Streetwise Professor

March 1, 2014

Putin Digs Into the Main Course, Served Up by the Ignominious Failure in the WH

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 1:24 pm

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.

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  1. Earlier today one Russian analytic wrote “Obama gave Putin carte blanche.”

    Comment by MJ — March 1, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

  2. In the meantime, it has been reporting Obama was discussing the situation with Putin over the phone.

    What a sorry excuse of an idiot.

    Comment by LL — March 1, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

  3. SWP,
    Something strange is going on in the WH —
    – the BO n Biden jogging video
    – the DNC cocktail party stmt
    – now this – BHO no show at natl security mtg

    Is this strategic messaging incompetence or “rope-a-dope?”

    Comment by ProTeeVoBore — March 1, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

  4. Well, what do you expect? When the WH lost control of the Kiev revolt and the neonazi ultranationalists started pushing very anti-russian internal policies, what did you expect Putin to do?

    For Putin to tolerate EU-focussed moderates in Kiev was already a very iffy thing. Nutjobs make his decision easy: he will reclaim ethic Russian provinces shuffled to the Ukraine by Khrushchev in the 1950s. Not that he particularly minds, with the Olympics over.

    Putin will use nukes if pushed in his own backyard. Not that he will need to, the WH does not have the inclination nor the credibility. But even a couragous WH would have trouble — just what leverage would they have? Launch on Sevastapol?
    Kiss San Diego/Norfolk goodbye. No sane person would risk it.

    Comment by Robert in Houston — March 1, 2014 @ 6:23 pm

  5. @LL. Yes. Idiots everywhere are outraged at being compared to Obama.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 1, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

  6. Robert in Houston

    O, that’s funny as hell. So we are supposed to be afraid of the nukes and the Russians are not? Is taht what you are trying to say here, right?

    Comment by LL — March 1, 2014 @ 8:25 pm

  7. Question: would it be a reasonable outcome if Crimea Is turned over to Russian possession and the rest of the country goes its own way? I do not pretend to have great expertise, but this seems like how the popular demographics would split.

    Comment by Jeff — March 1, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

  8. No, we are quite reasonably afraid of using nukes first again. Because we know we will eat some back, and whatever gain will not be worth the pain.

    Comment by Robert in Houston — March 1, 2014 @ 9:21 pm

  9. @Jeff. The problem is that Putin and the Russian elite are unlikely to be satisfied with just Crimea. The very fact they are moving into the rest of Ukraine shows that.

    Moreover, Crimea is barely 50 percent Russian, and the Tatars in particular would suffer egregiously under Russian rule–which is precisely why they are so supportive of the Ukrainian government.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 1, 2014 @ 9:23 pm

  10. I very strongly recommend this review by Timothy Snyder

    Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda

    Comment by elmer — March 1, 2014 @ 9:26 pm

  11. a little levity

    Comment by ProTeeVoBoreStvo — March 1, 2014 @ 10:48 pm

  12. Russia is not afraid of a nuclear exchange. A nuclear exchange is Russia’s best chance to catch up with the rest of the world. It may stop Global Warning too. Win-win.

    Comment by So? — March 1, 2014 @ 11:07 pm

  13. ProTeeVoBoreStvo,

    The original is great. This is too kitsch.

    Comment by So? — March 1, 2014 @ 11:10 pm

  14. @elmer: Nice article. But realize that however justifiable, almost all successful popular uprisings get themselves subsumed/overtaken by more radical (less just) elements. Syria, Egypt, Iran, India, Russia, France, even the US. The pendulum swings …

    Comment by Robert in Houston — March 2, 2014 @ 9:57 am

  15. SWP

    Why is Putin moving so quickly?

    additional reasons

    One suggestion comes from the foreign notes blog (

    because the presidential election was moved up to May 2014

    yanukonvikt and his mafia had delayed the election until spring 2015 (one of the things about Ukraine is that you never know when elections are going to take place – it’s not like the first or second Tuesday in November)

    so he is trying to screw up the presidential election

    yanukonvikt, following the old sovok maxim “think one thing, say another, do a third” was conducting his negotiauction, but he was Putler’s butt boy, even though Putler despises him, and there was not going to be any progress by Ukraine towards the EU

    so Putler is trying to prevent a pro-democracy president in Ukraine

    which leads to another reason – Putler’s brutally corrupt repressive kleptocratic autocratic system is even worse than what yanukonvikt tried to implement in Ukraine

    except that in the Rasha they really haven’t seen the pictures of all of Putler’s palaces like they have in Ukraine

