Putin is making a formative statement to the world as to his power – Wynnyckyj

A float in Duesseldorf features a a papier-mache caricature of Russian President Vladimir Putin flexing his muscle with the word 'Crimea' written on it. Reuters

A float in Duesseldorf features a a papier-mache caricature of Russian President Vladimir Putin flexing his muscle with the word 'Crimea' written on it. Reuters 

2015/03/18 • Analysis & Opinion

Article by: Mychailo Wynnyckyj

Thoughts from Kyiv – 17 March 2015

March 16 was a turning point. On this day, Putin came out of hiding – both literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, Putin’s 11 day absence from public view ended during a press conference with the President of Kyrgyzstan. Although many in Ukraine and Russia believe that the man who appeared before the cameras in St. Petersburg yesterday was not really Putin, but rather a cleverly disguised double, I’ll leave that conspirological speculation to others. Double or not, the man who reappeared in St. Petersburg yesterday affirmed himself as the Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s military, and just to make sure there were no doubts as to this status, he suddenly ordered full scale training exercises for 38 thousand soldiers in the country’s vast western military region and in the northern fleet. For the record, this abrupt mobilization also includes almost 3.5 thousand units of artillery and armor, 55 ships and submarines, and 110 aircraft. The following day, sources within the Russian Defense Ministry reported that the training would include the transfer of Tu22M strategic bombers (capable of carrying nuclear weapons) to Crimea and Kaliningrad, and deployment of Iskander medium range ballistic missiles (also possibly nuclear tipped) to Kaliningrad – within easy range of the three Baltic states, most of Poland (including Warsaw), and even eastern Germany.

Putin’s figurative “outing” occurred on Sunday with the airing of a 2.5 hour film entitled “Crimea: Road to the Homeland”. The film was widely advertised and broadcast on Rosiya-1 in prime time. Putin’s persona was featured extensively. He proudly boasted of having commanded the military operation aimed at “returning Crimea”, justifying it as necessary because Russia “could not abandon the territory, and the people who live there, to be crushed by (Ukrainian) nationalists.” Furthermore, the Russian President stated outright that he had been prepared to use nuclear weapons “to protect Russia’s interests in the region” if the West had protested his invasion of Crimea too vigorously.

As former KGB General, and former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yevhen Marchuk has suggested, the absence of Putin from public view, and his sudden return to the limelight in both the physical and virtual sense were not coincidental. The Russian President is making a formative statement to the world as to his power. Many in Ukraine (and beyond) are very worried as to the consequences.

Putin’s “documentary” film (hosted and produced by Andrey Kondrashov – the political commentator of state TV channel “Rossiya”) begins with a short interview with the Russian President during which he recounts having organized the extraction of his Ukrainian counterpart from Ukraine after the latter’s ouster from power. It is during this first segment that Putin admits, in passing, to having given the order during the early morning hours of February 23 “to four colleagues” to begin planning the subsequent annexation of Crimea to Russia. According to Putin’s account, this order was not a part of a pre-planned military operation as many in Ukraine have claimed (Ukraine’s SBU has stated that Russia began plans for Crimea’s annexation as early as 2004), but rather was precipitated by the need to rescue Yanukovych “from violent fascists”. Later in the film Putin proudly states that he personally commanded all aspects of the Crimean military operation, and that it was for this reason that it was successful: “You know what our major advantage was? It was in the fact that I participated in this personally. Not because I had thought everything through, but rather because when the top person in the country is giving the orders, it’s easier for the executors to work. They feel it, and understand that they are executing orders, not acting haphazardly” (quote from 1:13:30 onwards).

Besides bragging as to his personal competency as a commander, Putin also seems to have used the opportunity of this widely publicized film to ridicule his former Ukrainian counterpart. Apparently on February 22, Yanukovych called Putin to tell him that he would be going to Kharkiv for the meeting of the “Ukrainian Front” – an association of elected representatives from the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine organized by Kharkiv governor Mykhailo Dobkin, and widely believed to have represented a platform for separatism. Apparently Putin advised Yanukovych not to go, or if he truly believed he had to go, to strengthen security in the capital (which Putin laments, Yanukovych did not do). What is interesting in this account is the fact that Putin claims Yanukovych called him to ask advice and/or to report on his planned movements within Ukraine (one can hardly believe Presidents of sovereign states call one another regularly to ask their counterparts’ opinions on such issues as attendance at conferences in another city within their own countries). With this account Putin seems to have confirmed what many in Kyiv believed: by mid-February 2014, Yanukovych was no more than a puppet of the Russian President, who reported to his master regularly, and even asked advice as to whether to travel from Kyiv to Kharkiv. Putin’s assessment of Yanukovych ends with an implied assessment of the former Ukrainian President as weak: apparently in conversation with Putin, Yanukovych admitted that “his hand could not move” to sign an order to use force to disperse the Maidan protesters. Of course, this claim raises more questions than it answers: if Yanukovych was too weak to give the order, and he was completely subservient to the Kremlin at the time, can this be interpreted as a veiled admission by Putin of his own responsibility for the sniper attack on 20 February? Many in Kyiv are convinced the snipers were Russian, but there has been no public evidence (even circumstantial) of direct Kremlin involvement until now.

