For Putin, Russia’s isolation is a strategy not a misfortune

Putin was shunned at the 2014 G20 meeting in Australia after the Crimea Anschluss by Russia.

Putin was shunned at the 2014 G20 meeting in Australia after the Crimea Anschluss by Russia. 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

Most analysts have suggested that sanctions and international isolation were a cost Vladimir Putin was willing to pay in order to get his way in Ukraine, but Andrey Lipsky, an editor of “Novaya gazeta,” says that is exactly backwards: the Kremlin leader wanted isolation and launched his Ukrainian campaign to get it.

Indeed, he suggests, Putin’s comments to the FSB leadership last week confirm that interpretation because they suggest that the Russian president is worried that further contacts with the outside world could lead to a repetition of the destabilizing protests of 2011-2012 during the upcoming 2016 and 2018 election seasons.

And to prevent that from happening and thus to ensure the continuation of his own power, the “Novaya gazeta” editor argues, Putin is quite prepared to suffer what he believes will be the short-term costs of sanctions and isolation in order to ensure his own long-term political survival.

Since the Crimean Anschluss and the West’s response, Lipsky points out, people in both Russia and Western capitals have been asking why – why did Putin need to take a step that he might have been expected to understand in advance would entail so many costs and bring what seems to others so few benefits?

Clearly, most of the propagandistic memes – “Russia wants to restore the empire,” “It must defend Russian speakers from the fascist junta,” and “a desire to seize the territories of others is in Russia’s blood” – are now explanations but rather something that must be explained, he continues.

What else is left? Preventing Ukraine from joining NATO and the West establishing a base in Sevastopol? “Strengthening the security of the country? The growth of Russia’s influence in the world? The rallying of the ‘Russian world’? [or] Consolidation in the framework of a ‘Eurasian project’?

Until Crimea, the Kremlin lacked one thing to ensure acceptance by the Russian population of the equating of the opposition with Western agents and that was “the mass mobilization and rallying of the population around the existing authorities. The Ukrainian crisis,” Lipsky says, “and ‘the return of Crimea’ provided this happy possibility.”

Very early on, Lipsky says, it became clear that Putin’s policies in Ukraine had done Russia more harm than good, that Russian influence in the world had declined, its security had been compromised, that NATO had been reinvigorated under expanded American influence, and the status of Russian speakers abroad had gotten worse.

All this happened not because of the West’s desire to box Russia in but because by Putin’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine more generally, “Russia violated the [existing world] order, and the others simply have been defending themselves.” And they now view Moscow as a dangerous source of instability, “unpredictable and unprofitable.”

Given this balance sheet, the commentator says, many have simply decided that Putin miscalculated, but quite possibly there is a better explanation. His actions in Ukraine, Lipsky says, are “only a cover for something more essential for the ruling political command in Russia” – the preservation of its political power.

The Kremlin leader’s remarks to the FSB last week provide a clear indication of this. He talked about “attempts by ‘Western special services’ to use Russian NGOs and ‘politicized unions’ to discredit the authorities and destabilize the situation in Russia in the course of the 2016 Duma and 2018 presidential campaigns.”

In thinking about these words, it is important to remember that “precisely injustice and falsifications during the Duma elections of 2011 in favor of the party of power led angry citizens in Moscow and certain other major cities into the streets,” something that clearly frightened Putin and his entourage and led to a tightening of the screws.

Increasingly, this campaign presented the opponents of the regime as “agents” of the West, something that required presenting the West as an external enemy. Otherwise the moves against the regime’s domestic opponents could go only so far, at least by making use of this ideological paradigm, Lipsky suggests.

But until Crimea, the Kremlin lacked one thing to ensure acceptance by the Russian population of the equating of the opposition with Western agents and that was “the mass mobilization and rallying of the population around the existing authorities. The Ukrainian crisis,” Lipsky says, “and ‘the return of Crimea’ provided this happy possibility.”

Whether Putin can maintain that without doing something more for any length of time remains an open question, but it is clearly the case, the “Novaya gazeta” editor says, that the Kremlin is going to do everything it can to maintain it through the 2016-2018 “political season by propaganda, the actions of the force structures, and new legislation.”

Obviously, “total isolation would not be profitable” for Russia even in pursuit of that goal, Lipsky says. “But partial, with a limitation of harmful contacts and with sanctions which mobilize the population … and explain why the economic situation is deteriorating … is completely useful.”

