Mr. Nice Putin

Noticed a change lately in Vladimir Putin? I have, as this story shows:

Pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine vowed on Thursday to press ahead with a referendum seeking autonomy, a risky move that seemed to defy their political patron, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whose motives in urging a delay in the vote came under furious attack by officials in Kiev.

A day after Mr. Putin scrambled the political landscape by suggesting the vote be put off, militant leaders in Donetsk, Luhansk and Slovyansk said they would go ahead on Sunday as scheduled.

Putin telling his Russian agitators in Ukraine to stop being so agitate-y? What strangeness is this, comrade?

The week before, it was Putin claiming to have pulled the Russian Army back from the Ukraine border and into its barracks. The White House denied any such movement had taken place, but the point remains that Putin was no longer threatening to invade.

Surely this must mean the White House policy of speaking loudly while decrying the existence of sticks was working, da?


Putin isn’t on a timetable here. Once Crimea was his, the rest is just a waiting game. So he can play the nice guy, the patient guy, the “Please, my Russian comrades in Ukraine, don’t do anything rash” guy. Putin’s cronies may, of course, turn up the heat when needed — but Putin has the luxury now of playing a waiting game.

Or as Politico observed:

People keep waiting for the “war” to begin in Ukraine. But a 21st century-style war has already begun here, and may be almost over – something that Vladimir Putin seems to understand even if the rest of us do not.

In a world where Youtube, Twitter and Facebook dominate, the overt “hard power” of guns and bullets is no longer as publicly palatable as it once was. Autocratic states prefer to bankrupt dissidents instead of executing them; NGO workers are not “disappeared” but their offices are shut down for zoning irregularities. Nowadays even dictators have to be “post-modern.”

Putin, schooled in the art of covert power, understands this new world, both instinctively and politically.

This, I hasten to add, is what our President naively believes is a “return” to “19th Century” power politics. Or as I wrote two months ago:

While Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom and Secretary of State John Kerry give stern lectures about Putin’s Neanderthal 19th Century behavior, the Russian strongman redefines warfare for the 21st Century.

Still, it’s nice to know that Politico readers are now only nine weeks behind Longtime Sharp VodkaPundit Readers™.