Putin Has Won on Ukraine: Is He Savvy Enough to Seize Victory?

Putin’s gains are an embarrassment for Obama, though U.S. options are few.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting in his Novo-Ogaryovo residence, outside Moscow on March 5, 2014.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
March 5, 2014, 4:27 a.m.

Vladi­mir Putin has won. Of the most likely out­comes in Ukraine, the one most per­plex­ing to the United States and most dam­aging to Pres­id­ent Obama’s leg­acy is the status quo.

Putin could ac­cept Obama’s dip­lo­mat­ic “off-ramp:” shift his troops back to their Crimea bases, per­mit in­ter­na­tion­al mon­it­ors, and open re­la­tions with the in­ter­im gov­ern­ment. He also could es­cal­ate, push­ing troops in­to east­ern Ukraine.

But he has little in­cent­ive to either pull back or push for­ward, be­cause the cur­rent state of af­fairs fa­vors Putin in two ways.

First, his troops are de­ployed throughout Crimea, a boon to his ex­pan­sion­ist do­mest­ic polit­ics and an em­bar­rass­ment for the West — par­tic­u­larly for Obama who, as the U.S. pres­id­ent, is Putin’s de facto stop­gap.

Second, Rus­sia’s geo­pol­it­ic­al ad­versar­ies are di­vided on how to re­spond, with Obama push­ing for in­ter­na­tion­al sanc­tions and many of European lead­ers balk­ing over their de­pend­ence on Rus­si­an fuel.

Putin knows that with­draw­ing his troops from Crimea would be a vic­tory for Obama, and that es­cal­at­ing ag­gres­sion would strengthen Obama’s case for mega-sanc­tions. If Putin is savvy, he’ll stay put and seek from this self-cre­ated crisis what he gained in Geor­gia, where Rus­si­an troops have oc­cu­pied north­ern sec­tions of the na­tion since 2008, when he put then-Pres­id­ent George W. Bush in a sim­il­ar box.

How hand­cuffed is Obama? Read this para­graph from Peter Baker’s ana­lys­is in the New York Times:

“For the mo­ment, the White House was fo­cused on pre­vent­ing the con­front­a­tion from es­cal­at­ing. While dis­mayed if not sur­prised by Mr. Putin’s bel­li­cos­ity and jus­ti­fic­a­tion of his ac­tions, Amer­ic­an of­fi­cials took some solace that he said he saw no need at this point for in­ter­ven­tion in Rus­si­an-speak­ing areas of east­ern Ukraine. They were also en­cour­aged by his seem­ing ac­cept­ance of elec­tions in May as a way to le­git­im­ize a new Ukrain­i­an gov­ern­ment and by his de­cision to can­cel a mil­it­ary ex­er­cise near the bor­der. And they de­tec­ted no new in­flux of troops in Crimea.”

When you find “solace” in a Putin prom­ise and en­cour­age­ment in his “seem­ing ac­cept­ance” of demo­cracy, you’re los­ing — big time.

As I wrote the oth­er day, Obama shoulders some blame for mis­judging Putin, just as Bush did be­fore him. Also, Obama’s al­lergy to per­son­al re­la­tions is ex­posed dur­ing a crisis like this, when the pres­id­ent needs to make a tough sell to al­lies like Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. His re­la­tions with much of Europe were strained already over is Bush 2.0 policies on sur­veil­lance and ter­ror­ism. Fi­nally, Obama’s pen­chant for mak­ing threats he can’t or won’t back up (see: “Syr­ia, red line”), while less of an is­sue in re­cent days, is no doubt a factor in Putin’s cal­cu­la­tions.

But the Bush-Geor­gia les­son is in­struct­ive. Re­gard­less of the man or wo­man oc­cupy­ing the Oval Of­fice, Putin will do what Putin does, un­til the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity re­duces its de­pend­ence of Rus­si­an oil and gas, and, when he acts out, unites be­hind tough sanc­tions and/or mil­it­ary ac­tion.

As things stand now in Ukraine, Putin has suc­ceeded to di­vide his en­emies and re­claim So­viet-era ter­rit­ory for Moth­er Rus­sia. Status quo is a vic­tory for him. The ques­tion is wheth­er he’s smart enough to seize it.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4778) }}

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
1 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×