Russia is weaker than it seems — James Sherr



Analysis & Opinion, Featured

Article by: Olena Removska

The international community must acknowledge the fact that the ceasefire in Ukraine has been violated and demonstrate to Russia that there will be continued negative consequences for its actions, says British researcher James Sherr, an analyst at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). In an interview with Radio Liberty, he said he did not consider the Ukrainian law of September 16 (on the special status of the occupied Donbas territories) a disaster.

We all know that changing the status of any oblast in Ukraine is a constitutional change. Neither the Verkhovna Rada nor the president have the right to change it unilaterally. It has to be a constitutional process. Legally, it means that the law is no more than a declaration. It had so much ambiguity, such vague provisions that in practice everything will depend on how certain words of this law are interpreted. Yes, this law is a disappointment but not a disaster. In itself it does not change anything. It is no accident that the militants are not completely satisfied. The Kremlin is more satisfied than the militants.

Speaking of the current so-called truce. Is this the end of the war?

No, it’s very brittle. Besides, this truce is violated every day. And each time there is a violation, it serves as a kind of a test, what Russians call “reconnaissance in force.” This is a way to analyze the intentions, the combat readiness, and the morale of the opponent by means of provocations and military actions. Worst of all, despite all of this, the EU, and the key Western governments are announcing that the ceasefire is supposedly holding. But they should be talking about the violations, about the fact that these violations have an effect and will lead to consequences, that the ceasefire must be respected.

If we’re not talking about the end of the war, and the West still will not provide military assistance to Ukraine, what will be the next steps?

Aside from military matters, the West has no policy other than sanctions. If Ukraine or its closest allies fail to bring about a change in policy of the Western governments, the support will continue to be of a non-military nature. The fact is that the more the sanctions expand, the longer they are in effect, the more devastating their impact will be on the Russian economy. They already are having a very damaging effect. Russia is weaker that it appears.

Even Russia’s defense system is weaker than it seems. The elite forces at the border are limited in number. They add up to around 20,000. They do not have reserves and they are not designed to capture territories. Behind these forces is the bulk of the Russian army. It is numerous but untrained and equipped no better than the Ukrainian one. In contrast to the Ukrainian army, the Russian one has absolutely no motivation.

In principle, of course, the Russians can be in Mariupol within 24 hours. As Putin said, they can “take Kyiv” in two weeks. After all, NATO forces can take a Russian city in less than two weeks. The question is what are the consequences of such actions. Putin is not indifferent to consequences. What happens after such a step? Russia can and could have captured Kyiv in two weeks, but it would not be able to get out.

Do you see any withdrawal path for Putin? After all, in order to resolve this conflict somehow Putin will probably need a way to save face.

We — namely Ukraine and the West — can provide it, but first we need to make Putin understand that he is losing all his advantages through his actions. This means there should be no more talk about possible relaxation of sanctions. Privately, he should be told very clearly that the sanctions will be long-term. Additionally, the West needs to tell Putin that even though it is not giving Ukraine any military assistance, that option, as well as others, remains possible and that (the West) is  seriously considering that option. When he is off balance,  when Putin finds himself in a weaker position, then we can discuss the scope of a diplomatic solution. We need to consider this option.

In my view, the key to finding a solution and the way for Putin to save face would be a declaration, adopted by the government of Ukraine and supported by the West, that Ukraine will not take back Crimea by force. It is not a question of recognizing the annexation — either by Ukraine or the West. But it is worth announcing that we would not use military means. If there is room for negotiations, it would also be worthwhile to open Crimea for normal business, for normal communications — in other words, to stop the blockade of the peninsula. But in exchange, Russia would have to withdraw its armies, stop protecting the separatists, and recognize that Ukrainian territory is indivisible. This would be a framework for negotiations — not today, when Russia feels strong, but tomorrow, if we do everything right, when Russia feels weak. But we must start thinking about this right now.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
Source: Radio Liberty

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  • Dirk Smith

    I’ve thought this all along. Reinforced by the numerous ‘Cargo 200’ caravans back to russia from “training missions” and being a one-dimensional petro state that is corrupt and now enjoying a recession. Expect dissent from within russia to only increase. Perhaps ‘Maidan Moscow’ next spring.

    • jasonca

      how long have you idiots declared Russia is falling, and all it has been doing is rising.

      • Hektor Uranga

        Russia is rising? With a projected growth economy of zero in 2015 and 2016? Record lows for the ruble? Funds for the national pension expropiated to pay for Crimea? Way to go vova! Russia is in deep trouble, wake up!

        • Mykola Potytorsky

          Who cares if Moscow is in trouble as long as Putin is there

          • LorCanada

            Moscow isn’t in trouble, Putin is.

          • Mykola Potytorsky

            The whole rotten core of ruSSia will colllapse just like the cccp, this latter event was the greatest geopolitical event of all time, and this next event of collapse will be greater still.

      • Paul P. Valtos

        Where is it rising? into bankruptcy.