However, it is clear that Putin is not fully truthful in his recollection of events at the time. According to the Russian President, Yanukovych’s life was in danger after his private jet was not allowed to leave Donetsk on February 24. Then, the Ukrainian President’s motorcade was apparently shot at, as he traveled southwest from Donetsk, and so Yanukovych was picked up by a Russian helicopter on the coast of the Azov Sea, and transferred to Crimea. Eventually he was evacuated to Russia, but Putin does not go into the details of how this occurred. We now know from SBU reports that Yanukovych fled on a naval vessel of the Russian Black Sea fleet after most of his personal bodyguards refused to continue to protect him from Ukraine’s new authorities. Furthermore, there is no evidence of the Presidential motorcade ever having been fired upon. Yanukovych’s claims as to former Parliamentary Speaker Rybak having been attacked in late February were refuted by Rybak himself. It is possible that during Yanukovych’s multiple phone calls to the Russian President he embellished the situation somewhat (perhaps due to panic), in hopes of securing rescue from the Kremlin.

As I write this review, it has been brought to my attention that Roger McDermott has just published an excellent synopsis of “Crimea: Road to the Homeland” in the Jamestown Eurasia Daily Monitor. I will not repeat his points here. However, from a Ukrainian perspective there are three additional observations worth adding:

1) This propaganda film presents an official reiteration of the Kremlin’s latest drive to revise Ukrainian history (or to reaffirm its Russian version), and to demonize the West (specifically the US). The myth of Khersones in Crimea (rather than Kyiv) being the site of St. Volodymyr’s Christening (i.e. the start of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus) was mentioned in the film in passing, but more ominously, when discussing the Maidan, the Russian President emphasized repeatedly that Ukraine’s “revolution” was in fact a western inspired and funded coup d’etat, whose protagonists were trained in Poland, Lithuania and “other NATO states”. When discussing the clashes between Russian and Ukrainian military units in Crimea, the film identifies the Ukrainian Marines as apparently having received training in 8 NATO countries (presumably as part of the Partnership for Peace initiative), and therefore assumed by the Russians to having been under NATO command. Clearly, in Putin’s mind (and from his facial expressions it is clear that he is not simply mouthing words), Poroshenko and the entire post-revolutionary Ukrainian government is fully controlled by NATO, and more specifically by the United States.

2) As many have mentioned, Putin is quite forthright in the film about his readiness to have used nuclear weapons if his “western colleagues” had protested his actions in Crimea during the spring of 2014 with greater vigorousness. Indeed, the Russian President’s statements were strengthened by the authors of the film who recounted a story about the USS Donald Cook, an American guided missile destroyer (armed with Tomahawks), that had been dispatched to the Black Sea in April 2014 on a training mission, and was forced to move away from the Crimean coast by the Russians. This episode in the film begins (1:25 onwards) with Putin displaying his extensive knowledge of military hardware while explaining the capabilities of the “Bastion” coastal defense missile system (one doubts any US President gets enthralled by military “toys” to the extent Putin clearly does). Apparently, this rocket system was deployed by the Russians in Crimea at the end of March, and its guidance system (called “Monolit”) tracked the USS Cook as soon as she entered the Black Sea. According to the film’s account, as soon as the crew of the American ship realized the Russians had them in their sights, they made a very abrupt turn to manoeuver out of missile range. Russian Black Sea Fleet Commander Admiral Vitko laughingly recounts how according to press reports, 10 of the USS Cook’s crew resigned immediately after their tour to the Black Sea ended, not least due to stress caused by having been sighted by the Russians’ missile radar system, and the ship having been buzzed by a Russian Su-24 on 12 April 2014 (incidentally, in the film Putin claims that the deployment of air power against the USS Cook was not sanctioned by him personally – apparently this was “hooliganism” on the part of local commanders).

