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Affluent Investor | May 28, 2017

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Why Putin Will Not Invade Ukraine

Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/Getty Images

Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/Getty Images

For Putin to annex eastern Ukraine as he did Crimea would be an uncharacteristically foolish move, coming from a shrewd statesman with a proper understanding of the nuances of international politics. Provoking a war with the Kiev government would have enormous economic and geopolitical costs that would make the annexation of Crimea look marginal. The international reaction to the former would dwarf that of the reaction to the latter; the NATO response could very well involve a significant general build-up of U.S. troops in Europe, the deployment of NATO troops to Western Ukraine – or at least Ukraine’s border with Poland – and to the Baltic states; not to mention economic sanctions that would actually effect the Russian economy. In essence, the West would return a containment policy. This would not be easily laughed off by Putin and his aids.

Additionally, Putin would not be welcomed with the same enthusiasm in Donetsk and Kharkiv as he was in Simferopol and Sevastopol. Ukraine’s eastern regions are not nearly as pro-Russian as Crimea was. Crimea was a part of Russia from the late-18th century, when it was snatched away from the dying Ottoman Empire, to 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev made the foolish decision to give the peninsula to the Ukrainians. When Putin took Crimea back, he saw himself as righting the incompetent Khrushchev’s wrong. According to the independence vote in early March and the polls that preceded it, the Crimean people agree with Putin.

On the other hand, the people of eastern Ukraine, while still (by a slim margin) majority Russian-speaking, identify as Ukrainians more than they do Russians. Opinion polls show that even the cities furthest east are opposed to a Russian invasion by no slim margin. As fractured as Ukraine is, the majority of its citizens do not want Putin’s tanks to roll into their neighborhoods – especially because the Ukrainian armed forces would actually resist.

It should also be kept in mind that the separatist militia men (who, while they might have been armed by Russia, are not Russian soldiers) in the cities of the east are not officially seeking to join the Russian Federation. Those rebels’ stated goal is simply to be independent from Kiev, not to be dictated to from Moscow. By contrast, the Crimeans voted to declare independence from Ukraine and ask the Russian government to absorb them. If Putin did decide that alienating Russia from every state in the world except Iran and Kazakhstan was worth a few hundred square miles of Ukrainian land, he would still have to deal with a hostile native population that did not exist in Crimea – one that could become radical sometime in the future, as Chechnya did. The Russians have spent billions of dollars and hundreds of lives putting down Islamic Chechen rebels, and Putin is not eager to have to do the same in Russian-occupied Ukraine.

The simple fact is that an invasion of Ukraine would be a massive mistake, and it would be a massive mistake coming from one of the most skilled statesman still in power. The casual observer could be forgiven for believing the shallow analysis that Putin is simply doing in Donetsk what he did in Sevastopol, and that he is planning on seizing the territory. While this scenario is not impossible, there is a much more likely one – that Putin has deliberately made the situation in eastern Ukraine resemble the situation in Crimea before his annexation as part of a clever geopolitical maneuver.

The main reason is rather simple: Putin wants to repair Russia’s damaged public image. His state’s prestige and respect on the geopolitical stage was weakened significantly by his annexation of Crimea. It hurt his relationship with his immediate neighbors, like the Baltic states, and more importantly with the other Great Powers.

Though it is certainly true that Putin would rather be feared than liked, he would prefer to have both hard power and soft power at his disposal. Because the latter has been so damaged, Putin’s next step is to repair it. He will do this by showing “restraint” in the eastern Ukraine crisis. Having reached an unspecified deal with the EU, Ukraine and the U.S. on Thursday to de-escalate the situation in the major eastern cities, Putin now looks a little less brutal. He has shown that he has some respect for the territorial integrity of mainland Ukraine by not invading and annexing the territory. In doing this, Putin has taken the first step in reversing the diplomatic damage he received in March. The importance of this single deal should not be overstated, as it is going to take years of careful diplomatic maneuvering for Russia to get back to a normal state of relations with the West; but Putin has started the process. His image as a brutal, neo-Soviet tyrant trying to resurrect the Evil Empire will begin to fade and look somewhat exaggerated. This is not to say that the West’s perception of him will be reversed overnight, but the confidence in which we compare Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler will get lower and lower as time goes on.