      • Dirk Smith

        Over 50+ billion for the Sochi Olympics, which equals the last three Winter Olympics combined. A domestic airline industry that still utilizes WWII-era planes. (Remember Lokomotiv!!) Russia’s corruption will always maintain it’s third-world status. “Kick in the door and the whole damn structure will fall down.”

  • Larry Steele

    Is everyone forgetting all the people who have died, been killed, murdered by Putin? The situation that Ukraine has been faced with is without question terror from Russia. Putin needs to be brought to justice. That he, or Russia needs an gentlemen’s exit is bullshit. Murder has been committed. Putin is responsible.

  • Black Rhino

    Never underestimate your foe…it is folly to do so.

  • DisqustedWithTheWest

    The only thing weak about Russia is their treatment of neighbors and foreigners. With friends and “fraternal brothers” like that who needs enemies? If I were Kazakhstan, Belarus, or any other country I would want run away from Russia.

    • Edison

      People in Belarus are just as brainwashed as those in Russia. They love Putin.

      • T.

        And you all in this crappy maidanpr are also brainwashed, so what is the difference?

        • DisqustedWithTheWest

          The difference is forcing a neighbor to do what you want because you are militarily stronger. The difference is stealing a neighbor’s property and territory. The difference is threatening to cut off energy to a neighbor because they want to develop other relationships and partnerships. The difference is sabotage within a neighboring country to destroy your neighbor. The difference is defrauding your neighbor’s character by telling lies. And do you expect Ukrainians to want to be friends with Russia? Why? With friends and “fraternal brothers” like that who needs enemies? Murder, theft, envy, deception, coveting, threatening, withholding energy, charging higher prices, corrupting from within, sabotage, are all good reasons to run away from partnership with Russia.

          • T.

            Where are you from, please?

      • Michel Cloarec

        tHEY DON´T HAVE A CHOICE ! Belarus debt to Russia after the last gas price increase force the people to accept Russia´s will .

  • Roman Puzhnyak

    So basically, admit total capitulation when it comes to Crimea and Putler will withdraw from Donbass. Well I believe that was Putler’s plan all along! I sure hope Ukraine will never accept Crimean occupation and will actively persue to free Crimea by any means possible including military confrontation.

    • Edison

      I also hope they use all means possible to get Crimea back. Whatever Putler’s plan was, he obviously didn’t expect the amount of resistance from the west. I think Crimea may be lower priority, but none of the western leaders accept the Crimea for Donbas scenario. There are still plenty of people in Crimea who don’t want to be ruled by Russia, and without a land bridge, it will be difficult for many years support Crimea across the Kerch Straight. If Putin wants a “buffer zone”, half of Donbas isn’t one. The rest of Ukraine will be a major NATO and USA ally, with military gradual buildup.

      • Clive Bridgeman

        Cutting off the water supply to Crimea would be a criminal act. The only defensible way to restore the region is to have FREE and INDEPENDENT Elections for all the people who legally live in Crimea – own or rent property. They MUST have the human right to decide their own future but NEVER under the threat of aggression and punishment by “Green Men” or anyone else. Surely Scotland has proved to the world how things should be done?

        • Edison

          “criminal act” True, but how many times has Russia cut off gas to Ukraine? Doesn’t matter what the reason is. Obviously the referendum wasn’t free and fair, even if the Ukraine constitution would allow it, which it didn’t. So the only difference is the green men [Russian aggression] threat by a more powerful country. Russia won’t compare Crimea to Scotland. Putin will cherry pick only those examples in his favor. But even the Kosovo referendum circumstances don’t come close to Crimea, when you look at the details. Anyway, Ukraine has raised the price of water, but with a huge Russian army at the Perekop Isthmus, they don’t want to do anything drastic. But they have to cut it off beginning of December because that happens every year for three months. So will Putin use it as an excuse for invading Kakhovka?

        • sandy miller

          cLIVE….RUSSIA INVADED AND ANNEXED CRIMEA THEY NEED TO GIVE IT BACK TO UKRAINE ITS RIGHTFUL OWNER. unlike Scottland who had and has a sovereign country…Crimea never was…it either belonged to Turkey, Russia or Ukraine in the last 100 year.If every country started this changing borders the world would be in constant war even with referendums.

  • Paul P. Valtos

    Historically Ukrainians have been looked at by the so called White Russia(Northern/Moscow) as being inferior. From the start after WWI, Ukraine has attempted o forge independence but Lenin and Stalin did not want to loose the breadbasket of Russia. In 1937 to enforce collectivization they shipped hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to Siberia. Those not “relocated” were starved to death on location, 10 million at last count. Forced into cannibalization. After WWII again Ukraine wanted independence but collusion between the Soviets and Polish Communist government forced them to capitulate to Moscow and become again enslaved. Those Ukrainians who were still in Poland were sent back to Russia or sent to repopulate the former German territories in the West. As long as Czar Putin, the Red Czar is in office the only good Russian is a dead one. They are the residue of the Soviet Union with its enslavement of the proletariat, the luxurious living of the Politburo and its aparachnicks no different than the old Czarist nobility and just as corrupt. Solution would be another Ekaterinberg “action” as the Soviets called it but with a new candidate.