Putin’s Reckless Ukraine Gambit

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Op-Ed Politico
If Putin follows through on his threat to invade Ukraine, the damage to Russia’s relations with the West will be deep and lasting.
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Vladimir Putin’s surprise decision to ask for a Russian-style War Powers resolution from his parliament dramatically ups the ante in the Ukraine crisis and positions Russia for full-scale military action. It also signals Putin’s commitment to use all necessary means—many of which have already been in use in Crimea—to keep Ukraine in Russia’s orbit. If Putin follows through on his threat to invade Ukraine, he will signal yet again that the post-Cold War era that began with the “Velvet Revolutions” of 1989 has ended. The damage to Russia’s relations with the West will be deep and lasting, far worse than after the Russian-Georgian war. Think 1968, not 2008.

President Barack Obama’s handling of the Western response to the Ukraine crisis is now arguably the biggest test of his presidency. It is a crisis that no one anticipated and that the West has been frustratingly divided over since the European Union’s original, misguided attempt to force Ukraine to make an either-or choice about going east or west. For too long we have heard U.S. officials says repeatedly, “The Europeans are taking the lead.” That needs to stop.

Russia rolled over tiny Georgia with ease and the military phase of the crisis ended quickly. Ukraine will pose a much bigger challenge to Russia militarily, and the crisis will be more protracted and take a far less predictable path. The country is badly divided, of course, but anti-Russian sentiments are strong and undoubtedly growing in many parts of Ukraine. The forces of Ukrainian nationalism are on the rise throughout much of the country, provoked by Moscow’s disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty and irresponsible attempts to portray the Maidan revolution as a fascist triumph—patently offensive to a nation that suffered so much during World War II.

We should not take for granted that even in Ukraine’s east and south, where so many ethnic Russians live, that a military occupation will be a cakewalk. Many local residents surely do not want to become Russia’s 90th province. In Ukraine’s west, where the Soviet Army had to fight a protracted counterinsurgency campaign after WWII against Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas, armed resistance is certain to be strong. During the revolution, many army depots and armories were overrun so there are more weapons floating around Ukraine than at any point since 1991. And the leadership of the main instruments of coercion – the Army, the Interior Ministry, and the intelligence service – are all in the hands of political leaders with strong Ukrainian nationalist credentials.

Any invasion—which is what it would be—of a vast country of 46 million in the heart of Europe, sharing borders with NATO allies Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, would pose a major security challenge for the United States and other key European powers. Even without further Russian action, allies such as the Baltic countries will be seeking U.S. reassurance. Lithuania has already asked for Article IV consultations under the NATO Treaty in response to a clear threat to its security. These countries likely will also ask for hard reassurances—such as deployments of U.S. and other allied troops and equipment on their territory—as Turkey did in 2012 when Syria shot down a Turkish jet. They will also need help to shore up their eastern borders and prepare for possible flows of refugees from Ukraine. The Baltic states will probably ask for similar reassurances. One can also expect cyber attacks and intrusions, false alarms and an atmosphere of tension the likes of which have not been seen since the worst days of the Cold War.

Post-revolutionary Ukraine is in bad shape. Its economy is wrecked. Government institutions broke down completely after the Yanukovych government disappeared overnight. Corruption and criminality, Ukraine’s twin scourges, remain basically intact. Thanks to Russia’s unexpected moves in Crimea, the West will now have to put Humpty Dumpty back together on its own. These tasks demand that the president designate a senior point-person for coordinating Ukraine policy in all its complexity. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, one of America’s ablest diplomats and an old Russia hand, is the obvious choice.

The break in the West’s relations with Russia is bound to be deep and lasting. The G-8 will be its first casualty with the Western powers likely to reconstitute the G-7 in its original form as a direct rebuff to Putin. Other important international mechanisms —the U.N. Security Council, ad hoc diplomatic efforts on Syria, the P5+1 process on Iran, the Six-Party talks on North Korea, and so on—will be filled with renewed acrimony and dysfunction. Some may break down entirely. Inevitably, there will be congressional calls for sanctions against Russia, which the White House will be hard-pressed to resist no matter how much it may want to preserve the shreds of cooperation with Russia on Iran, Syria or Afghanistan. The West and Russia are in uncharted waters.

This article was originally published in Politico.

