Tuesday, September 2, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

What Putin wants, and how he plans to get it

By
April 22, 2014 |

It was tempting to look at last week’s diplomatic agreement to pull Ukraine back from the brink of war and see the beginning of a grand compromise between Russia and the West.

Tempting, but mistaken.

Vladimir Putin is still winning most of what he wants in Ukraine, and he’s winning it more cheaply and more elegantly than he would by launching a full-scale military invasion.

Last week’s agreement, which called on pro-Russia militias to end their occupation of government buildings, was probably only a speed bump on the way toward bringing all of Ukraine under Moscow’s influence.

That’s not only the view of seasoned Russia watchers; it’s also the fear of many officials inside the Obama administration.

President Obama could use a diplomatic win, but there wasn’t a shred of triumphalism – or even optimism – in his description of last week’s accord. “I don’t think we can be sure of anything,” Obama told reporters. “There is the possibility, the prospect, that diplomacy may de-escalate the situation. . . . But I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that.”

Or even given present performance. While Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Geneva drafting the joint agreement on Ukraine, Putin was speaking at a news conference in Moscow, and he wasn’t sounding like a man in the mood for concessions. “It’s New Russia,” he trumpeted. “Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in czarist times; they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows.”

Actually, every Russian historian knows: Lenin drew those borders to make sure Ukraine’s population included plenty of reliable Russians.

Putin said reports that Russian troops were among the insurgents in those cities were “rubbish.” He called the Ukrainian government illegitimate. And he said he had a duty to protect the people of what he called “the Russian southeast.”

He added that the upper house of Russia’s parliament had already authorized him to use military force – although, he added generously, he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

“He’s not compromising,” warned Fiona Hill, the Brookings Institution’s ace Putinologist. “He’s looking for what the market will bear. He’s trying to see how much of Ukraine he can take, and he’ll settle for what he can get.”

Does that mean additional military action? Not if Putin can get what he wants without it. In the short run, Hill and others say, Russia will continue to press for Ukrainian constitutional reforms that would give pro-Russia areas more autonomy and, if Moscow has its way, the right to secede. And Russia wants a delay in Ukraine’s presidential election scheduled for May 25, because the vote would make Kiev’s current provisional government much more legitimate in the eyes of the world.

“He may not need to invade to get what he wants,” Hill told me. “He knows that if he doesn’t take military action, we’ll all say, ‘Thank God.’”

In that sense, Secretary of State John F. Kerry was mistaken a few weeks ago when he denounced Putin for behaving like a 19th century autocrat. Instead, the Russian president is a product of the 20th century KGB, where his career began. He knows that subversion is much cheaper than invasion.

That may also be why Putin took a cautious step back from military action last week: The cost-benefit analysis was pretty clear.

In Russia, the 2-month-old crisis has already taken an economic toll: a 12 percent drop in the Moscow stock index since February and an estimated $51 billion in capital flight in the first quarter. Last week, Russia’s finance minister announced that he had trimmed his projection for this year’s economic growth from 2.5 percent to 0.5 percent.

The United States and the European Union have agreed that direct Russian military action would force them to respond with new economic sanctions, but without military action, that consensus fell apart. Putin “thinks the EU will back off, and he’s probably right,” Hill said.

And one more factor, Hill noted: “The prospect of Ukrainians and Russians fighting each other didn’t make Russians very happy. A war could have played very badly at home.”

The best form of victory for Putin would be to have his cake and eat it too: to have a Ukraine that gives Moscow a veto over its foreign policy and keeps its economy tied to the east, without all the costs of a full-scale invasion.

He’s on track toward that goal. The United States and its European allies can still push back through long and patient support for the government in Kiev and a costly effort to rescue Ukraine’s staggering economy. But it’s an asymmetrical contest. Putin’s interest in Ukraine is immediate and visceral; the outcome is central to his agenda as president. For Obama and other Western leaders, Ukraine is important but peripheral.

“There is a battle for Ukraine, but it’s not going to be on a military battlefield,” Hill told me. “It’s going to be a game of wits. The question is: Can we outsmart Putin?”

And, even more difficult, outsmart him on his own turf?

Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Labor Day not a holiday for everyone

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3, 5 Comments | Gallery

 
Labor Day breakfast introduces union-backed candidates

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3, 2 Comments | Gallery

Pool provides last dose of summer fun in the sun

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
SafeQuest schedules peer counseling training course

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A5

 
Fairfield police log: Aug. 31, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Suisun City police log: Aug. 31, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Aug. 30, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Fairfield police log: Aug. 30, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

.

US / World

VP Biden says workers deserve ‘fair share’

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 8 Comments | Gallery

 
Obama: ‘Revving’ economy calls for higher wages

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 12 Comments | Gallery

Senegal monitors contacts of 1st Ebola patient

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
San Francisco to be 1st to test urban farming law

By The Associated Press | From Page:

GOP challenger tries novel tactics against Brown

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 2 Comments | Gallery

 
US eating habits improve a bit – except among poor

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 5 Comments | Gallery

 
No gray area: Beliefs shape views of Brown killing

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 1 Comment | Gallery

Americans detained in North Korea call for US help

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Iraqi prime minister pledges to root out militants

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 1 Comment | Gallery

Poland’s PM: Ukraine’s war must be stopped now

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Pro-Russian rebels lower demands in peace talks

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 2 Comments | Gallery

US helicopter crashes in Gulf of Aden; all rescued

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Sept. 2, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page:

 
.

Entertainment

Inquiries begin into nude celebrity photo leaks

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 1 Comment | Gallery

 
‘Guardians’ tops Labor Day, summer box office

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11, 2 Comments

 
.

Sports

Kirk rallies to win the Deutsche Bank

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Rockies top Giants after losing end of suspended game

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Dunn homers in 1st at-bat as A’s top Mariners

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Right guard Boone passes physical, rejoins 49ers

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Raiders name rookie Derek Carr as starting QB

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Armijo beats Vanden 2-0 to claim All-City boys soccer title

By Brian Arnold | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Armed with new deal, Chiefs’ Smith looks forward

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Column: Stewart’s Chase status doesn’t matter

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Raiders ink CB Dowling, 9 others to practice squad

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Serena Williams, Djokovic roll to US Open quarters

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Houston Astros fire manager Bo Porter

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Hamels, 3 Phillies relievers no-hit Braves

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
.

Business

Markets drift as Wall Street has day off

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Austerity debate flares as Europe recovery fades

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Civil disobedience expected in fast-food pay fight

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 8 Comments | Gallery

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Beetle Bailey Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Zits Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Wizard of Id Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sally Forth Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Bridge Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Blondie Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Rose is Rose Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Get Fuzzy Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sudoku Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
B.C. Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baldo Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Frank and Ernest Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Crossword Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Dilbert Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

For Better or Worse Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Peanuts Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Cryptoquote Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Garfield Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Word Sleuth Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7