    If Ukraine becomes democratic, which it now has (the votes in the Ukrainian parliament so far have garnered well over 300 votes out of 450 seats), people in the Rasha will get ideas – and there go Putler’s palaces and his oligarch system

    News reports in Ukraine (and the foreign notes blog) reflect a call for unity – publicly – by the major oligarchs in Ukraine, including Akhmetov, Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarch, and an employer through his SCM company of over 300,000

    Akhmetov and the others are “eastern” oligarchs in Ukraine – and they definitely do not want Putler to come in and take away what they have. He did it to Khodorkovsky, and others in the Rasha, and Putler will try to do it to them.

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2014 @ 10:19 am

  16. SWP, I’m still scarred from living in Odessa for a year. It was depressing and it really caused me to throw my hands up over Ukraine. They didn’t know what they wanted and were entirely rudderless. They kinda, sorta didn’t mind being in Ukraine, but kinda sorta weren’t against being consumed by Russia. They hated the Ukrainian language and called Russians their brothers that they would never fight. I imagine that there is a similar sentiment in other parts of eastern Ukraine. Of course, Putin was admired and considered a better alternative than any other politician in Ukraine, including Yanukovych. They only voted for him because they hated Tymoshenko more. I contend that if Russian tanks rolled into Odessa, the worst reaction you’d get is shoulder shrugging. As long as they can drink vodka and go to the beach, it really didn’t matter who was in charge. I’m probably being over-dramatic, and I’m sure elmer will have reams of information that contradict this, but I wonder if drawing lines or demanding territorial integrity is even worth it when the actual people living there wouldn’t put up a fight regardless of what happens.

    The last spoils could end up being Kiev which is Jerusalem to Ukrainians and Russians. Sorry if my conviction seems less than ample. I was really damaged by my experience. Even if you took all these points into consideration, the way Obama is dealing with it is some of the most virulent examples of ignorance and negligence I’ve ever seen.

    Comment by Howard Roark — March 2, 2014 @ 10:56 am

  17. Howard, I think you will find that things in Odessa today are not quite the way you describe.


    A bit of history – Crimea was taken over from the Ottoman Turks by Catherine the Great – of Prussia – in 1783.

    Prior to that time, the Romans were there, the Greeks were there, the Turks and Tatars were there, Armenians, etc.

    Here is a bit of history of how the Rashans took over Crimea, by force, bribes and manipulations

    It is instructive to note a secret instruction of Potemkin:

    “do not allow new elections. Prepare the people for surrender to Russian citizenship. Liquidate all opponents – with military force, if necessary.”

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2014 @ 11:26 am

  18. Howard, this is not the only place, but you might pose your question about Odessa here:

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2014 @ 11:28 am

  19. Howard, this is not about Odessa, or Crimea, or Ukraine. This is about Russia beleiving it can brazenly ignore the direct warning and the will of the United States without punishment.

    Either we all live in Pax Americana. Or there is no pax at all.

    Comment by LL — March 2, 2014 @ 11:51 am

  20. You might take a look at this video news report

    In south and eastern cities throughout Ukraine, there have been massive demonstrations. These are not rent-a-crowds, like the sovok mafia employs.

    The people are demonstrating:

    1) against Putler’s aggression, telling Putler to remove his forces out of Ukraine

    2) for peace and against invasion or war by Putler

    3) Ukraine’s unity

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

  21. @elmer. Yes. Yanukovych has a limited shelf life, and he is worth something to Putin only as long as he can colorably be called the legitimate president. I don’t think the May date is relevant, though. Putin will say that the opposition violated the terms of the deal that included early elections, and hence Yanuckovych is president until the end of his term in 2015 at the very earliest.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 2, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

  22. that is what Putler’s propaganda may be – but yanusvoloch is dead meat

    another take on why the Rasha is moving so fast

    in addition to the reasons you cited – down towards the end

    disrupting the presidential election

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

  23. interesting report

    Russian troops withdraw from Ukraine unit barraaks in Sevastopol
    The Russians who penetrated the grounds of the 191th Navy training unit at 5.30 this morning have left, shows a video on The Morsky portal March 2. .

