Putin has little room for maneuver in hybrid war with Ukraine - Atlantic Council

11:55, 30 March 2017
Politics
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Russia’s hybrid war in eastern Ukraine, launched by President Vladimir Putin, has mauled the Russian economy, isolated Russia internationally, reinvigorated the NATO alliance, and plunged the Kremlin into an escalating confrontation with the West that it cannot realistically expect to win, reads an article titled “Putin Is a Prisoner of His Own Hybrid War” by Peter Dickinson, published in the Atlantic Council.

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Nevertheless, there is little sign of Moscow seeking a face-saving exit. On the contrary, the Kremlin recently signaled its refusal to back down by announcing its decision to recognize passports issued by its separatist proxies, the Atlantic Council reports.

The reason the Russian leader is so ready to accept the spiraling costs of his disastrous Ukraine policy lies with the fact that he has “far less room to maneuver than many observers might imagine, the author suggests.”

“He is currently riding the tiger of Russian imperialism and knows only too well what might happen if he attempts to cage the beast,” the article reads. “Ordinary Russians have so far proved broadly accepting of the hardships imposed over the last three years, but this has only been possible thanks to regular doses of jingoism.”

Read alsoKlimkin: Putin’s desire for new Russian empire not to stop with UkraineMeanwhile, there are signs that the euphoria generated by the seizure of Crimea is wearing off. A subsequent retreat from eastern Ukraine as mandated by the Minsk Accords might spark a nationalistic backlash that could bring down the regime.

Besides, an end to the occupation of Donbas would open up the region to Ukrainian authorities, aid agencies, and the international media. “They would encounter a landscape littered with evidence of Russian war crimes and a population that would at least in part be ready to demonstrate its renewed loyalty to Ukraine by recounting the realities of the occupation,” the author writes. Kremlin denials of direct involvement in eastern Ukraine would be harshly refuted by bulletproof evidence.

Even if these thorny issues could somehow be resolved, it would not be enough to end the war, according to the article. “Ultimately, Putin’s refusal to compromise over Ukraine is rooted in his rejection of the post-1991 status quo and his fear of a genuinely independent Ukraine. For Putin, as for a great many Russians, Ukraine is not really a separate country. He has repeatedly stated his belief that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people,” by which he means that Ukrainians are a component part of a larger, Moscow-led Russian world.”

It is therefore entirely logical for Kremlin policymakers to view a democratic and European Ukraine with dread. “If Ukraine’s revolution succeeds, it is only a matter of time before a similar uprising takes place in Russia,” the author writes. “The Kremlin has always maintained that European-style representative democracy is alien to the Russian people. The emergence of a democratic and prosperous Ukraine would invalidate this argument. Democracy would have decisively bridged the continent’s last great civilizational divide, leaving the Kremlin with no more excuses.”

Read alsoInternal destabilization in Ukraine method of Kremlin's hybrid war – PoroshenkoPutin understands the implications of a Ukrainian success story. He must also appreciate that he is now the prisoner of a hybrid war he initiated but can no longer win. Instead, he must wage a war of attrition in which everybody loses. Russia will lurch further into authoritarian isolation while seeking to undermine Western institutions and keep Ukraine as unstable as possible.

Read alsoU.S. officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians – CNNThe only way the region can break out of this grim predicament is if the West dramatically increases its financial, diplomatic, and military support for Ukraine. Noting that Putin is not a rational partner seeking a negotiated settlement, the author says the Russian leader is “a zero-sum dictator trapped in a downward spiral of hybrid hostilities whose future survival depends on the failure of his enemies.”

“Unless he finds himself confronted by the overwhelming might of the democratic world, he will continue the current conflict until his dying day,” the article concludes. “Direct military confrontation with Russia remains unthinkable, but Western leaders must understand that until they show the necessary collective resolve, their Putin problem is here to stay.”

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