Putin’s Revolution Lacks Strategic Vision

While we make look at the revolution in Kiev which toppled President Viktor Yanukovych as the event which set off the chain reaction leading to the impending loss of Eastern Ukraine, the history books are likely to look back on another revolution – the one taking place within the ideology of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Writing on Reuters, Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations argues that Putin sees himself as an invaluable historical figure who shall be responsible upholding the pursuit of “Russian greatness,” no matter what law (or border) stands in his way:

Moscow is preparing for a lengthy confrontation with the West. After years of defending the status quo, Putin seems to have decided that he is better served by overturning it. Russia has a genius for revolutions. It was convulsed by political change in 1905, 1917 and again in 1991. But while the earlier revolutions were about changing the leadership of the country, Putin’s revolution aims to correct the order around him.

Things are moving and changing very fast in Moscow, but I still believe it is a grave mistake to assume there is always a strategic guiding hand on the process. Putin has made a number of very rash choices and, in many respects, has painted himself into an uncomfortable corner featuring diminishing options.

If he’s determined to continue the course of confrontation, all these bold promises to forge an alternative “Eurasian Union” ring rather hollow after a de facto invasion of a neighbouring state. Trust in Moscow is extremely low from the Baltics to Central Asia, and Putin’s sudden rubbishing of Russia’s non-intervention doctrine is a red flag for both China and Turkey who have their own separatism issues. All these claims that the sanctions are “meaningless,” because Russia can finally “diversify” its economy beyond oil and gas is a joke – innovation cannot flourish under a horribly unfair, corrupt and repressive environment. Just ask Pavel Durov or Sergei Guriev.

Let’s keep in mind that everything happening in Ukraine is a response to a failed Russian strategy by the name of Yanukovych. A year ago, Moscow had put its man in the president’s chair, had given the country a $15 billion loan, and was planning on running the nation with a tight grip. Now Putin has burned almost all the relationships that he had worked the past 10 years to create. Their conduct toward their neighbours now resembles the very worst behaviour of the United States toward Latin America during the Cold War – it hardly radiates statecraft, skill, or soft power – but rather an attempt to rule through fear.

Russia’s decision to seek confrontation with the West does not serve Russian national interests – it only satisfies the emotional needs of a leader facing diminishing options.