Putin Just Got Exactly What He Wanted in Eastern Ukraine
Let’s…maybe take a step back here. If you were Vladimir Putin, when the big ball dropped in Times Square (big potato at the Kremlin? Whatever, work with me here) to ring in the year 2014, you had two big hopes for your smaller neighbor to the west, Ukraine:
- Your client, Viktor Yanukovych, would be able to weather the Euromaidan protest storm by conceding just enough to the protesters to keep himself in office
- Ukraine, under the leadership of Yanukovych or another pro-Russian leader, would become an integral part of your planned Eurasian Economic Union
Instead, Euromaidan toppled your
close friend good pal casual acquaintance complete stranger Yanukovych, and your vaunted economic union is just you and, ah, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and, oh, my, I guess that’s the whole crew. Ukraine, meanwhile, may be on a path to joining the EU (well, eventually, maybe). So, I mean, by that definition of “exactly what Putin wanted” with respect to any part of Ukraine, he’s batting 0-for-2.
I’m not sure what TNR or the piece’s author, Linda Kinstler, were expecting to happen in Ukraine, but it’s clear that what did happen was Bad, and it was all part of Putin’s Master Plan:
The “frozen conflict” that Russia has been angling for in Eastern Ukraine effectively begins today. The Ukrainian parliament approved two bills put forward by President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday morning, offering amnesty to rebels not guilty of serious crimes and granting three years of self-rule to rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk.
The bills are huge concessions to Russia and Russian-backed rebels. The decision to grant rebels self-rule, for example, makes official the results of the illegal referendum held in the east in May, when the separatists claimed to have secured nearly 90 percent of the people’s vote in favor of autonomy. British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the May referendum “illegal by anybody’s standards.” The Kremlin called for it to be immediately implemented. Four months later, look who got their way.
Yes, well, that’s kind of what happens when you lose a civil war, isn’t it? I mean, in our zeal to be the best Russophobes on the block, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Poroshenko could have ended the fighting weeks ago when his army was winning, and likely gotten a much more favorable deal, but he chose to keep fighting to the bitter end. Hey, it was a gamble, and when you gamble, you risk taking a loss. Maybe the rebels played unfair by getting some help from Russia along the way, but at the end of the day it’s not “how” that matters, it’s “what,” and the “what” here is that the rebels won.
It’s hard to look at all this and not get the feeling that those who died fighting for Ukraine gave their lives for naught.
Indeed it is, considering that they’ve traded one mostly inept neo-liberal oligarch for another, slightly more western, mostly inept neo-liberal oligarch. But I’m guessing that’s not where Kinstler was going with that thought.
On Tuesday, Poroshenko triumphantly held up on the floor of the parliament Ukraine’s EU Association Agreement—the same agreement whose rejection by former President Viktor Yanukovych spurred protesters to gather on the Maidan. But at a summit on Friday, the E.U. agreed that it won’t be fully implemented until 2016. According to Simon Shustry, the Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, who hosted the summit, pointed out that delaying the agreement is precisely what Russia hoped to get out of Ukraine before thousands of people died in the conflict.
Well, again, not really. What Russia hoped to get out of Ukraine before all the fighting started, precisely, was for Ukraine to join its economic union, not the other economic union. A delay is preferable to Putin than immediate entry but a. immediate entry into the EU was never on the table for Ukraine and b. again, this is the kind of thing that happens when you lose a war.
But Poroshenko’s government cannot survive should it keep pushing forward with its “anti-terrorist operation” in the East, especially now that its Western partners have made it abundantly clear they are not willing to go to bat for Ukraine.
Let’s bear in mind that “go to bat for Ukraine” in this context probably means “go to war with Russia,” and then let’s all scratch our heads and try to figure out when Eventheliberal New Republic went collectively insane.
What Putin has won is direct Russian control of Crimea and proxy control of a part of Eastern Ukraine, from which he can, if he wants, try to keep Ukraine unstable. Neither one of those things would have been desirable if his man in Kiev had stayed in power. In exchange for that, he’s also gotten a breakdown in relations with the West, sanctions against some of his best oligarch pals and their companies, the bill for building an entirely new infrastructure for Crimea, and probably a NATO “rapid reaction force,” whatever that will mean, pretty close to his doorstep. Admittedly, he’s also won a considerable amount of domestic political love, but on the other hand the next time Ukraine elects an even slightly pro-Russian president will be well after Vlad Putin has shuffled off this trash heap. All in all, I think it would be better to say, “Given the total implosion of his previous plans, Putin didn’t completely lose everything in Eastern Ukraine.”