Being the realistic statesmen he is, Putin will not invade Ukraine. This would be imperial overstretch of the kind the Great Powers of the world are now averse to. Over the next few weeks, the crisis will de-escalate as Ukrainian security forces stabilize the country. The Russian President’s image overseas will be damaged, but not destroyed – and Russia will be on a path of restoring its place as a respected Great Power. All things considered, Russia will have exited the “most significant threat to peace since the end of the Cold War” in better shape than it was when it entered. By exercising “restraint” in Ukraine, Putin has outmaneuvered the West and improved his overseas image, all while saving face – and showing the West that Russia is not exactly the dying power it’s made out to be.

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  • baergy

    Not a very accurate analysis of the circumstances in Ukraine and Crimea. First, ALL Ukrainians speak fluent Russian. All of their education was virtually Russian. There are lots of Russians living all over Ukraine and yes some areas have larger concentrations. This does NOT make many of them favor Russia. The same goes for Crimea where only Russians voted; the Tatars and the Ukrainians were encouraged NOT to vote.

    • Riding the Tilt a Wheel

      It sounds like you are either from the area or have people you know there. Do you think Putin is planing on taking the Ukraine over or do you think he may just be ready in case of trouble over the Crimea change? Thank you!

      • baergy

        My people (Mennonites) thrived there for the entire 19th Century virtually without intermarriage and we learned and used the Russian language to communicate with the local Ukrainians, while still using German for our own education and communication amongst ourselves.
        Since the proliferation of the internet I have gained a variety of friends living in various regions of Ukraine and even one ‘Russian’ with a Ukrainian wife who is happy to be an Ukrainian!

        Who knows what Putin WILL do, but the intent was clearly there to re-Russify, Ukraine with direct, forceful pressure on the edges. Within days of Putin’s clear victory over Obama in Syria, Putin began his sword rattling in Ukraine by the blatant support of his puppet Ukrainian President. Crimea is not a done deal. Crimeans, even the majority of the Russian Crimeans do NOT wish a return to the Russian ways and will jump at the first chance to separate from Putin.
        What he does not understand, is that Ukrainians have ‘HEART’ and a love for peaceful freedom with an aversion to ‘the Russian way’ !

        • Riding the Tilt a Wheel

          Thank you for your reply, I have some friends from the Ukraine with people still over there, although he doesn’t hear from them much his opinion is not much different than yours. Thanks again.

    • Jerry Bowyer

      Not a very careful reading of the article. It did not suggest that all Ukrainians favor Russia.

      • baergy

        Nor did I imply that it does.

        • Jerry Bowyer

          You questioned the accuracy of the article. Perhaps you simply meant that you disagree with its conclusions, which is not exactly the same thing.

          • baergy

            Why are you deleting posts? Why not leave them up? What ever you say, the article is misleading.

          • Jerry Bowyer

            No one has deleted any of your posts. That charge is as false as one about the article’s alleged errors.

    • Jerry Bowyer

      And according to numerous polls, large segments of the Ukrainian populace consider themselves to be native Ukrainian speakers, so the alleged inaccuracy of the article is itself inaccurate.

      • baergy

        I think that goes without saying, Jerry. The entire population of ‘UKRAINIANS’ (living in Ukraine) proudly consider themselves to be Ukrainian speakers. As much as Russia has always tried to Russify the people of Ukraine for the last 300 years, they have kept their language alive.

        • Jerry Bowyer

          …and speak Ukrainian as the article implies. You say the article is inaccurate, then list two facts, neither of which show any inaccuracy in the article.

  • I imagine Putin realizes he does not need to invade Ukraine to control it.

    • Jerry Bowyer

      Right, he can intimidate them into official neutrality between Russia and NATO, and use them as a border state, and we let it happen.

      • Yep . Pretty incredible watching Putin play Obama like a fiddle ? He is enjoying every second of this game. Of course it is really not funny at all, but a very serious circumstance.

        I am always amazed at the incompetence and corrupt reasonings of our so-called leaders. We really do live in massive illusions.

  • Citizentobe

    A true though merciless statesman vs. an amateur-phony-adolescent

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