3) In sharp contrast to his previous denial of direct Russian involvement in the Crimean operation, in this film Putin brags forthrightly about having ordered his special forces to disable all secure communications between Kyiv and Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, about having given personal instructions to Russian commanders on the ground who were tasked with encouraging Ukrainian military personnel to commit treason, and about the supposedly spur-of-the-moment character of the operation that he personally commanded. In other segments Putin boasts about the role of Russian forces in “securing the peace during the referendum”, about their role in securing control over Simferopol airport, and in guarding (occupying) the Crimean Parliament in the run-up to its decision to proclaim independence. According to the Russian President, all of this was accomplished “legally” because the official limit of 20 000 Russian troops which the Black Sea Fleet base lease agreement with Ukraine allowed for was never overstretched. However, Putin neglects to admit that this agreement allowed for the basing of Russian troops in the city of Sevastopol only – not throughout Crimea (I have written elsewhere that stretching the truth in this way is equivalent to justifying an occupation of Cuba by the US on the basis of the Guantanamo Bay lease agreement). This film is full of similar truth-stretching – most poignantly with respect to its repeated interpretation of the Revolution of Dignity as a “nationalist coup”, and of post-2014 Ukraine as a “fascist state” (both of these claims are too ridiculous to even warrant comment).

It is worrying however that reinterpretation of facts is not only prevalent in Kremlin discourse, it is used as a justification for continued aggression. Today, during his meeting with the all-Russian committee responsible for organizing the celebrations and ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Putin equated the “Soviet people” with “Russians”, and accused those who spread “cynical lies about the war (of) aiming to undermine the power of modern Russia”. Apparently, such states have forgotten the lessons of the war, and now seek the impossible – to emasculate Russia. Putin will not let this happen. And that, my friends. is scary…

Whether his “American colleagues” (the sarcastic term Putin uses to refer to the state he considers Russia’s “real” enemy or nemesis) realize it or not, Russia’s President seems determined to renew the cold war. And his version could easily get very hot very quickly. As journalist Vitaliy Portnikov has pointed out, the past few days have demonstrated clearly, in this conflict we are not fighting against an enemy, but against the craziness of an enemy…

God help us!

Mychailo Wynnyckyj PhD

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

  • puttypants

    Wow…great article and Putin is truly the most frightening person of the 21st. Century. It’s obvious the west will have to fight russia. He’s a meglomaniac!!!

    • kievjoy

      The west won’t until it’s too late. Rusia isn’t a Muslim country and they seem to be the only ones they are centering on.

  • Roger Mikael Klang

    “…and deployment of Iskander medium range ballistic missiles (also possibly nuclear tipped) to Kaliningrad – within easy range of the three Baltic states, most of Poland (including Warsaw), and even eastern Germany.”
    The Russians could easily deploy Iskander-M in för instance Pskov just east of Estonia and still beeing able to hit any part of Baltic territory. They wouldn’t make themself worries about transporting Iskander-M through Belarus and Lithuania or by sea to Kaliningrad for that. Poland is not yet a neighbouring country to Russia and Germany is unlikely to be hit by the Russians. That leaves us – Sweden – as the probable target for the Kaliningrad based Iskander-M. Look at a map and Think!

    • kievjoy

      They haven’t only got the missiles in Kaliningrad, they have them in Crimea and within easy range of other countries on their borders, including the baltic countries. Why do you think Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and others are hiking up the defenses on their borders.

      • Roger Mikael Klang

        What are you talking about kievjoy? Iskander-M is used with different warheads. Have they used them? That would be difficult with the sixth generation Warfare. Of cource I see the threat to the Baltic states. Probably not Poland right now. Sooner are areas in Sweden a coordinated target with the Baltic states. How can you not see that? Look at a map! But you need basic knowledge to see it. I’ll give you a hint. Ground-to-air missiles, the Island of Gotland and The possibility for Nato to come to the aid of the Baltic states.

        • kievjoy

          Come to Ukraine and see what Russia is doing, then you might think twice. Most countries including us and Poland have nuke capable missiles on our borders.

          • Roger Mikael Klang

            Yeah. And they have a range that include Stockholm from Kaliningrad as Iskander-M can carry nuclear warheads.

          • Roger Mikael Klang

            You know, I am on Ukraine’s side. But you sir are insulting me. The world reaches beyond Poland and Baltikum. It wouldn’t Hurt to visualize Russia’s geostrategy over Finland, Norway and Sweden. Nordkalotten is another geostrategicly important area for the Russians. That is West of Murmansk. There is oil on the Norwegian and Russian shelf.

