Alexei Bayer: Putin’s bluff against Ukraine

There is a sense that for the first time since the momentous events of 2014 resulted in a stalemate in eastern Ukraine, the situation has become fluid once more. Donald Trump is out of the White House. Joe Biden is much more of a traditional American politician shaped by the Cold War mentality and cognizant of Washington’s responsibilities in the international arena.

The government in Kyiv is starting to move against the pro-Vladimir Putin Fifth Column inside the country. Ukraine’s membership in NATO and the European Union suddenly doesn’t look like a pipe dream any longer — and Russia’s abominable Maria Zakharova has already started to shake a fist on that particular subject.

But Russia’s massing of its rusty hardware on Ukrainian borders in the east and south is likely to be an empty threat. Barring the possibility that Putin has taken leave of his senses (which is unfortunately quite real), Russia’s war against Ukraine remains a war of attrition. It can’t be resolved in some magical single blow.

Putin twice had a window of opportunity to invade. Both would have involved massive risks and Putin, who is cautious to the point of cowardice, chose not to act both times. Now it is too late — and invading will become more and more difficult with every passing day.

The first opportunity for an all-out invasion came early, when Ukraine was in the midst of a revolution, the military was nonexistent, government positions were held by ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s appointees and sympathy toward Russia ran fairly strong among some Ukrainians. However, the Russian military was not prepared for an all-out assault on Ukraine or for a protracted occupation and partisan warfare that would have surely followed.

The second half of last year was perhaps another opportunity to stage an invasion, while the United States was in considerable disarray and preoccupied with the pandemic and the bitterly contested election. But the Ukrainian military by then had become considerably better organized, equipped, and trained and a move like that by Russia would have concentrated the minds in Western Europe, undoing all of Trump’s work of weakening NATO.

Be that as it may, those opportunities, however tenuous and even illusory, were not taken, and none will present itself again in the foreseeable future.

Russia could have gone about the whole Ukraine question in a smarter way. As late as the early 2000s Ukraine was still vitally dependent on Russia economically. Moscow could have developed economic ties, using some of the petrodollars that were pouring its way at the time to help Ukrainians achieve prosperity and accumulate wealth.

The problem with this scenario is threefold.

First, Russia, unlike the EU, has no economic model that could have benefited Ukraine. All it does is sell its natural resources to nations that turn them into wealth.

Second, Russia’s government is a kleptocracy. Officials at every level are busy stuffing their own pockets and don’t give a hoot for the well-being of their own people, let alone their neighbors.

And, finally, Russia wants Ukraine as a vassal state, not a prosperous independent one.

Russia as it currently constituted will never stop trying to bring Ukraine back under its colonial rule. It will continue to push and probe, massing troops on the borders, sending spies and assassins and recruiting agents, working to undermine Ukraine’s economy and weaken its government, accusing the Ukrainian military of war crimes, and so on.

It will keep staging military adventures such as the one in Syria in the hope of trading its “good behavior” for the Western recognition of its annexation of Crimea. But what Moscow ultimately wants is Kyiv.

And yet Russia can’t win against Ukraine. Its ultimate goal — to make Ukrainians stop being Ukrainians — is unrealistic. Even in the unlikely event of Putin imposing his will on Ukraine, there is simply no way Ukrainians will stop seeking independence after three decades as an independent state. The cat is out of the bag and Ukrainians will never submit to being “Little Russians” again.

Even when national aspirations have been quashed, it can only be temporary. Look at Chechnya. Ramzan Kadyrov has become a personal vassal to Putin in exchange for total control of Chechnya. He has built a de facto independent ethnic enclave within the Russian Federation. But he and his regime are not going to last forever. The infrastructure he has built for himself will be used sooner or later to gain real nationhood for the Chechens.

