Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Russian Folly

Russia should have stopped with Crimea.

Putin's support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine could be the biggest geopolitical and moral mistake he has made in his reign.

I've made these points before so I won't belabor them again here.

Just to sum up:

When Russia annexed Crimea, it also took away a big part of the pro-Russian electorate from a closely divided country.

The rebels in the east of Ukraine presented an opportunity. By supporting them, Russia wanted Ukraine to embrace a federal constitution with a weak center. This way Russia could still maintain its influence in Ukraine through these autonomous and empowered regions in the east.

Russia miscalculated the response from Kiev. Ukrainian nationalists, already enraged by the loss of Crimea, were not about to sit behind a negotiating table with a new set of rebels in the east. So they moved to ruthlessly crush them.

After a bloody battle, they were about to capture the rebel territories, then Moscow started to provide serious military support to rebels that now appears to go beyond just intelligence and hardware and includes regular Russian forces crossing over the border.

In the end, the rebels and the massive support they got from the Kremlin did nothing for Ukraine, its eastern regions or Russia itself.

Russia is facing increasing sanctions, the rebel war caused thousands of civilian deaths, drastic population flight, and massive damage to the infrastructure of an already poor region.

In the "best case" scenario, if Russia succeeds in pushing the Ukrainian army out of these rebel held territories, the likely outcome is that these eastern "people's republics" will exist in some legal gray zone, shunned by all except Russia. In that outcome, Moscow -already suffering from increasingly heavy sanctions- will have to subsidize these poor, economically isolated regions that were ravaged by war.

Essentially, after supporting the rebels so much, Putin would lose face by seeing them defeated by Ukrainian military. The inertia of his initial political miscalculations of backing the rebels in the first place, made watching their demise unacceptable. Now Russia will sacrifice much just so the phantom people's republics in East Ukraine can preserve their "freedom."

Things are unraveling so quickly that I wonder if any of the major players here -Kiev, Moscow, rebels, America and Europe- have anything resembling a comprehensive strategy or an end-game scenario. Nobody here wants to understand the other side and instead continuously reinforce their own respective versions of reality.

This cycle of incoherent decision making is quickly spiraling out of control and turning into a geopolitical tornado. Its most immediate victims are the people of east Ukraine who face destruction of their homes and cities. In the vicinity, the whole of Ukrainian economy is taking a heavy hit. But the winds are expanding rapidly and soon Russians and Europeans will face the consequences of the sanctions regime.

If hollow political rhetoric could feed the people or fuel the economy, then all of the players involved would currently experience an unprecedented economic boom with all the condemnations and lofty sentiments flying in all directions. Unfortunately the only contact with a flying object that will be felt by all is that of particles of shit that has hit the fan.

This, my friends, is what history spinning out of control looks like. The only question now is how far the shit will fly this time around.

Ideals swirling in untamed minds, start the merciless blades of death. That is the only truth I really know about politics. I am sad about the lives lost.

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