by Kennedy Applebaum
March 20, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin has fallen far short of the commitment needed to protect the peace of the free world. By condoning the tyranny of the Kiev government, he has shown a dangerous lack of resolve, and has failed to defend, in a diplomatic way, the freedom of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics, whose people have fallen victim to the barbaric treatment of Poroshenko’s illegal regime. Without risking war or even provoking Western wrath, Putin could easily have declared the Kiev government null and void, and hosted a government-in-exile led by President Viktor Yanukovich, who was unlawfully ousted and remains Ukraine’s legitimate leader. The West would have respected this stance as a manifestation of healthy self-interest. Self-interest is integral to any strong nation. Indeed, it is expected. Such a stance would have edified Putin’s integrity, and helped Russia regain its role in the trilateral balance of world powers, alongside America and China. Maintaining that balance is essential for global stability.
Why is Putin’s attitude toward the West is so weak compared to that toward other parts of the world? The answer seems to be cowardice, obsequiousness, evasiveness and irresponsibility in the face of Western pressure. We urge him to adopt a stronger position, for the sake of Novorossiya, for the sake of the world, and ultimately for the sake of Russia.
I do not mean Putin is not an effective leader. It is his very effectiveness that makes his actions so critical. It is his very strength that makes freedom-loving people turn to him for leadership. We need that leadership now.
I have just read a commentary by Russkiy Malchik entitled Why Putin did not send the army into the Donbass (reposted below). It was this commentary that inspired my analysis above. I find I agree with most but not all of the author’s points.
Crimea and Donbass are two very different cases. Putin’s taking of Crimea was the right thing to do, given that the Ukraine government had just been overthrown, and the new ad hoc regime was hostile to Crimea’s ethnic Russians. Taking Donbass, however, could have been disastroous. As Malchik points out, Crimea has a short, geographically-defined border, while the that of the pro-independence regions of Donbass would have been hundreds of kilometers long, and not delineated by clear geographic features. In addition, Russia had a strategic military base in Crimea, making it not only easy to take, but also necessary for Russia’s security, as the coup regime had threatened to close the base. Lastly, Crimea already had autonomy, making the transition straightforward.
I repost Russkiy Malchik’s insightful article here:
Why Putin did not send the army into the Donbass
By Russkiy Malchik
Translated from Russian by J.Hawk
March 16, 2015
More commentary on the Crimea film. What finally became clear to me personally is that it was not the Western pressure which influenced Putin’s decision not to send the army into the Donbass. Now we can clearly see that when it comes to the Crimea, Russia’s resolve was demonstrated up to and including the “nuclear briefcase.” In other words, just try something, and you’ll be talking to ballistic missiles. This was improbable even during the best years of the USSR. It tells us that if a similar decision were to be taken concerning the Donbass, you’d see a similar operation, and there would be no clash with NATO—it would drift away.
The obstacle was somewhere else. This deserves close consideration, and not throw about phrases like “how is the Donbass less Russian than Crimea?” This is faulty logic at work, and it was never part of Putin’s thinking. The problem is somewhere else. Donbass is not a peninsula which can be blocked by cutting off the isthmus. If one sends troops into the Donbass, then the frontline becomes longer with every kilometer West, from the Black Sea to Belarussian forests. Therefore if one enters the Donbass one must march, as a minimum, to the natural border of the Dnepr, but that’s Poltava, Sumy, Chernigov, Dnepropetrovsk with their populations, a significant part of which had already been zombified into Russophobia. With every kilometer we’d get a less pro-Russian and more Russophobic (I know this on the basis of examples). The junta was able to sway people’s minds already by March, April, May, so that one could not expect a full support for the Russian Army even in the cities of the Larger Novorossia, not to mention Vinnitsa.
This is an important point which Putin underscored both earlier and at the anniversary of Crimea annexation: he based his decision on the potential support by the population. Crimea was fundamentally ready for the arrival of the Russian Army (it was already there, which made the task easier). But the rest of Ukraine was not. Even in Donetsk a large proportion of local “white collars” and housewives turned out to be Maidan support and ran away from the DPR and LPR. This is not a criticism of the Donbass, but the sad reality for which we are all at fault. Those who stayed on the Donbass paid for their choice in favor of the Russian World with blood, and there isn’t enough marble in the world for a monument to them. But the Russian Army would have had to march further than Donetsk, to Melitopol, Zaporozhye, Kherson, Nikolayev, all the way to Odessa. There are lots of Maidaneks there. And even more people who very quickly accused Russia of aggression. Look at how people behaved in the border town of Sumy, where nobody is so much as stirring against the junta. Once again, it’s not their fault but ours in general, as is the pain and sadness.
Look at how much importance “tyrannical” Putin attaches to people’s sentiments and desires, even if those desires are imposed from the outside. Now we know for certain that the Kremlin was conducting opinion polls constantly and everywhere—in the Crimea, on the Donbass, in Russia concerning both Crimea and Donbass, and in the various regions of Ukraine. One can criticize VVP for this, but he does not want to do anything that does not have the support of the inhabitants of a given territory. He acts in a similar manner in Russia—he makes a decision only when the people are ready, or even more than ready, for it. I think that’s due to an understanding that the government’s actions are truly historical and make lives better only when they are based on the desires of the majority of the population. When the government and the citizens are acting as a united front, it leads to the government of the people (unlike democracy, in which power belongs to the 2% who are democrats).
Already in March Ukraine was not prepared to welcome the Russian Army as a savior. Marching only into the Donbass would have been a half-measure that would have escalated the conflict and put Russia in a dead end. The decision not to send troops into Donbass was painful and forced, but at the same time the most correct one. If one considers the reality, not desires. Life is like that.
Kennedy Applebaum: Nevertheless, at the diplomatic level, Putin could have unambiguously endorsed Novorossiya’s independence, declared Poroshenko’s regime null and void, and hosted a Yanukovich government-in-exile. This is the least he could have done. Indeed he should be the last person in the world to fail to do this.