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Putin’s Problems – Analysis


By Jack Pearce*

There has been much to-do in recent months and years about what have appeared to many to be Vladimir Putin’s bold, aggressive moves in the Ukraine and Syria. Some have attributed strategic insight and effectiveness to Putin, and some have deplored what they consider to be weak, ineffective responses by the leaders of the United States and Europe.

But looking only a little beneath the surface of these events, one can see Putin as attempting, somewhat ineffectively, to avoid major geostrategic losses, playing a weak hand, and lacking apparent means to avoid further loss.

Put in straightforward terms, Russia is losing effective control of the bulk of the Ukraine, one of the cradles of its existence, having a history of inclusion, or identity, going back to the 9th century CE.

Historically associated with Russia and the Ukraine is Crimea, providing Russia access to the Mediterranean Sea. Putin has physically seized this asset. He may hold it. But at substantial cost.

The Ukraine is, from the viewpoints of Western Europe and the United States, a potentially useful addition. But it has apparently not been considered a core element in their systems. They have clearly tried to preserve its freedom of action, but not escalated into a major physical confrontation with Russia.

Why, then, does it appear that the bulk of the Ukraine is moving closer to Europe, notwithstanding obvious displeasure from Russia?

A very simple explanation is that the peoples of much of the Ukraine have been able to compare the economic and political systems of Europe and Russia, and prefer those of Europe. The institutions of Europe seem to offer more persuasive promise of prosperity, civic liberties, and responsible, regular, dependable, and lawful governance.

Why, then, does Russia not make itself more attractive to the Ukrainians, in terms of potentials for prosperity, civic liberties, and responsible, regular, and lawful governance?

Two reasons suggest themselves.

One view would be that Russia lacks the scale, depth, agility, and over all competitiveness of the Euro-American economic complex.

Over the long term, there would appear to be little Putin can do about that. Even if he were to institute governance and economic reforms to try better to compete, Ukraine would find more attractive European connections in a great many areas.

The second reason to be considered is that, in Russia, what appears to be an highly centralized economic system, dependent on autocratic leadership which economically and politically rewards followers and disadvantages those it finds inconvenient, is not and probably cannot be as diverse, nimble, productive, and rewarding in economic partnership with Ukrainian entities. Nor would it appear to be as politically appealing as Western models.

To overcome this handicap, Putin would appear to have to sacrifice the core of his methods of governance. One may presume he will be loath to do that. And he might not survive having done it.

Thus, Putin has been reduced to external bluff and bluster, and to justifying economic hardship to his citizenry. This is not a strong position.

In Syria, the major geostrategic asset is, again, a port on the Mediterranean Sea. Syria has been a source of sales of military and other products. But the chaos there has made it look like more of an economic sink than an economic asset. And the encroachment of radical political Islam in that area is a development potentially threatening, to some to degree, to Russia.

In response, Putin’s Russia has again rattled its swords. But it has been, thus far, forced into an awkward partnership with the United States, Europe, and other entities. And the way Russia has deployed its military assets seems repugnant to many who are actors for these partners.

At this point, whether Russia can preserve its local partner-dictator of choice, Assad, is highly uncertain.

All the above is not to say that Russia will lose all its marbles either in the Ukraine or Syria. Russia has available to it a lot of geography, major hydrocarbon assets, geographic proximity to these areas of engagement, military assets, and a talented and technically somewhat sophisticated population. One may confidently expect that there will continue to be economic exchanges with Russia, over time, in both these areas of engagement.

But to depict Putin as boldly outdueling the West would not seem accurate. He is bold. But he is up against formidable odds, with a bundle of assets noticeably less weighty, over all, than those of his competitors. And he is obviously having great difficulty in controlling the terms of engagement.

About the author:
*Jack Pearce
has served as Assistant Chief of a section of the United States Justice Department Antitrust Division responsible for liaison with other Executive Branch agencies, regulatory bodies, and Congressional bodies as to actions which would impact upon competition in the US economy, Assistant General Counsel to the US Agency for International Development, and Deputy General Counsel at a White House Office of Consumer Affairs. He has conducted an antitrust oriented legal practice in Washington DC, and also served on the Boards of Directors of business and civic organizations located in the Washington area.

This article was published by Modern Diplomacy.

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One thought on “Putin’s Problems – Analysis

  • Avatar
    January 2, 2016 at 12:18 am

    Much of Mr. Pearce’s analysis is either flat-out wrong or missing important points such as the absolute fact that the US State Dept and its CIA engineered the putsch of 2/22/2014 in order to install Asst.Sec. of State V. Nuland’s chosen puppets Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko as the new Pres. and Prime Min. of Ukraine. Mr. Putin moved swiftly to annex Crimea (historically part of Russia) and he would have been insane not to (The US goal was the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov’s oil resources)since it is the location of Russia’s main naval base and its military base at Sevastopol. In April 2014, CIA Director Brennan himself went to Kiev to launch the attack on the Russian-speaking Eastern provinces, which had already, (and against Putin’s advice) declared their independence. Ignoring the Kosovo precedent the West had created on redrawing international boundaries, the West screamed violation of int. law and laid serious sanctions on Russia. The value of the rouble plummeted and the economy went into recession. Then the US and Saudi Arabia, leader of OPEC made a corrupt deal to flood the market with oil, thus driving prices below the costs of production, in an attempt to wreck Russia’s main export industry.
    So the US and its European vassals and the IMF collaborated in a seduction of Ukrainians with promises of NATO membership. The truth is that IMF loans lead to “restructuring” of the targeted economy and progressive impoverishment of ordinary Ukrainians, who are increasingly unhappy with their American puppet rulers.
    Serious US scholars on Russia like Dr. Stephen A. Cohen, argue that the US takeover of Ukraine has produced the most danger to the world since the Cuban Missile Crisis. During this period, Putin has played a weak hand with considerable restraint and skill. His most clever move, however, has been to accept the legal invitation of Syria to intervene against the jihadists of ISIL who moved into the Syrian civil war largely via the funding and machinations of the US’s CIA, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Sunni monarchies, Turkey (and Israel fairly covertly). Every player now fighting in Syria/Iraq has its own goals, which I won’t go into here. But by intervening against ISIL, Putin has cleverly forced the US/Israeli/Sunni/Turkish hand. al-Assad will survive.
    On the domestic front the US Congress overwhelmingly approved Res. 578 naming Russia as the target of a new Cold War, a move that clearly shows US intentions regarding Russia. The corporate-dominated media, of course, has steadily lied and misled the public about the entire complex situation and especially about the fact that Ukraine is not only corrupt and broke, it is dominated by neo-Nazi groups that cannot be controlled by Washington or by Washington’s puppets. Mr. Yarosh, the former head of the neo-Nazi Right Sektor, just disbanded it, saying it has done its work and that he now intends to lead a movement farther into fascism than the Right Sektor was.
    Putin has also thrown a monkey wrench into the US plans to split Syria and Iraq into small ethnic enclaves in order to make the Middle East safe for Israel as it moves toward its goal of creating Yeretz Israel (Greater Israel). The Wolfowitz Doctrine (architect of the Iraq 2003 invasion) was that this was the perfect time to get Russia out of the Middle East. (Historically, the USSR had been allied to Syria and Iran). Instead, Russia is now entrenched in the Middle East and Putin has cleverly negotiated even with Netanyahu and the Saudi king. Informed opinion is that Putin has played a weak hand into a position of strength (our EU vassals are not happy about the sanctions or about the flood of Syrian refugees they are trying to absorb) whereas Washington has played a strong hand poorly. If we get out of the mess the US has created without creating WWIII, we will all be granted a few more years of life.


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