            And you should worry about Russias conventional forces. Not Iskander-M at your border. We wouldn’t face sixth generation warfare and therefor it is more likely that Iskander-M is used against us. Border or no border with Russia doesnt matter with Iskander.

          • Roger Mikael Klang

            Rosa Krause
            The Americans did that? And here I thought it was the Libyans all the time.

          • Victor Sald

            that guy talking about the Russian military as old and non experience is a joke, the facts are that Russia is the 2nd world arm exporter, they have over 1500 tactical nukes hidden who knows where that can travel over 9k miles, military satellites, subs that are even coded black holes, state of the art defense systems, state of the art electronic warfare ( if you don’t believe look for the incident with the su-24 and the aegis warship in the black sea) and don’t give me wrong the us have the same or even more but in this time and technology you don’t need soldiers fighting in ground or training its all about technology, missiles high range precision weapons, nukes etc. and yes be realistic about what happened to Libya, Irak, Kosovo and soon Iran if not curved, who cares who have more or less, the point here is that no war ends in party and keep in mind that god forbids if the US and Russia go to war, its called MAD mutual assurance destruction live in peace by respecting others.

          • Roger Mikael Klang

            With other Words, You are threatening the US with nuclear warfare? Russia should start respecting others, Yes! Other nations than the only superpower there is. Small nations in Russia’s periferi for instance.
            I Think that you don’t Think about God and what He wants at all, since you spell God as god without the capital G.

          • kievjoy

            Worry about America, you have to be joking. They’ve done sod all to help Ukraine in the way it’s needed.

          • kievjoy

            There is no such place as Novorossiya. Funny most of the tanks and missile launchers that the Russians have aren’t being used by the Ukrainian side at the start cos they didn’t have them. If America wants to start a war with Russia, why aren’t they here now. It would be no problem to start a war with you. It’s taken a year to take some of the occupied areas, i’d hardly call that fleaing. At the beginning it was easy for Russia cos we weren’t ecpecting it, 2 days after the presidential elections. Those two cities were taken over easily because there was hardly any military there to start with. Who or what is OTAN, not heard of that one before. i’ve asked a few of my Ukrainian friends and they’ve not heard of them either. if it’s the Ukrainian side of the border, Ukraine can go where they like.

  • Azuolas

    Good article!

  • Charles J. Kollman

    Yes very good article. This meaning Putin is a game with a step by step plan. This plan did not just come about, it has been in the works for a long time years. I have believed now for some time why things are taking place as they are meaning with Putin and why The US. has taken the hard position against Putin in his second term as President as it has. I believe that The US. had insider information on Putin, but did not talk openly about it. The US. is not like Russia or the past Soviet Union to show off it’s weapons of war in a yearly parade. The US. does not brag about it’s weapons like Russia. The US. does not tell the world what it’s military is really doing where it is and where it is going and how, but Putin does trying to but fear in people. Russia may have a large military meaning people and others to fill their place. The Russian Soldiers are poorly trained and have no real combat experience as does The US. Russia showed how bad and fucked up they were when they went into Georgi. Yes they show in a parade modern weapons and sharp looking troops, but this is it. Most of their equipment is old outed broken down shit. Russia has one Aircraft Carrier made in 1992 The US. has ten on duty station. If Putin does not think that The US. does not have sub’s in the Black Sea ready to take out the Russian Black Fleet he better think again. This Tyrant is rally not smart all the time saying no Russians or Russian equipment went into Ukraine. This is not 1945 it is 2015 and the US. can see from the sky to bugs fucking on a tin roof, so why would the US. not see Russians and equipment in Ukraine. Well Mr. Putin if you want war let it start here. This Tyrant has got to be put in his place and the sooner the better.