And indeed, it may “at the present stage only strengthen the arguments of the regime which is seeking to go into the new political season” without having to face any real danger that Putin and his regime will be challenged.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Turtler

    Even if all of this were true- and given how destabilizing the loss of the leading class’s Western property would be- it ignores a key problem. Japan’s isolation was also a strategy rather than an accident.

    But it was still a misfortune, as got underlined by when a fleet of “Black Ships” sailed into harbor and demanded to the Shogun and Emperor that they treat foreign sailors well or face bombardment.

    Autatarky sucks.

  • Sergey Tokarev

    If you can’t find any meaning in this article – don’t worry. There isn’t any. (Yawn)

    • siania

      Cabbage Prices in Russia Rise 66% in Three Months

      The Moscow Times

      Mar. 30 2015 20:52

      Last edited 20:53

      S.Nikolayev / Vedomosti

      The cost of cabbage in Russia has risen 66 percent since the start of the year as food price inflation runs rampant on the back of currency devaluation and sanctions on Western imports, the Interfax news agency reported citing data from Russia’s Agriculture Ministry.

      The data showed that prices for cabbage have risen faster than for any other food, reaching 24 rubles per kilogram.

      But other vegetables also saw steep increases: From Jan. 1 to March 27, the price of onions rose 40 percent, potatoes 36 percent and carrots 32 percent…

      The cost of meat has risen more slowly, with beef prices rising 10 percent and the price of pork and chicken rising 1.5 percent between Jan. 1 and March 27.

      Overall inflation has rocketed from around 7 percent a year ago to almost 17 percent in March as a sharp fall in the value of the ruble has raised the cost of imports.

      Food price inflation rose even faster after the government banned a range of food imports from European countries and the United States in retaliation for sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.



      • Dagwood Bumstead

        The Russians will need garlic to keep the evil western vampires away. Oh wait, they have to import garlic as well……..

    • danram

      How’s life at the Troll Farm these days, Sergey? Haven’t seen you guys around as much lately. What’s happened? Funds getting too scarce to pay all of you any more? Guess what? It’s only gonna get worse from here on.

    • dimitri visser

      You again. What do they pay you to write thousands of pro Putler comments ?

      • Sergey Tokarev

        You know, Dimitri, however moronic you might be trying to sound, this phrase of yours began to play with new colors, after thousandth repetition. What do they pay, how is the life at Troll Farm… Stupid? Yes, rather stupid, but for you – not bad at all. You can do much, much worse. I trust in you, Dimitri. Keep trying!

        • dimitri visser

          It was a serious question. Would love to know what it costs to sell your soul.

          • Sergey Tokarev

            A serious question deserves serious answer. Answers: 1) you know better. You know this first-hand, unlike me. 2) Challenge any my comment. My usual ante is $10K. 3) Bonus: if you lose the wager and don’t want to pay – just stick a champagne bottle into your arrse. You lose nothing in such case.
            Even more seriously – such questions like yours use trolls to stifle discussions. Trolls, including you, fear truth. Your question is spam. Trolls fear freedom, including freedom of speech. People say there is a special Project Megaphone for this. (Yawn)

          • dimitri visser

            Are you accusing other people of being a troll ? I think most people here can judge that comment looking at your profile. That number of comments can only be made when you do this fulltime.

          • Sergey Tokarev

            I accuse this site of pathetic propaganda – and they will ban me, as MiniTruth sites usually do. I accuse you of being garbage of person. Suppose I sit right now in Kremlin and get cash for each post. What this would change? My comments consist of facts and impeccable reasoning, seasoned with some bile.
            I taught mathematics a little in my youth. I was paid for that. Nevertheless, everything I said was true. (Yawn)
            These garbage of journalists are trading corpses, most likely for American grants. It is time to get banned, instead of talking to such nobody like yourself.
            Best regards. (Yawn)

          • dimitri visser

            Ban you ? I think they should disconnect Russia completely from the internet. Nothing usefull comes from there, there is nothing interesting, the only way we would notice is the number of spam comments going down to zero.

          • Sergey Tokarev

            You, being spam of a person, know better about spam. :)
            Seriously, when you are in the red – just offer me an ante. Challenge my comments. For some strange coincidence my forecasts on issues of any importance are always correct, but this can’t last long, can it? I have a hunch you will get a jackpot. :)
            What for suggestion of self-isolation of Trotskyist NeoLunatics from Washington, D.C., and their lackeys – I don’t care. (Yawn)

          • dimitri visser

            You sound like a very frustrated person. Probably it will change you, when having to write lies, lies and lies the entire day.

