Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly has been “wrestling with” the Ukrainian crisis (which is diplomatese for Russia’s low intensity war against its neighbor), yet still “grasping for words” to describe Putin’s “motivations.”
Let me try and help. From the moment the Ukrainian revolution triumphed on February 22, President Vladimir Putin has operated within a three-fold strategic framework: rally the Russian people ‘round the flag to solidify his ratings amidst an unprecedentedly frenzied and brazen anti-Western propaganda campaign as a prelude to a presidency-for-life; slow down and dilute Western sanctions; and humiliate, punish, delegitimize, derail and, if necessary, dismember a West-bound Ukraine.
Having thus far clearly succeeded in the first two objectives, what’s next for the Ukrainian portion of Putin’s menu? Here too, he has progressed very nicely and seems to be on the threshold of two policy options, which would complete his agenda. For Ukraine the better-case scenario, if it can be called that, is that continued provocation of disorder in eastern Ukraine will disrupt the May 25 presidential election and thus deny a newly elected government legitimacy in that part of the country. Putin then would leverage Russia’s sway over the largest cities in the region into pressuring Kiev (along with Western negotiators) into adopting a constitution that would “federalize” Ukraine and turn the Southeast into a de-facto Russian protectorate.
A worse-case scenario could be called the “Libya option.” In this script Moscow would intensify and expand its stealth conquest of Ukraine’s South and East to confront Kiev with a horrible dilemma: either effectively cede its sovereignty over Ukraine’s industrial heartland to a foreign state or, alternatively, fight back and thus precipitate violence, bloodshed and death among its civilians. If the Ukrainian government, like any other government would be expected to do, eventually attempts to regain its sovereignty, then the Kremlin will claim that Ukraine is descending into civil war, declare a “moral obligation” to defend the “innocent civilian lives” and order its 40,000 to 80,000 troops massed on the Ukrainian border since March to invade. As is his wont, Putin will justify his decision by a bogus Western policy “precedent” of the NATO mission against the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011. (He cited the West’s support for the Kosovan independence referendum as a model for the “referendum” in – and annexation of – Crimea).
In the same interview, while “grasping for words,” Mr. Kerry did exhibit something akin to a hermeneutical epiphany when he averred that “You almost feel that [Putin’s] creating his own reality […]. Obviously there’s a plan. And it’s being carried out with a sort of singular resolve, I guess is the way to put it.”
Hold that thought, Mr. Secretary! Better yet, run with it so that you may counter that “plan” and roll back that “reality.”
Follow AEIdeas on Twitter at @AEIdeas.