Vladimir Putin happily allowed the Kiev authorities to shoot a few pro-Russian demonstrators while keeping his military forces on ice across the border. I predicted (and am sticking to my story) that Russia will not seize more territory in Eastern Ukraine–not for the time being, in any case. Russia will stand back and watch Ukraine implode, the way Egypt did during the two years following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Before the Maidan coup, Putin was willing to sit on $15 billion in arrears to Gazprom and put up $18 billion in new money. Now he wants $35 billion in back gas bills, on top of Ukraine’s $15 billion a year current account deficit. The IMF wants massive cuts in subsidies, which will make the Kiev government an object of hatred without putting a dent into the problem. Western taxpayers won’t cough up $50 billion for Ukraine, not even a small fraction of it.
Yankee Doodle went to Maidan, stuck a feather in his hat and called it democracy. Our foreign policy ideologues are like UFO cultists who are so convinced that space aliens are invading the earth that they see moon men in every glare of swamp gas. In this case, it isn’t moon men, but aspiring republicans. First Tahrir Square, then Maidan, were glorious proof of the Manifest Destiny of Western democracy.
A Google search with the terms “Putin” and “genius” yields over 10 million hits. If I hear another pundit’s panegyric to Putin’s great intellect, I’ll lose my lunch. Putin is not that smart; the trouble is that we are complete idiots. When Ukraine imploded, our leaders–from Victoria Nuland at the State Department to the neo-conservatives–rather assumed that we would reverse Ukraine’s polarity to the West, and humiliate Russia with the loss of Crimea. Putin called our bluff, and we had no viable military options.
Putin doesn’t need to send the Red Army into Ukraine. Every Ukrainian officer above the rank of major came up through the ranks in the Red Army. Ukrainian commanders won’t fight the Russians. They are the Russians. Yesterday we watched Ukrainian paratroopers turn their armored vehicles over to Russian separatists. Maybe John McCain can send them more weapons to hand over to Moscow.
Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess: We landed on Park Place fair and square, and that gave us the right to put down a hotel. Never mind that Ukraine is a basket case with a per capital income a tenth that of the European Community, whose best young people (along with some of its worst) have left the country, with a ruined economy and a declining population. Putin isn’t playing by the rules printed on the inside top cover of the board game. He’s another Hitler! Where is our Churchill? It’s a Monty Python remake of Dr. Strangelove. A few provocateurs holding a Russian flag pass out handbills demanding that Jews in Eastern Ukraine register with the authorities, and the whole of the media as well as the Obama administration hyperventilates, until the affair is exposed as a hoax.
The threat, as the great chess theorist Aron Nimzowitsch wrote, is mightier than the execution. Putin will let the West take ownership of the Ukrainian disaster until it festers, and then he will pick and choose what he wants. We will huff and puff and bloviate about Putin, the new Hitler, while Ukraine’s economy disintegrates. Bismarck’s aphorism applies: die ganze Ukraine ist nicht die gesunden knochen eines pommerschen Grenadiers wert.