More Gossip

Here’s some more gossip I thought I’d pass along. This comes from two high school classmates of mine (we took Russian together, were in the same homeroom for four years, etc.). Both resided and worked in Russia and/or Ukraine for decades. The first is from a classmate who as it happens is married to a Russian woman as well as speaking Russian fluently and having resided and worked there for a substantial period:

…[my wife] and I both agree that Putin is (literally) crazy, and that it’s next to impossible to predict what a crazy man will do. We both fear that he will take some sort of military action involving Ukraine. We are hoping that he is bluffing – and that NATO can call his bluff by, for example, supplying lethal offensive weapons to Ukraine. But, truly, nobody knows what’s in the mind of Putin and his inner circle.

Putin has an extreme inferiority complex regarding the image of Russia, never getting over the disgrace of the implosion of the USSR. Russia’s military has long been its primary claim to honor and glory. While possible, it is highly unlikely that the 100,000+ troops amassed along Russia’s border with Ukraine will simply withdraw without some sort of (further) incursion into Ukraine’s territory.

In addition to Russia’s current de facto occupation of the Donbass – while claiming only to be supporting Ukrainian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts with (at a minimum) armaments and advisers, plus distributing Russian passports to separatists and non-combatants alike – Russia is still struggling to find a source(s) of water for the Crimean peninsula, which has an inadequate water supply for its inhabitants and which – pre-annexation – obtained its water from the Ukrainian mainland.

There is also Putin’s oft stated possible quest to reunite Russia – like with Crimea – with Novorissisk, a historically Russian-speaking part of the pre-Soviet Russian Empire stretching within the borders of Ukraine from Mariupol to Odessa. Putin often decries the “discrimination” against Russian speakers living outside of Russia in places like Donbass – and, of course, also like the Baltic Republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Russia’s claim of having been previously deceived by NATO has more than a little validity. George H. W. Bush and James Baker made some relatively clear statements – at the time of reinstating the GDR into a reunited Germany – that NATO would not move eastward into the Soviet Union’s “near abroad”. Not only was NATO membership extended to nearly all of the former Warsaw Pact members: Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, but also to 3 of the 15 former Soviet Socialist Republics of the USSR – Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. After NATO’s subsequent political overtures to Georgia and Ukraine, one might agree that there is more to Putin’s “drawing red lines in the sand” than just his paranoid bluff and bluster.

Lastly, Putin – and his coterie of kleptocrats and oligarchs – rightfully have serious concerns that the bad example of Ukraine’s movements toward establishing democracy and fighting corruption is already giving “wild ideas” to the millions of Russians living in an autocratic state under Putin’s control. There are serious domestic problems in Russia exacerbated not only by Alexey Navalny (even while in prison) and rampant inflation, but also by the foreign sanctions on Russia (in place already for some time) and by Russia’s global image becoming more and more like that of a pariah. In his worldview, Putin cannot afford allowing something very bad to become even worse by failing to keep a rogue Ukraine under control. Putin’s annexation of Crimea occurred after the regime change in Ukraine in 2013 when the Ukrainian President Yanukovych fled Kyiv for sanctuary in Russia. Further reforms in Ukraine could similarly trigger nervous reactions in Moscow, even including resort to military force enabled by troops along the border.

The other is from another classmate who lived and worked even longer in Russia:

…there is perhaps a 60% likelihood that Russia will indeed invade Ukraine, and only a 10% possibility that Putin will accept some deal with the U.S. and NATO, perhaps on the basis of resumed arms control negotiations and a suspension of ABM deployments. However, I recognize that there is something like a 30% possibility that it will be neither or none of these outcomes, including perhaps a 1% possibility that Putin will be replaced or will lose power. But even with it more likely than not that Russia will start an incursion into Ukraine, it is not certain what that will be or will become. Putin might push to set up a new government in Kyiv, but that depends on Russian and Byelorussian forces being able to advance quickly. If the Ukrainians put up sufficient resistance, it may force Putin to rethink his strategy although he is unlikely to stop until he can claim a victory of some kind.

For what it is worth.

4 comments… add one
  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    What I have noticed.

    The head of the German navy resigned after “inappropriate comments” where he stated his actual opinion — I will take the comments as reflective of a substantial portion of German policy makers.

    Some of it is realistic, “Crimea is gone”. Ukraine doesn’t meeting NATO membership requirements because Donbass is occupied, having Georgia join NATO is not “smart”, that Putin is doing this to split the EU, and because he can. Some of it is unrealistic, that Putin wants most of all is respect; that it is important to have good relationship with Russia to keep China on its toes.

    It is unrealistic because if one takes Putin seriously, he stated his demands; and it isn’t respect. I think its also unrealistic that having a “good” relationship with Putin is going to keep China on its toes. My view is NATO made a mistake antagonizing Russia and Putin from the 90’s until now, and now its too late, Putin is antagonized. Putin has found a working alternative in the CCP and I don’t think he going to move away from that relationship even if the relationship with the “West” improve. And things are different between China and Russia now vs China and Russia in 1969. The share a much shorter border (with no border disputes), they don’t fight about the ideological legitimacy to lead the communist order, and economically the complement each other.

    The other tidbit was watching Canada news analysis. I was surprised they devoted quite a bit of time to Russia (usually whenever foreign news is discussed in Canada, its something about the US). They have an interesting view as the other non-European member of NATO, and their Quebec commentators reflect French discourse. I noticed a couple of things — they all noted the gap between France, Germany and the US; that this will be solved by the “big boys”; that there’s no political will to put “boots on the ground” for Ukraine but also a lot of concern on any invasion on stability to Eastern Europe, and confusion as to whether the best course is to avoid escalation and being forceful in deterring Russia from destabilizing actions.

  • My view is NATO made a mistake antagonizing Russia and Putin from the 90’s until now, and now its too late, Putin is antagonized.

    Agree completely. I opposed the first round of NATO expansion. It was an unforced error. Doubling down is piling insult on top of injury.

    I was contemplating writing a post about Germany’s brinkmanship. Why oh why are we pursuing Germany’s foreign policy goals rather than our own?

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    I didn’t know where to put this; but Germany is in a difficult spot. They some reasonable explanations driving their policy, but others aren’t.

    For example, German legacy from WWII (and WWI) means its rather bad symbolically to confront Russia, and arming Ukraine would give Russia credence about “neo-Nazis” with respect to Ukraine.

    Also, reluctance about NATO expansion, wariness of antagonizing Russia, those are all sensible instincts.

    I think where all the problems lay is the perception (and reality from its actions) that Germany prioritizes its economic relations with states hostile to the “rules based order” over the security needs of its treaty allies.

  • IMO Germany’s “difficult spot” is entirely of its own making.

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