Poroshenko and the back of Putin's head
Vladimir Putin’s success at intimidating the West and exploiting both his own propaganda resources and the desire of many Western leaders not to stand up to his aggression has led many to conclude that the Minsk agreements represent yet another in a string of political triumphs that points to more of them ahead.
But there are at least five reasons why such dark pessimism now may be just as inappropriate as the unbridled optimism at the time of the Maidan and why what Putin has achieved in Minsk is a Pyrrhic victory at best, one that if he like the Greek general for whom that kind of battle is named seeks to extend will lead to his own defeat or even demise.
Western countries need to remember that, lest they continue to vacillate as they did in much of the Cold War between unreasonable fears of what Moscow can do and equally unreasonable optimism about where Russia is heading. Only by considering these five factors can they craft policies that will help themselves and help Russia by defeating Putin.
First, as Moscow analyst Valeriy Solovey points out on Znak.com today, whatever he has achieved, Putin has permanently lost Ukraine which never will look to Moscow again as it did in the past or live quietly under Russian control, and he has reinvigorated NATO, an alliance that had lost its raison d’etre.
Second, the Russian economy is in almost free fall, something that has been exacerbated but not caused by sanctions and countersanctions but that will not be ended if they are. And that is hitting Putin hard where he can least afford it – forcing his regime to make a ten percent cut in the budgets of the force structures on which he relies.
Third, Putin’s much-ballyhooed “hybrid war” has been revealed as much less powerful than many in Moscow or the West had assumed: it only works, Russian experts say, where there are disaffected Russian speakers but it won’t work elsewhere no matter how much Putin thinks otherwise.
Fourth, a new generation is emerging in Russia, one that does not remember the Soviet empire Putin wants to restore. On the one hand, some of them may back him for a time because they do not remember the horrors of that system. But on the other, over time, as they became the dominant group in the population, they won’t want what he wants and that will have an effect.
And fifth, Russia faces a demographic collapse that makes the construction of Putin’s “Russian world” impossible. He may be driven to try to take in more Russian speakers by the fact that there are ever fewer Russians in Russia, but he has little chance of reversing the country’s demographic decline and even less of slowing its demographic transformation.
Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of that transformation is the increasing size of the Muslim population in a country whose leaders can’t deal with that trend, a trend highlighted in a picture on Facebook today showing plans for a new mosque in Moscow. It is to be called “the Putin Mosque,” a symbol of the unity of the Russian umma but hardly of the unity Putin wants.