Putin Should Come Down to Earth After Crimea

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tags: Russia, Putin, Ukraine, Crimea



Mark N. Katz is professor of government and politics at George Mason University. Marknkatz.com

The following is a memo that President Vladimir Putin's staff should send him if they were exercising due diligence:

Mr. President,

Your foreign policy successes so far this year have been truly extraordinary. You turned what began as a catastrophe in Ukraine — when an angry crowd overthrew our ally, President Viktor Yanukovych — into an amazing victory. You took Crimea away from Ukraine and reunited it with Russia. Further, two provinces in eastern Ukraine — Donetsk and Luhansk — have recently held referendums in which those voting clearly indicated a desire to secede. New referendums can undoubtedly be organized in other Ukrainian provinces that will produce similar results, if necessary.

Despite all their noisy objections, the West and Kiev have been unable to stop any of this. Russian decisiveness and determination stand in stark contrast to Kiev's helplessness and the West's inaction. Indeed, it is doubtful that the West would do much of anything but apply a few more sanctions if we continue to rescue Russian speakers elsewhere in Ukraine, Transdnestr, northern Kazakhstan and Belarus. It is not even clear that the West would do anything if we decided to rescue Russian communities in the Baltic states, even though they are NATO members.

Considering how successful and popular your policy has been so far, the temptation to keep on annexing more territory is undoubtedly strong. But would this be wise?  

Stalin warned in 1930 that "successes have their seamy side, especially when they are attained with comparative 'ease' ...  Such successes sometimes induce a spirit of vanity and conceit: 'We can achieve anything!' … People frequently become intoxicated by such successes. They become dizzy with success, lose all sense of proportion and the capacity to understand realities. They show a tendency to overrate their own strength and to underrate the strength of the enemy."

Thus, we should keep in mind that the more of Ukraine we annex, the more likely we are to encounter Ukrainian resistance. While Ukraine's Army has proven to be woefully ineffective, more Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory risks triggering widespread guerilla war similar to that which we experienced in Afghanistan in the 1980s — and in Ukraine itself for many years after the end of World War II. While it is highly unlikely that NATO would intervene on behalf of Kiev, you can expect that several Western countries will arm them. Russian forces, of course, will not be defeated by these guerrilla forces, but our troops could become bogged down there indefinitely...




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