    • Charles J. Kollman

      I believe Putin wanted himself to look good his first term. Then came President Medvedev and all was going good. Oh yes he was hand picked by Putin. Do you think that Putin pulled his strings or was he his own man. Oh yes you know Mr. Yeltsin also? Yes it is said that now and then he would take a drink or two. Did he hand pick Putin to be PM. you must be that you know first in Russian Constitution to fill the empty position of President. Now you make me think that when Yeltsin pick Putin did he at the time have all his faculties or in picking Putin was this a casualty for the people of Russia. The outstanding and on going problem now in Russia and yes the Ukraine is that most of the so called politicians at one time or another were grand old communists. Note all Russians did not have a Red card the Red card was given only to those who the commies wanted in their party and at a dues paying price, it’s known as control. The common people in Russia have always lived in misery and oh yes things were free, but the elite wealthy in the Kremlin and running it were well let’s just say they were not in misery. In America there is a saying money talks and bull shit walks. Two things make this all to sick world turn sex and money money comes in many forms like black gold meaning oil. As people slept others found out what Putin’s plan was in truth and this is why the west acted as it did, but did what! They tried to kill the snake Tyrant by cutting off it’s tail and we both know that does not work. Tell me how many dollars has the US. over time given Russia. This most don’t know that the US. was giving the Russian government money so they could pay pensions to people that worked in areas of URANIUM. This was done to keep them happy so they would not sell the shit on the black market. The situation is Russia was bankrupt starting around 1989 and is bankrupt today, it’s bonds see on the market listed as junk bonds. The west in time will crush Putin and some of it will come from the inside the Kremlin. You see you can not grasp the situation meaning many Americans know and understand what is going on. You must now go and investigate and learn who in this world has the power and control of all of us. Start with the oil barons and then move on to International bankers see the maybe 15 families that control them.

  • disqus_aJpixObjG7

    here are NO REBELS in UKRAINE because there is NO CIVIL WAR,

    NO REBELLION. There is a RUSSIAN

    INVASION of UKRAINE BY russian FASCIST FORCES. Anyone who brings the word nazi

    or fascist in a reportage re UKRAINE is in fact an ACTIVE PUTINIST.

    FREE UKRAINE and its FREE PEOPLE WILL HAVE

    VICTORY OVER FASCIST RUSSIA:

    At this point the farce has developed to typical repetitive macchiavellian

    historical proportions.

    It is a BLACK AND WHITE story of GOOD AGAINST EVIL of UKRAINE defending itself against

    russia. It is a story of Abominable cowardice, abominable betrayal, abominable

    appeasement on the part of the West.

    A neo fascist, illegitimate, unelected (“elected” by massive electoral fraud)

    dictator and his neo fascist regime

    (78% of the Russian Duma are neo nazi, neo fascist and /or extreme right

    nationalist)

    invades a neighboring sovereign nation.

    He invades to punish it, to reconquer it for the crime of rising up en masse in

    a people’s revolution, overthrowing a murderous russian puppet who actively

    worked to destroy Ukraine and on the side embezzled over 100 billion dollars of

    state funds.

    In response, the West –all its politicians and all its media- rushes, scurries

    to the Kremlin to kneel behind the mass muderer Putin and get a long brown

    tongue.

    Ukraine does not need to ASK NATO for help because great Britain and the USA

    together with France and China are LEGALLY BOUND by the Budapest Memorandum to

    do- IMMEDIATELY, WITHOUT ANY ASKING- all that is necessary to drive russian invaders and

    their murderous terrorist proxies out of Ukraine, which includes Crimea, and to

    secure Ukraine’s borders.

    This implies not just the LEGALLY BINDING RESPONSIBILITY to supply Ukraine with

    overwhelming modern weaponry but also to provide ALL the “boots” on the ground

    as well as air and naval power needed to quickly accomplish this.

    So any talk of perhaps, maybe, one day considering to eventually propose to

    think about and possibly discuss the abstract idea of deciding to supply arms

    to Ukraine” is simply ILLEGAL AND CRIMINAL-

    a negation of international law and Legally binding obligations.

    As putin, the illegitimate neo fascist dictator pursues his goal of creating

    another NORTH KOREA ON A MASSIVE SCALE, the entire post-decadent and now

    degenerate West, scurries to appease the criminal russian dictator, but offers

    NO HELP WHATSOEVER to Ukraine.

    The left and the neo nazis of Europe and America have revealed their true

    fundamentally identical twin nature. They have revealed their pervert

    incestuous love affair, and entered into a three-way love affair with putin.

    UKRAINIANS DO NOT SHELL UKRAINIANS.

    RUSSIAN FASCIST INVADERS OF UKRAINE

    SHELL UKRAINIAN CIVILIANS after every russian “humanitarian” convoy

    brings thousands of tons of rockets mortars and artillery shells the russian

    FASCIST BANDITS start up again shooting them at UKRAINIAN PEOPLE ans destroying them and their houses. Then they BRAINWASH the people telling the that Ukrainians, not russians shelled them. All Western journalists repeat this abominable lie.

    • disqus_aJpixObjG7

      HALF OF THE ENTIRE WORLD’S NAZIS ARE IN RUSSIA & 78% OF RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT ARE NEO NAZI. 0% neo nazis in UKRAINE’s PARLIAMENT