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Putin’s Military Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy

Russian aggrandisement in Easter Ukraine appears to be continuing unabated despite EU sanctions. President Put in’s policy of ‘implausible deniability’ appears to have a sufficient amount of implicit threat to cower some EU leaders into an almost appeasement-style foreign policy.

Whilst hardline opponents of Putin, such as Poland and Lithuania. call for military involvement in Eastern Ukraine, others such as Hungary and Greece have a far more prevaricatory stance. Like many EU foreign policy issues with twenty eight Member States involved, finding a common position of any real substance is akin to  herding cats. This is precisely why Putin can act almost spontaneously in his foreign policy concerning Russia’s ‘near abroad’.

Yet, EU leaders act as if they are dealing with a statesman who will act rationally when faced with diplomatic criticism.  Putin’s room for manueovre is severely limited mainly because he has few options that would be accepted by the Russian populace because of economic and social duress. In many respects Putin needs a militaristic foreign policy to shore up his increasingly authoritarian position.

Like Serbia’s Milosovic, post-Leninist  authoritarianism needs some form of ideological foundations to survive. Fervent nationalism and a cult of personality are a toxic mixture that can underpin a regime for a substantial period of time. In some respects sanctions can be counter-productive (in the short-term). They allow Putin and by extension, Russia, to be discerned domestically as the victim. Fostering a siege-mentality also binds many in society to share a common position.

Putin thrives on global attention, he sees the Crimea and eastern Ukraine as reminders of Soviet/Russian power. The Ukrainian situation allows him to represent Russia as a highly significant military power without being directly accused of territorial invasion. A diagnosis of (military) Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy is entirely justified under present circumstances. Yet Putin’s position is becoming vulnerable because of the structure of the Russian economy and its dependence on energy prices.

Russia imports nearly all of its industrially produced goods. A historical reliance on the export of commodities has not been converted into a mixed economy with a large domestic manufacturing base. A combination of very low oil prices, as well as a European emphasis on energy conservation, renewable sources/security of supply concerns have been a triple whammy for Russia. The Russian economy cannot avoid a high-cost depression if it continues with its current export policy.

Yet Putin does not appear to have a viable alternative strategy to either reversing the damage to the economy or withdrawing from eastern Ukraine. In other words he is currently backed into a corner with little alternative but to continue as before. Whilst some sabre-rattlers call for enhanced military intervention backed by US forces, little thought has been given to helping Putin to get out of the strategic cul de sac he has found himself in.

It is clear there is popular support for anti-Ukrainian policies in Donetsk and Luhansk. It is a fact of life that Russian culture and language are the dominant social values in the two regions.It is also clear that a de facto transfer of populations has already taken place and the impasse between the two sides in Ukraine has been exacerbated.

Ukraine cannot be seen to allow its two rebellious regions to secede and, no doubt, eventually be absorbed into Russia.  Nor as far as the international community to allow the spectre of border disputes to erupt in modern day Europe. There are too many historical disputes that have been buried deeply by the post-second world war settlement as to international borders. Since the Minsk agreement between all sides in the dispute is disrespected, it is time for efforts to find a peaceful and sustainable solution to be stepped up.

Why it has not been a matter for the United Nation’s Security Council to seriously discuss is puzzling. It is time for all sides to acknowledge that Donetsk and Luhansk are fundamentally different to all other provinces in Ukraine. That Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be preserved and that  masquerading Russian troops will have to withdraw. Yet, the Russian-speaking population will need to have their security concerns addressed.

At present the regional commanders in Luhansk and Donetsk are the tails wagging the dog in both Kiev and Moscow. It will take a big effort by Putin to rein in the rebels he has unleashed. He certainly can’t be seen, domestically, to abandon them without serious diplomatic cover. However, an ongoing festering sore tainting Russian foreign policy generally is not in Putin’s interest either. A UN-brokered peace deal with full security council backing is probably the best way out for all parties. Blue helmets on the ground overseeing the border between Russian and Ukraine would be a start. A ‘safe transit’ route to the Crimea (not a land corridor), within Ukrainian territory would also enhance security.

Devolution of powers from Kiev to Donetsk and Luhansk would also be a central part of any peace agreement. It would be interesting to see the role of China in such a brokered solution. Of all of the major powers, China has the most interest in advancing territorial integrity as a global political concept.  With Putin re-orientating some of his foreign policy objectives to better relations with Beijing, China could be the key to deescalating the simmering conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Certainly, it appears that the EU cannot hold a common line that is sustainable, authoritative and, alas, could be decisive.

  1. I think that everybody in civilized world should be the “hardline opponent of Putin”. It is a tragedy that president of a country such great and powerful as Russia is a man with mentality and character of small provincial mafia-trader of demobilized stuff ( do you remember his “survival stuff shops”?), without any majesty and honour. More than 5 thousands deads in Ukraine! Not enough?! He could buy Ukraine and Crimea several times, but only one job he has mastered it is blood and hate.
    What to do? You are political leaders, try invent the just solution.

    Comment by Barbara P. on February 4, 2015 at 2:43 pm
  2. Wake up, political leaders in Europe, in USA and in the World, if you are truly leaders and if you understand this responsibility. If not, why are you a leader, why I should go with you! If you permit putin to do everything and to kill people in 21st century, then you are not a leader and you are putin’s supporter! If you are leader you should call everything its real names and act as a truly leader. And you should not wait, because every moment is someone’s life in Ukraine! Do not be afraid of a fair decision and if you need our ordinary people’s support you have it.

    Comment by nino on February 5, 2015 at 4:24 pm
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