    During the day, Ukraine servicemen showed restraint and didn’t get themselves involved in provocations.

    The Russian wanted them to surrender their weapons and leave the barracks.

    As the Russians were leaving, some of them told Ukrainians “Sorry, we don’t want to fight but we were given the orders.”

    The Russians could not take Ukraine servicemen weapons as they blocked the exit from the base with a truck.

    During the operation, the Russians fired twice into the air but Ukrainians stood firm.

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2014 @ 1:22 pm

  24. when Rashan propaganda backfires

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

  25. Ukrainian Rashan standoff in Simferopol

    Ukrainian officers hold their ground


    translation in the comments

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

  26. the Rasha claims it must “protect” people in Ukraine

    comment under the video link pasted in above – priceless

    Mario D. Zmaj
    5 hours ago

    Getting rid of golden-toiletbowl shitting president really endangered the Russians living in Ukraine? Someone pls explain to me why?

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

  27. ‘If you like the Crimea, you can keep the Crimea.’

    Comment by Regulator on lunch break — March 2, 2014 @ 2:35 pm

  28. > Either we all live in Pax Americana. Or there is no pax at all.

    How can a country believe in freedoms and at the same time strive for the total military control of what the rest of the World thinks or does? No country in history, not even Nazi Germany, had such ambitions, and nobody before the USA even dreamed of controlling the ENTIRE world. Why such bloodthirst, LL?

    Comment by vladislav — March 3, 2014 @ 2:12 am

  29. Actually Vladislav, the USSR dreamed of controlling the whole world.

    As usual your historical knowledge is off….

    Comment by Andrew — March 3, 2014 @ 4:25 am

  30. Actually Vladislav, the USSR dreamed of controlling the whole world.

    As usual your historical knowledge is off….

    Comment by Andrew — March 3, 2014 @ 4:25 am

  31. There is a big difference between the Soviet imperialism and the modern American one. The American politicians (at least the Republican ones) and media believe that it is the responsibility of the USA to respond militarily to every event anywhere in the world that is not beneficial to the interests of the American oil and other businesses; whereas the Soviets kept the area of their military control quite narrow: Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Cuba, Vietnam, N. Korea. They didn’t even defend Grenada when the US attacked it, nor when the CIA installed Pinochet in Chile, because they considered the Americas (aside from Cuba) as USA’s backyard.

    Comment by vladislav — March 3, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

  32. Rubbish Vladislav, there were Russian ‘advisors’ in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, not to mention the mass murder committed in their name in Africa.

    The Russian ‘advisors’ took part in combat operations against Israel from the 50s to the 70s when the Egyptians wised up and kicked them out.

    Comment by Andrew — March 3, 2014 @ 10:06 pm

  33. USSR never had any control over the internal politics in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru or Egypt.

    Take, for example, Egypt. Yes, USSR sold Egypt tanks, fighter planes and other military equipment, but they did so for the only purpose of helping Egypt fight an external war. But the USSR never interfered in the internal Egyptian politics. Are you capable of understanding this logical construct? I doubt it.

    Comment by vladislav — March 4, 2014 @ 12:42 am

  34. Not so Vladislav. The Russian ‘advisors’ frequently tried to interfere in Egyptian politics.

    Also note that Russian advisors actually took part in combat operations against Israel, and failed miserably.

    Russian attempts to interfere in Egyptian politics were a significant contributing factor in the Egyptian decision to turn to the US in the 1970s.

    The Russians had a great deal of influence in central American states such as Nicaragua, particularly the terror campaigns by left wing guerrillas.

    Comment by Andrew — March 4, 2014 @ 11:09 am

  35. No Vladislav, you are wrong as usual.

    Russian interference in Egyptian politics was a major reason for the expelling of Russian advisors.

    Severing of relations occurred in 1981 when Russia attempted to use it’s influence with sections of the Egyptian political elite to stop Egypt from honoring the 1979 peace treaty with Israel and the assassination of Sadat by the Russian sponsored Islamic Jihad.

    Comment by Andrew — March 4, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

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