Should Putin have been careful what he wished for?
Will Crimea turn out to be a disaster for Putin? At the moment, with Obama looking weak and Putin powerful, that would seem unlikely. But then again, George W. Bush, standing under a Mission Accomplished banner looked pretty macho at the time, only to see triumph turn to ashes in his mouth.
Writing in the UK Spectator (hat tip: Hot Air), Owen Mitchell lays out the case that Crimea will “destroy” Putin. Among his arguments:
Without Crimea, there will never again be a pro-Moscow government in Kiev. Ukraine will have a chance to become a governable country — a strongly pro-European one with a Russian minority of around 15 per cent. Putin will have gained Crimea but lost Ukraine forever. And without Ukraine, as former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski famously said, ‘Russia can no longer be an empire.’
Crimea will also be expensive. Putin has already pledged to build a multi-billion dollar bridge to connect Crimea to Russian territory without going through Ukrainian controlled land.
And Ukraine will be stronger, thanks not only to the loss a pocket of ethnic Russians, but also to the support which has been forthcoming in the wake of Putin’s takeover:
…thanks to Putin’s aggression, there is no shortage of wealthy western benefactors willing to nurse the amputee back to health. The European Union originally presented President Viktor Yanukovych with an Association Agreement that threatened to destroy Ukraine’s rust-belt economy in order to save it: unsurprisingly, Yanukovych went to Moscow for a better offer. But Yanukovych has been overthrown by people power, Ukraine’s new leaders are so serious about austerity that they flew economy class to meetings in Washington, and whatever government emerges from the May elections, there will be few pro-Moscow voices in it. With Crimea gone, Ukrainian politics will no longer be a tug of war between the Ukrainian west and the Russian east: the balance of power tips irrevocably west.
Even worse for Putin, he has now alienated critical constituencies whose support he once had:
But Putin’s biggest problem is not that annexing Crimea will be expensive for the treasury — it is that it will be expensive for Russia’s elite. On the face of it, US and EU sanctions amount to a mere pinprick. But the cost to Russia’s business class will be deep, and come in subtler ways — higher borrowing costs, evaporated international enthusiasm for their share offerings, a sliding stock market, a weak ruble, bad credit ratings. With energy prices sliding too, and Europe pushing hard to find alternatives to Gazprom, Putin is strangling the goose that laid golden eggs in pursuit of an incoherent imperial vision. Russia’s moneyed class will not forgive him.
For the first time in years Russia stands absolutely isolated in the UN Security Council, abandoned even by its old ally China. And former Soviet countries with large ethnic Russian populations — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Latvia — are all suddenly more nervous. Hitherto, the price of their loyalty has been cheap Russian gas. That price will soon go up. The foundations of Putin’s post-Soviet Customs Union have been shaken.
We’ll see. It is at least worth considering whether this victory will turn out to be Pyrrhic. If so, we cannot thank Barack Obama, for Crimea reinforces the disaster of his Syria policy, and leaves the United States weaker than before.