Nor could Ukrainians win against Russia. It will not be able to defeat the separatists in the east or get back Crimea as long as the Russian Federation remains as it is currently constituted. The road to Sevastopol and Donetsk runs through Moscow. Not only Putin has to go one way or another — that goes without saying — but Russia will have to collapse before Ukraine could restore its territorial integrity. Fortunately for Kyiv, Putin and his buddies are doing their best to achieve this outcome.

(c) KyivPost

11 comments

  • “And yet Russia can’t win against Ukraine. Its ultimate goal — to make Ukrainians stop being Ukrainians — is unrealistic.”

    Muscovy have been trying for over 300 years to exterminate the Ukrainian identity, and has failed miserably. The difference between Ukrainians and Russians, Ukrainians are proud to be Ukrainians, admitting you are a Russian, has a stigma attached to it.

    Liked by 5 people

  • Putler yearns to overrun Ukraine and strut around Kyiv like the evil dictator that he is.
    So far, his cost-benefit analysis has made him think twice or thrice before starting a bloodbath. Ukraine’s few allies need to make putler’s calculations much more straightforward: any further incursion can and will be met with total economic ruin, backed by lethal force.
    The poisonous little toad needs to be put on the back foot and kept there for the foreseeable future.
    So far the response of the guarantors of Ukraine’s sovereignty to putler’s latest sabre-rattling has been piss-poor.

    Liked by 5 people

    • There is a good article on the Speccy saying the same. Going to post it now.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Well, at least he waited until the second sentence to bash Trump this time…
      Though the rhetoric was sickening during Trump’s time, the poisoner was restrained. He has faith in Biden who let Putin in, in the first place? I think that’s wishful thinking or TDS, take your choice. It’s hard to take Bayer seriously anymore.

      Like

      • Scradgel has been doing his best to prove he’s irrational. It was obvious, early on, that he suffered a bad case of TDS and wasn’t thinking. Anyone that supports Biden, and claims to support Ukraine, is not rational.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I am a conservative who loathes putler jackboot lickers. It is you who is deranged, you fucking worm. Fuck off to RaT.

          Liked by 1 person

        • We’ve been doing this for over 7 years now and through 3 US administrations. I think everyone here would agree our top priority is to help Ukraine and we’re willing to support whoever is POTUS for that reason. It was VERY hard to support Obama while he was throwing Ukraine under the bus but there was no choice. You’ll see there is not much love here for Obama because of that but you’ll also see at least some gratitude here for Trump sending weapons and cranking up sanctions on the Moskali.

          Liked by 1 person

  • onlyfactsplease

    “…Russia’s war against Ukraine remains a war of attrition. It can’t be resolved in some magical single blow.”
    Mafia land was not even able to win a resolve back in 2014 and 2015, when the Ukraine military was in a deplorable state. Now, it would mean creating a bloodbath.
    I wonder if those responsible for appeasing the dwarf shit nugget will realize the grave mistakes they have committed all these years. I doubt it…

    Liked by 6 people

  • When this started I was concerned it would turn into a real shooting war. the massing of troops was seemingly extensive and expensive to carry out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Did not finish my previous post.
      However now it is looking more like Russians usual baring of teeth, chest pounding and throwing feces.
      When conducting attacks the USSR/ Russia ALWATS tries to achieve a measure of surprise. They use bold moves for unexpected or explainable reasons and good high level operational security.
      This time they are not even remotely trying to hide their moves or intentions. This is the usual US method. Tell the enemy to with in 48 hours when we will attack. there is little surprise but it also conveys the idea “We are coming for you and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.” It is somewhat foolish but sends a powerful message.
      So far it has not worked for Russia.
      The western leaders had been loosing intret in supporting Ukraine with it’s complicated relationships and contradictory politics.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Russia doesn’t have the power to swallow Ukraine. Note the US overran Iraq, but it was in bad shape after years of sanctions and less than 2nd rate Russian equipment.

        I’d like to see Ukraine nuclearize. Since the Budapest Memo has been violated, they have the right to do so.

        Liked by 1 person

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