            Maybe if you have time you can tell me why we should keep Russia connected to the internet. Because as far as I know Russia contributes completely nothing 😉

          • Sergey Tokarev

            :) Life must be easy with such empy head like yours. Nothing to carry. Advices – three options. I repeated several times, banging with your head etc. (Yawn)

          • dimitri visser

            Empty head ? Maybe you can help me by telling what Russia contributes. You can also honestly tell me if you cannot come up with even 1 thing.

          • siania

            empty comment
            as the saying goes “empty vessels make the most sound”
            you deafen us all withe cods wallop you invent and transcribe

          • puttypants

            dimitri…don’t respond to him. Just let him continue writing his nonsense so we can all get a good laugh.

          • siania

            is there anything you won’t wager ?

          • LorCanada

            What’s that old saying …
            “Don’t let the barn door hit you in the rear on your way out!”
            ;- )

          • Sergey Tokarev

            I don’t know such saying. I am a humble person, but my disdain towards redneck imbeciles like yourself has reached sky level. (Yawn)

          • LorCanada

            If you are such a humble person you should show more respect for your fellow human beings. Who are you to call others “imbeciles”? Are you so very intelligent that you have awards and honours given you for your intellectual abilities? No? Well, then try being more humble and LESS disagreeable to others. You do not seem to be the type of person I would want to call a “friend”.
            It helps to know how to get along with the world and live in harmony. Remember, what you send out into the thought world will come back to you in kind.

          • siania

            ” I am a humble person,”
            suggest you review meaning of “humble” to save yourself embarrassment once again.

          • Sergey Tokarev

          • siania


          • puttypants

            I’m bursting with laughter over your lies. Please continue writing your great reasoned manifestos. They’re fascinating! I really do love a good laugh. You know us Ukkie’s nothing we love more than a good laugh!

          • siania


          • puttypants

            Truth??? you don’t know what that word means…hahahahaha! Unbelievable, mendacious man.

        • siania

          well what is the pay?
          rubles? euros? pounds? Us dollars? Can $? AUD$?

  • Jens A

    Yes, isolation could well be part of Putin’s goal. He managed ingeniously to break down Russian economy in 2013 while oil prices were average around 110 dollars/barrel. To do that requires a true top class moron. In January 2014 all top businesses in Russia had huge layoffs of staff, while Putin did all the bad things he could to make economy worse. For example, he ORDERED businesses to pay larger dividends to shareholders in mid 2013, to prove Russia being a wonderful country for investments. Doing that, he proved that the Russian state is an entity that will interfere at any time in how companies are managed and all investors of any intelligence should stay far away.

    When the ruble was crumbling and the Central Bank in Moscow actually did a rather good job given the circumstances, Putin told the gaping people, that Russia would not use its reserves “headless” to protect the ruble and he would only secure it at a “certain” rate. Of course the ruble collapsed that very hour he made that statement of a lunatic. In a currency crisis you could not possible say ANYTHING more idiotic than this. Even suicidal fools would find it difficult to do any worse.

    In February 2014 it was game over for Putin’s economy and he rapidly needed enemies to blame. The “good old” Russian story about the most important thing in Russian politics: “Who is to blame?” – I suggest, the man in charge is to blame and that is why almost none of the ruling parties in the EU survived the next election after the melt down in 2008/09. In Russia, the dictator starts a war to play on the old chauvinistic Pan Slavic tunes that are so difficult to distinguish from the Fascist parties in Europe that they like to much while they blame democratic parties inside and outside Russia for being what they are themselves.

    • LorCanada

      To; Jens — Well said, thanks!

  • Peter1619

    Yes, Putin is terrified of people power, His real fear is a colour revolution growing out of significant opposition taking to the streets. Everything – and I mean everything – is subordinated to the imperative of remaining in power. The spectre of sharing the same fate as Gaddafi or Ceausescu terrifies him that’s why he will never retire – he has too many enemies at home to relinquish power. I maintain he won’t die in bed – or if he does it won’t be in Russia.

  • veth

    Isolation , no problem for this fascist nazi-regime in Russia, but let them stay in their own borders and not kill Ukranians and down planes.

  • puttypants

    Truly a sinister bunch. I don’t care what happens to Russia as long as they stay out of Ukraine. The ruling party can all go to Hell where they belong.