Streetwise Professor

November 1, 2014

Laying the Groundwork for the Next Phase of Putin’s Novorossiya Campaign: The Price of Pusillanimity

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 12:04 pm

Ukraine held successful, and remarkably pro-Western, elections last Sunday. The result was a rebuke to Putin, and provided further proof of the adage that you catch more flies with sugar than with gall. Tomorrow, the rump/puppet statelets of Donetsk and Luhansk will hold Soviet-style sham elections, which the Kremlin will duly recognize in violation of the Minsk Protocol signed in September.

Ominously, there are numerous reports of an escalation in the intensity of combat throughout eastern Ukraine (the cease-fire being something of a joke, of course). Further, there are reports of movements of large quantities of new Russian equipment, including SAMs (e.g., S-300s) and MLRS systems considerably more advanced than the scattershot Grads that have been used indiscriminately. There are also indications that the fractious and thuggish rebels are being replaced at key points by Russian regulars.

Something is building here. The timing likely reflects the conscription cycle that led to the faux withdrawal some weeks ago that gave faux hope to those in the west who saw what they desperately wanted to see. Moreover, the passivity of the West, and the distraction of Obama by ISIS (not that he was ever really engaged with Ukraine anyways) give Putin every confidence that another strike would be met with indignant blasts of hot wind from the west, and little else. His prize of Crimea (My precious! My precious! to Gollum-Putin: it’s basically all he has to show for his Herculean labors this year)  is also barely supportable now without access to supplies from the mainland, but will be all but isolated when the slender thread of waterborne transport is frozen shut in a few weeks. Putin needs to open the land routes through the Ukrainian mainland. This requires taking Mariupol, and then continuing to advance west to Kherson.

Russia has markedly increased the intensity of its aerial aggression against Nato countries (including Turkey, which is interesting) and Japan. (Over the summer it carried out mock nuclear strikes on Denmark (!!!) , like those simulated against Sweden and Poland in previous years.) It has bullied Finnish research vessels. (For someone who fulminates about the expansion of Nato, Putin is its best recruiting sergeant.)  It recently tested two nuclear missiles, a Bulava SLBM (which is apparently finally over its serious teething problems) and a Topol ICBM. Putin’s recent rantings in Valdai included sort-of veiled nuclear threats and warnings that “the bear isn’t asking anyone for permission.”

These are all warnings to the west to stand back and not even think about interfering when Putin mounts the next phase of his Novorossiya campaign, likely in the next 10 days-two weeks. These are the wages of the west’s feckless dithering for the past 9 months. This is the price of pusillanimity.

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  1. Professor, what’s your take on the economic angle? A year ago Putin pledged $15B to ensure Yanukovich’s survival. Then in March Yanukovich was kicked out anyway and Putin reneged on the $15B offer. The Russian taxpayer seemed to have gotten a lucky break. Now it seems the bill for Putin’s Ukrainian adventures has come and it’s much higher than $15B.

    Comment by aaa — November 1, 2014 @ 6:00 pm

  2. @aaa-I sense that the economic burdens of Crimea and the military campaign in Donbas are acute, but I haven’t seen good quantitative information on the subject. But there is no doubt that they are far in excess of $15 billion.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 1, 2014 @ 7:04 pm

  3. Professor, with the russian people hyped up and the price of oil falling and the russian economy diving, does putin have the luxury to wait to make any major moves? Or will his people suppot him, many months from now, even in much increased hardship.

    Later he will have less western money to prop the rubble and less imported goods.

    It’s suicide for him no matter what he does, russia will collapse and be the failed state. They will fail if they make a major move now, which would eventualy involve the west , and if they will wait and do nothing, they will also fail. That too will involve us considering the loose nukes problem. The pressure in ruSSia has got to be released somehow.

    As for the leadership of the west, Nero played the fiddle, when Rome burned, and today Nerola plays golf while the world burns.

    Comment by traveler — November 1, 2014 @ 8:41 pm

  4. Why wouldnt egging Putin on to take an even larger chunk of uneconomic land be a ‘good’ move by Obama in the grand strategy of this all? Putin has even more dependents, even more occupation troops are required, even more excuses for the Europeans to maintain the sanctions, whatever is left of Ukraine has even more reason to push through reforms — and the future for whats left isnt in continuing to export third rate crap machines to Russia and coal and steel (all three of those markets are in a secular decline) but in following the Slovakian playbook and becoming the outsourcing destination of choice for German industries. In 98 Slovakia was a basketcase, with a President sending agents abroad to kidnap a political rival, in 2004 its in the EU and with a GDP on par with Russhka.

    Comment by d — November 1, 2014 @ 8:55 pm

  5. “Why wouldnt egging Putin on to take an even larger chunk of uneconomic land be a ‘good’ move by Obama in the grand strategy of this all?”

    It might be in isolation. Unfortunately, it won’t be good for either Ukraine or the rest of the Eastern Europe, especially for the other NATO members who border Russia.

    Comment by Blackshoe — November 2, 2014 @ 12:04 pm

  6. Again, how is that not an advantage to Obama/America? Russia as the professor so eloquently put it is the best recruiting sergeant for an anti-Russia alliance and its spending hard currency reserves it — at least at the rate they are burning through it — clearly is no longer capable of amassing. Between cheap oil and ideological spending of the remaining reserves, the Russians will huff and puff and run out of cash and friends.

    Comment by d — November 2, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

  7. “the Russians will huff and puff and run out of cash and friends”

    And do you think that will make them more or less dangerous?

    Likewise, I’m not sure that NATO will continue to be attractive (especially as a sole-source of protection) if they (and the West in general) continue to underplay the situation. Further Russian aggression might just reinforce perceptions of NATO/Western weakness. If Ukraine continues to get chewed up by advancing Russian forces, Poland might well get the idea that it’s better up coming up with something on their own to defend themselves (they already are, in fact):

    Comment by Blackshoe — November 2, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

  8. To whom? To America? Obviously the less money they have the less scary they are, more oppressive they are at home, the more welcoming the American alternative is. There is a reason why Russians were much more pro-American in 1989 than in 2006. Just like in the 70s, oil revenues and Western lackeys dribbling into Moscow and St. Petersburg to kiss the ring allowed the Russian elites to pretend they are something more than a third world shithole.

    Comment by d — November 2, 2014 @ 5:56 pm

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