead on the Internet. The Russian language is more malleable than English. Any Russian word can be used in dozens of different ways. But FWIW, you can construct whole sentences with just the word “fuck”.

    Anyway, my point was why would Russians want to switch to Ukrainian? Btw, those languages you mentioned will be dead in 100 years.

    Comment by So? — July 12, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

  43. > why would Russians want to switch to Ukrainian

    Generally, they learn Ukrainian for the same reason you learned English: they want to have a normal life in a civilized nation, rather than be an inmate in a huge prison some call “Resource Federation”.

    Comment by Ivan — July 13, 2014 @ 6:58 am

  44. It seems that one of Putin-TV’s favourite actresses has been arrested in Ukraine:

    She had broadcast various Russian lies from all over Ukraine, pretending to be someone else every time, whatever the current script required. Daily Mail and such may soon get a scoop on the inner workings of Putin’s disinformation machine.

    Comment by Ivan — July 13, 2014 @ 7:18 am

  45. Ukraine a civilised nation? LOL, just LOL! Russia is no Europe. But Ukraines choice is not between Europe and Asia, it’s between Asia and Africa. Ukraine chose to become cold Somalia. Well done!

    Comment by So? — July 14, 2014 @ 7:09 am

  46. Ukraine chose to fight against the cold Somalia (or snow Nigeria, as per Brin). This is pretty much the only choice a civilized nation in this part of the world can make.

    Comment by Ivan — July 14, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

  47. Ukraine is a failed state despite the billions pumped into it by “Nigeria in the snow” (BTW, the term predates Brin, it was coined in Yeltsin’s democratic Russia)

    To be “Western” one needs to learn English instead of some village volapuk.

    Comment by So? — July 14, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

  48. The billions continue to be pumped into Ukraine by Russia, in the form of mercenaries and their equipment, only this time it is obvious to everyone what the intent is. It has never been any different.

    To be “Western” (i.e. civilized) one needs to learn much more than English: one needs to embrace civilized values and norms (in that order). You are a living example of this, remaining an abject sovok despite having learned some English.

    At least in Europe, it is a nation that is primary, not the state. Ukrainians are and old civilized nation, so unless under direct occupation (which is extremely unlikely, given how weak Russia is) they will build a modern state sooner or later.

    Russia is first and foremost a failed (unformed) nation. That’s why whatever state they try to build, it’s always a big concentration camp. Your aggressive inferiority complex won’t make it any different.

    Comment by Ivan — July 14, 2014 @ 11:53 pm

  49. Ukrainians are and old civilized nation

    ROFLMAO! The last 23 years have amply demonstrated Urkaina’s true worth. But of course you blame “Moscals” for all your problems like those sand niggers blame the Jews. And according to which values were those “colorados roasted in Odessa”?

    Comment by So? — July 15, 2014 @ 5:45 am

  50. +++ I wish someone was not too lazy to translate this interview into English: +++

    Comment by So? — July 15, 2014 @ 6:03 am

  51. The colorados barricaded themselves inside a building after killing a fair number of Ukrainians.
    After they barricaded the building to such an extent that all exits were blocked, they started throwing molotovs at the Ukrainians outside, and firing weapons from the roof.
    The Ukrainians retaliated.
    According to film of the incident, the fire actually seems to have started when one of the pro Russian morons inside the building dropped a molotov starting a fire which set the building alight.
    Far from keeping the traitors inside from fleeing, film of the incident shows pro Ukrainians trying to help those trapped inside the building escape, while pro Russian thugs on the roof continued to shoot and rain petrol bombs on them.

    Comment by Andrew — July 15, 2014 @ 7:43 am

  52. The Colorados killed themselves!
    The separatists are shelling themselves!
    The russophobe ability to deny reality is astounding.

    Comment by So? — July 15, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

  53. > The Colorados killed themselves!

    Most likely the provocateurs on the roof were Putin’s operatives who had the poor local fools killed to provoke an outrage.

    Kinda like the “public crucifixion of the baby” that Russian Channel 1 has reported recently, except that for some reason (probably, technical difficulty) Putin’s thugs seem to have spared an actual baby and just invented the whole story.

    The sovok ability to generate disinformation is not astounding, simply disgusting.

    Comment by Ivan — July 16, 2014 @ 4:46 am

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