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Comments (12)

  • Paul Sanvi
    Ukraine is a sovereign country, and any other nation can not limit its self-determination. If there is a part of the population that is of Russian origin, the Russian Federation doesn't have the right to intervene. Is it perhaps a danger for the integrity of every nation, that there are Russian people in the population? The dialogue and the cohabitation are the correct roads, other streets are choice wrong.
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  • Tatiana
    The key phrase in this article: "the European Union’s original, misguided attempt to force Ukraine to make an either-or choice about going east or west"

    The whole concept of the European Eastern Partnership was intended not to help the 6 post-Soviet states but to further weaken and isolate Russia. That was a grave mistake that let to this chaos. Had EU added Russia to this list we would have a totally different and positive scenario. So, instead of blaming Putin the logical step would be to repeat the now most famous Nuland's outburst "f**k EU"   

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  • Правозащитник
    Пора умом Путина понимать.
    Пора понять, что 1 и 2 Палаты России - это сломанный механизм
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  • Alla Glinchikova
    I think, president Putin should address to Ukranian people with a statement, which compise the following principle points^
    1. Russia is interested in maintaining the national integrity of Ukrain in favour of peace in the region and is ready to cooperate with all those forces in the west and in Ukrain, who are ready to maintain peace in the region.
    2. Russia should distance from Janukovich and accept the decision of people, which they will take according to legitimate process of illections in Ukrain.
    3. Russia would maintain and contact with all those forces, who are against radicals and nationalists, whose actions lead to the break of territoial integrity and legitimate democratic forces in Ukrain,
    4. Russia would insist that all the money, taken by Janukovich and his family and hidden in the West should be returned to Ukranian people.
    5. Russia would never use it's military forces against Ukranian people by no means and expect the same position from Ukranian people.
    We should be wise, remember our common history and work together in order not to allow any forces out of Russia and Ukjrain to benefit form our common misfortune.
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  • неумный
    На территории Украины не будет мировой войны, это очевидно. А вооруженный конфликт между Россией и Украиной будет или нет, между украинской армией и восточно-южными населениями, между украинской и крымской армиями? Интересно, раньше на виду западные украинцы, антиправительственные партии, а теперь, где они?
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  • Tatiana
    I see my post was censored. I understand this is democracy at work. I thought better at least of Dmitry Trenin.
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  • Walterasgbenjamin@gmail.com
    It is not a surprise to any one since 2003 that Putin and his allies are our enemies and we need to act consequently. To postpone the strategic confrontation with this Russian political system as we did since 2003 with many Munich type actions ( the clearest one was how we let Russian troops in 20 % of Georgia today ) is making the situation worst and worst because we have let this Russian political system that it could survive and even win. Step by step we will bring to a situation of total war against this Russia. These Putin's political system is composed of street gangsters, of thieves and war criminals not so different as the people surrounded Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler or Hirohito -except that the context of XXIst century is totally different . Ethnic Russians are only 110 millions and they have no friends and allies who will fight with them. As it is well described in this article , the Ukrainian nationalism is huge and will resist to Russian foreign occupation . The West , the Islamist countries ( Turkey among them ) and most probably the Asian countries ( included China ) will help them because the military invasion and the occupation of an independent and sovereign country so large as Ukraine will not be accepted.
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  • Jan
    Recent events call for a careful reevaluation of statements made from Poland, Lithuania and other former Ostblock countries on Russia and Russian foreign policy over the last decade. They were routinely dismissed or tempered as blatantly and rabidly russophobic, but now the commentaries on e.g. the Georgian war of 2008 or the Nord Stream controversies, begin to read like a nagging 'I told you so'.
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  • Socrates
    For the last century West applauded Russia only three times - after the Second World War claimed the lives of 20 million Russians, Gagarin and Gorbachev who destroyed the country and caused the devastation of nineties. This is the fate of this country. Therefore, Russia should rationally take from the West what useful, ignore it’s squeals and should not be offended of it’s double standards.
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  • rocky x
    Speechless, Putin needs to clear his mind.
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  • Gennadii Zherebilov
    Crisis in Ukraine
    «He who is friendly with everyone, gets help and protection from everyone»
    It is necessary:
    1 . Immediately to stop violence in Ukraine and to reduce strength round Ukraine.
    2 . Within 2 months to hold democratic presidential elections and the Rada of Ukraine and a referendum about the federal device.
    2 . To the world community to guarantee to citizens of Ukraine fundamental human rights (on life, safety, etc.) and to demand their unconditional execution from the Ukrainian authorities of all levels.
    3.To allocate subjects of Federation with large powers, including on development of international relations. Let the West help one, the East - another, and together - the third. Peace competition will show who made a right choice and becomes an example for others.
    4.To create 3-10 open joint stock companies ("national leaders") in the most profitable branches of the economy which shareholders all citizens/each citizen of Ukraine higher than 14 years shall become (i.e. to create 3D - economy). Creation 3D - economy won't allow an excessive inequality in the income of regions and citizens.
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  • Spyro
    I wish there would be a report on further Russian troop and Naval movement other than in Ukraine. I find myself wondering if Putin has mobilized troops to the borders of other countries other than Ukraine.
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Source http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/03/01/putin-s-reckless-ukraine-gambit/h25m

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