Russia: Fast Forward to Epic Fail

April 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

 Every step forward in Ukraine will only hasten Russia’s demise.

Russia, despite exhortations and warnings to cease and desist, continues its aggressive march forward in Ukraine. Major troop movements a stone’s throw from the border, armed insurgents acting in the open and saboteurs, subversives and propagandistas too numerous to mention, are actively pursuing Russia’s strategy of destabilization in Ukraine.

Russia itself, and her apologists, claim that this is a natural reaction to western encroaches in its natural and historic sphere of influence. It is easy to be swayed by that rhetoric. After all, would not the US vehemently and perhaps forcefully oppose an alignment between Mexico and Russia? Would not the West look askance at a Russian deployment in Switzerland? These examples are of course far-fetched, but serve to illustrate the hurt and fear that Russia feels by a Ukraine aligning itself with the EU and possibly, eventually, joining hands with NATO. It’s a sensitive issue for sure.

Nevertheless, whatever fear and hurt Russia may feel caused by the advance of such odious concepts as freedom of press, fair and open elections, civic transparency and respect for universally recognized human values – cannot justify denial of these concepts to Ukraine, or to any country within or without its sphere of influence (such as Russia herself). These concepts and values are part and parcel of the advance of mankind. They blossom despite oppression – they are in fact enabled by it. Fighting against them is as futile as trying to stop the drift of a continental shelf. Russia too will feel the warmth of democracy, the taste of real freedom, the safety of brotherly love, eventually.

”Never interrupt your enemy when he’s busy making a mistake” – Napoleon Bonaparte

I submit that the clammy fear of invasion, hardly assuaged but fuelled by Russian assurances to the contrary while YouTube plays a never-ending stream of Russian columns approaching the border, is, however, baseless. Russia wants to grip Ukraine with fear, but it does not want to embark on a wholly unpredictable war. Russia is irate and afraid of progress, but it is not suicidal to the point of challenging the entire western world in a game of financial endurance.

Released from the threat of a Russian invasion, Ukraine will shrug off its fears and proceed, however painfully, to hold a free and fair election. It will elect a new government and a new president, and, hopefully, rid itself of the bad old ways of corruption and graft. Ukraine will cast away its old Russian shackles and emerge, free and vibrant, as a legitimate democracy.

In the unlikely case that Russia does invade Ukraine, it will only hasten its own demise.

Western sanctions – a fresh batch to be levied today – and western capital flight is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the Russian economy. Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, argues that Russia is in no way capable of fighting a war, based on purely financial factors. In light of rampant corruption, stagnating oil revenues and a dysfunctional domestic market, Russia is barely capable of sustaining itself in times of peace. Imagine the kind of pressure the Russian economy would have to endure if its aggression led to sectoral blockade, to a crippling cut-off from the dollar economy, to a complete halt in imports. It would be devastating. The ”war” would be over in a matter of weeks.

If Russia sustains its covert war through pseudo-intermediates, i.e. pro-Russian separatists, it runs the risk of being branded as a state that sponsors terrorism. That would put Russia in the league of Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, and open up for very considerable sanctions. The current situation in Sloviansk, Luhansk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine is putting a considerable strain on the definition already. Given more of the same the international community will not hesitate in heating the branding iron. A petition to brand Russia as such is already open for domestic and international signatories, and while it is unlikely to gain full traction, or pass legislation, it is nevertheless a serious indication.

If Russia were to invade Ukraine – on ANY pretext – and attempt to draw a new border along the Dniepr, or to attempt the construction of a Novorussia out of its south and eastern districts, international condemnation would instantly halt such efforts. Russia would become the pariah of the world – except for a few hardy hostages to Russia’s weapons exports. A revived and exceptionally capable NATO – owing its resurgence entirely to Mr Putin’s aggression – will stand guard at Russia’s border until she voluntarily withdraws and relinquishes her ill-gotten gains. That alone will put a huge burden on Russia’s economy, the trade and currency blockade notwithstanding.

Russia cannot afford to distance itself from the rest of the world and its economy – it is dependent on international investment capital, on access to international customers for its exports and on imports of goods to satisfy its industry and its domestic consumers. An invasion will inevitably lead to massive sanctions that will quickly affect everyday life in Russia.

Putin’s effort to destabilize Ukraine is mandated on the one hand by the need to stop western expansion, and on the other to defuse domestic dissent and destabilization fuelled by injustice and corruption in Russia. If he succeeds in Ukraine, repercussions of international condemnation and sanction will have the opposite effect: it will serve to energize domestic dissent. And if he fails to achieve his goal in Ukraine, even former supporters of his aggression will turn on him when they realize the true cost of his failure, and the emptiness and the futility of his machinations. A failure will inevitably cause his strategy to backfire and cause widespread dissent – perhaps even to the point of sparking a new Russian revolution.

Putin is hostage to his own strategy. If he wins in Ukraine, he loses against the world. If he loses, well, then he loses both against the world and against his own people.

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