Streetwise Professor

July 20, 2014

There’s No Panic! in the Kremlin Disco Because Putin Has Weighed His Foes and Found Them Wanting

Filed under: Economics,History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:17 pm

As the evidence of Russian guilt for the MH17 massacre mounts and becomes irrefutable, there is widespread conjecture that Putin has been backed into a corner, and that he and the siloviki may be in a state of panic. Color me skeptical. I don’t sense any panic! in the Kremlin disco.

Of course the massacre creates huge complications for Putin. But he will not even begin to panic until he is confronted with something far more threatening than has come out of western capitals in days since the atrocity.

Yes, there have been expressions of outrage. This outrage has been intensified by the desecration carried out by Putin’s thugs on the ground. But outrage is easy. Action is hard.

Here, the signs are much more encouraging to Putin. Merkel made it plain that she still thought it was essential to maintain good relations with Russia, and did not say anything serious about an increase in sanctions. France and Italy have been almost completely silent. Even the nation that suffered worst-the Netherlands-was still willing to give Putin “one last chance.”

Obama and Cameron may actually be playing the role of B’rer Fox to Putin’s B’rer Rabbit. Obama said the US will not provide arms to Ukraine, and again stated-as if this was necessary-US troops would not be deployed. Moreover, he called for an immediate cease fire in eastern Ukraine.

Well guess what. Putin is adamantly opposed to western arms flowing to Ukraine, and is also calling for a cease fire. Precisely because this would buy time and breathing space for his increasingly beleaguered creatures in Donetsk and Luhansk, and precisely because he knows that the obligations under any cease fire would be enforced asymmetrically, with Ukraine being under much more pressure from the west to conform than  the Russian proxy forces would be.

Meaning that Putin might throw Obama just like he did in Syria with regards to chemical weapons. By agreeing to what Obama has demanded, and which Germany and other Euros have demanded-a cease fire-Putin can defuse the pressure for now, and use the respite to bolster the battered rebels, and to give them time to continue to fortify the territories they hold. So by demanding a cease fire, Obama (and other western leaders) are throwing B’rer Rabbit Putin right into the briar patch.

Cameron demanded that Russia guarantee access to the site where MH17 landed. Putin could well grab at this too, and say that the only way he can do that is if Russian “peacekeepers” move in. This is another thing he’s wanted to do. (There are many pictures of armor in Russia with peacekeeping insignia painted on them.) Again into the briar patch.

But the main thing that Putin needs to do is to stall for time. He is no doubt calculating that previous spasms of outrage have dissipated rapidly, especially when corporate champions in Europe ramp up the pressure on their governments, and that this one will too. He has heard the “last chance” mantra before, and his experience is that each last chance is followed by another one. He knows that the Euros have no stomach for a confrontation, even one conducted purely with economic weapons, and that Obama has only little more appetite.

Even while the bodies remain unburied, Europe is divided over intensifying sanctions. Those divisions will only increase as time passes. And you may rest assured that Putin’s connections and agents of influence in the west are working overtime to exploit those divisions, and stoke the well-established tendencies in western governments to procrastinate and avoid confrontation. He saw it after Georgia. He saw it after Crimea. He has seen it repeatedly in the past 3 months over Ukraine.

Certainly Putin could have done without this. The massacre served no military purpose, and has interfered with his schemes in Ukraine. But it has not created an existential, panic-inducing threat to him or his regime. He views it as a setback, but one that he can manage with his usual mixture of double-talk, pacific gestures, and behind the scenes pressure exerted by his corporate allies in Europe and to a lesser extent the US.

The only thing that has the possibility of inducing anything approaching panic in Putin is for Obama and Merkel and the lesser lights in Europe to upset his calculations by playing against type. Impose crippling sanctions with the promise of removing them if Putin essentially capitulates on Ukraine, rather than threatening to impose more costs if he keeps it up.

That is, all the talk about a cornered, panic Putin is so much wishful thinking. It presumes that the shock of the event has caused western governments finally to see Putin as a monster who must be confronted robustly. There’s no evidence that this is the case even while emotions are running their hottest. And past experience suggests that the image of Putin as a monster can actually work to his advantage, because it makes timorous governments all the more intimidated from confronting him.

I would like to believe that the deaths of 298 innocents has not been in vain, and that their murders will resolve western leaders to do what it takes to confront Putin’s aggression. But I’m betting on form. And I am sure Putin is too.  He has weighed his foes, and found them wanting.

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  1. Putler said “none of this would have happened”, had the ATO not been resumed on June 28. However, Ukraine kept the unilateral ceasefire until June 30, inclusive. What started on the 28th was a massive reinforcement of the mercenaries with “green men” regulars from Russia. Looks like the brave lieutenant colonel is a bit nervous after all.

    Comment by Ivan — July 21, 2014 @ 4:45 am

  2. Actually Ukrainian forces are overextended and would benefit from a ceasefire the most.

    Comment by So? — July 21, 2014 @ 4:47 am

  3. Despite the omniscience of NSA, there’s been zero proof.

    Comment by So? — July 21, 2014 @ 4:48 am

  4. Or maybe the NSA don’t bother to send the proofs to the Kremlin, just to the Oval Office. Looks like So? is a bit nervous as well 🙂

    Comment by Ivan — July 21, 2014 @ 4:52 am

  5. How about some proof then? I remember svidomites and their fellow travelers (aka morons) get all lathered up over some old geezer with a GRU sleeve patch. Captured Ukrainian t-64s claimed to be Russian t-90s, etc..

    Comment by So? — July 21, 2014 @ 5:03 am

  6. interesting articles

    Actually i wouldn’t be surprised to know that ukranians actually downed the plane, at least shouldn’t rule out that.

    Comment by erik — July 21, 2014 @ 8:03 am

  7. erik,

    the interesting part about this story is that Terrorussia’s disinformation machine claims those were Su-25 ( ) and “someone” immediately tried to edit the Russian Wikipedia article on Su-25 to “allow” it to fly at the needed altitude ( ). Apparently that “monkeys with a rocket” caricature was not about the DNR mercenaries, it was about Terrorussia’s generals.

    Comment by Ivan — July 21, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

  8. Some more grim fun. A recently captured group of battered Russian mercenaries were all telling the exact same legend (according to which they were locals). It then turned out the legend was written down in a notebook found in a mercenary’s belongings.

    Comment by Ivan — July 21, 2014 @ 1:59 pm

  9. So how come you got assigned to police this particular sector of the internet for Russia?

    Comment by d — July 21, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

  10. @Ivan-the amazing thing is that they could all remember what they were supposed to say. I have this vision of a lot of mouths moving while they were reading the script.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 21, 2014 @ 5:29 pm

  11. @d-Whom are you asking?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 21, 2014 @ 5:33 pm

  12. “So?”

    Comment by d — July 21, 2014 @ 6:21 pm

  13. @d-Figgered. Just making sure. It’s a good question.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 21, 2014 @ 7:20 pm

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