Give Russian President Vladimir Putin an Oscar for his histrionics over Ukraine.
Vlad seemed to loose his cool at his annual year-end press conference Thursday when a Sky News reporter asked if Moscow could promise not to invade its neighbor.
“You are demanding guarantees from us? It’s you who should give us guarantees. Immediately. Right now. And not talk it over for decades,” Putin railed.
Nice faux outrage. He, after all, is the architect of this crisis: Ukraine can’t even take back the large areas Vlad’s already stolen from him, and the West has zero interest doing more than fending off his aggression.
That’s rich, particularly as Ukraine just released satellite images it said showed more Russian forces building up at its border; Putin already has roughly 175,000 troops assembled there on Russia’s western border.
But, as Walter Russell Mead noted for The Wall Street Journal, this flap has served Putin well: “At minimal cost, the Russian president’s Ukraine moves have increased his political standing and promoted his agenda at home,” because most Russians think the independent nation should still be part of the Kremlin’s empire.
So it’s pretty rich that Putin’s making security-guarantee demands, telling NATO to swear off ever admitting Ukraine. He also insisted Washington’s to blame for enflaming tensions in Eastern Europe and bringing the region closer to war. Right.
But, as Vlad tells it, Russia’s under threat. Ignoring questions about what he’s doing on his own borders, he erupted: “How would the Americans respond if we put our missiles on the US borders with Canada or Mexico? What is unclear here? Are we putting missiles next to the United States’ borders? No, it is the United States that has come to us with their missiles, they are already on our doorstep.”
Never mind that they’re defensive “missiles,” emplaced to intercept nukes from, say, Iran (or, yes, Russia).
He pretends Washington is trying to create an alliance with Ukraine that would threaten Russia, when America just finished bugging out of Afghanistan and has zero desire for any war. Indeed, the West won’t even do more than talk about how Putin’s puppet state in eastern Ukraine is an abomination.
But the Russian autocrat claims he’s just defending that “republic,” thundering, “We are warned in advance, ‘Don’t get involved, don’t meddle, don’t defend these people.’ If you defend, these sanctions will follow.” No, President Joe Biden’s warning is about “severe consequences” if Putin sends his troops into the part of Ukraine that’s still free.
And those threats (at least), are absolutely necessary: Putin will grab whatever he thinks he can get away with, as he did with eastern Ukraine and much of Georgia before that.
He plays “protector of the Russian people” because it helps him stay in power, so he and his cronies can continue to loot the country. In truth, his leadership has the Russian population in such steep decline that the nation he pretends to guard will barely exist by the end of the century.