Putin, trapped between war and revolution, will choose war, Ikhlov says

Putin scratching his head

 

2016/02/03 • Analysis & Opinion, Military analysis, Politics, Russia

There are two possibilities in Russia today: either Vladimir Putin is in control of events or he is their prisoner, trapped between war and revolution. As bad as the first would be, the way the world has gone to war in the past suggests the second may be even worse. Tragically, that is the situation Putin has put himself in now, Yevgeny Ikhlov says.

Yevgeny Ikhlov, Russian human rights expert and blogger

Yevgeny Ikhlov, Russian human rights expert and blogger

As history shows, the Moscow commentator says, “wars do not always begin with carefully prepared strikes.” They often happen because leaders have acted in ways that reduce their room for maneuver and leave them with no obvious or at least acceptable option but to go to war.

That is exactly where the German general staff in the run up to 1914; and it is exactly the same one Putin is in now, “irreversibly sliding toward war because [the Kremlin leader] has consistently blocked all possibilities” for changing course that do not appear to him to be a worse option for himself.

Putin’s first move toward a situation in which he would be confronted with a choice between war and revolution in fact occurred when he made war on the oligarchs and the bureaucracy and promoted “paternalistic” ideas about his rule which allowing “unprecedented growth of social stratification,” Ikhlov says.

“The gap between the social divide, the expropriation of independent business by the Putin ‘oprichniki,’ the elimination of competitive politics on the one side and Bonapartist (in the spirit of Napoleon III, of course) and of demagogically constructed Putinism inevitably had to become the start of a major social-political split,” he continues.

This split was very much in evidence in the demonstrations of December 2011, demonstrations that made a war in Ukraine an attractive option. But that war had the effect of prompting the West to declare “a second Cold War,” something that began small but has expanded over time.

To descend the Donbas into chaos, Putin chose “crypto-intervention.” That and the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner made everything worse, the Moscow commentator says, and the Second Cold War was unleashed in earnest. The collapse of oil prices and sanctions forced Putin to play on xenophobia.

But it also put in him a position where the only way he could get out of one war “was through another, the air blitzkrieg in Syria,” Ikhlov says. But the logic of that attack which involved Russia in a conflict without any “rational goals” led to confrontation with Turkey. And that too has followed its own “unfolding logic.”

Putin can’t retreat in Syria without having his entire foreign policy called into question, something that could destroy his regime at home. If he could make domestic reforms, that might save him. “But when reforms replace foreign policy adventurism and then there follows collapse and defeat, it is difficult to imagine a better detonator for a revolution.”

The Kremlin leader could compensate for a retreat in Syria by an escalation on the Ukrainian front – scrapping Minsk 2, recognizing the “DNR” and “LNR,” and “openly introducing forces there, as was done in Georgia in 2008. But that would have real and dangerous consequences, Ikhlov says.

“It would convert Russia into “an outcast” and lead to “the appearance in Ukraine of American soldiers sent their by the next president of the US. And it is far from certain that such a foreign policy sharpening would prevent the growth of dissatisfaction within the country” because none of its domestic ills are being addressed.

What will Putin do in this situation? He has “never decided to shift finally to the model of a besieged fortress,” as some of his advisors want “because it would involve not only the purge of a ‘fifth’ and ‘sixth’ ‘column’ but also the nationalization of the oligarchy, a forced credit amnesty and other left of center measures.”

According to Ikhlov, “Putin will not decide on show purges of the ruling nomenklatura because he knows the lessons of history and above all that it is difficult to keep such anti-elite terror in bounds.” But that is only one of Putin’s dilemmas for which there is no obvious or at least acceptable answer.

For example, “Putin cannot rein in Kadyrov” first and foremost because “this would be a moral victory of the liberal opposition, the most consistent opponents of his regime.” And he dare not do so lest Kadyrov in the event show himself unwilling to follow orders to leave and use his own resources to fight for himself.

“The logic of the slide toward war is overwhelming” for Putin, Ikhlov says. Anything he would do at home to cover retreats abroad would put his regime at risk. “And so, only war remains,” not perhaps in Ukraine where “even a conventional one would be too much” as “the fate of Milosevic” shows.

Putin would like to keep things bubbling right “at the edge of war,” but Ikhlov suggests that he does not have the ability to control events that well. Instead, the commentator suggests, “Putin has created a situation in which in principle he cannot win.” Therefore he will seek a war elsewhere and at present that means Turkey.

“In the best case, “this will be limited to military hysteria. In the worst,” to the use of Russian forces. But that will give Turkey the possibility of appealing to NATO under Article 5 and also to close the straits [between the Mediterranean and Black seas – Ed.]. Thus, Putin will discover that “Russia will be able to fight with Turkey only with nuclear weapons.”

Any threat of that will bring the UN Security Council into play, Ikhlov says; and Putin will stand finally between war and revolution. The Kremlin leader already “understands perfectly how he has run away from revolution to Crimea and the Donbas, and from the Donbas to Syria, and that he will be able to avoid a new protest upsurge only with a Turkish war.”

It wasn’t what he planned; but it is the only way, Ikhlov says, that the Kremlin leader believes he can save himself – and that is his most important task.

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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Patrick

    Unless oil prices rise to 75 dollar again and than most his existential problems will disappear!

    • Nomid

      Nope… As long as the problems are systemic, they will only exasperate as long as no real reform is on the horizon, and there is no real reform on the horizon… Oil at 75 will only buy him time to soften the shocks allready going through the system.. The author is right, he is thoroughly cornered…

    • laker48

      Any jump in global oil prices to or above $45 per barrel will bring back US frackers who are able to flood the market again and force the Saudis to pump even more to retain their global market share.

      • Nomid

        Yup… The wild card they will never get rid of now. They have changed the market for good. And everybody is surprised about how fast they shut down the non profitable wells and slimlined the production… There might be a sort of lenders shock to the industry, but that mechanism is more market dependant and resillient than compaared to the state level we are talking in regards to Russia… The moment those wells are profitable again, they will be opened.. Maybe not by the first company that might have gone bankrupt, but by the next that bought cheap and see profits…

        • laker48

          There will be also a bout of mergers and buyouts of small frackers by large, vertically integrated oil and gas producers who will be able to eliminate transaction costs and employ economies of scale and scope, what will further push the break-even point below $40 or even $35 per barrel. Free market at work.

          • Nomid

            Yup!… And this logic is even apparent to me, a socialist Dane (o;

          • Oknemfrod

            Nice to see Nomid the Dane here after a break. Hope you’re doing well.

          • laker48

            Concur!

          • Nomid

            I am doing well… sort off…. I appreciate that my friend.. I have just gone in too a thoughtfull realm.. at the moment… Nice to see you around

    • Oknemfrod

      At the moment, the Russian economy is in such a structural mess – and this malaise had begun long before the oil prices started dropping – that it cannot be remedied even if oil, by some miracle, should soar to $100/bbl. In the modern world, its essentially feudal economic model is unsustainable, so it needs to change first – or else. A few sane Russian economists (e.g. Demura, Zhukovsky) have been saying it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the powers to be aren’t going to opt for anything but the “else”.

  • Nomid

    Unfortunately… There is some scary logic in this.
    But the presumption is that he needs to feed the “homefront” Russia with a constant revelry in nationalism and sense of victory to dull out the pain of declining living standards and the obvious injustice and corruption to an immense degree.
    In spite of his tightenining of laws that gives the Kremlin allowance to basically shoot all the protesters they want and get away with it legally.
    Maybe he doesn’t want to take his chances in that scenario?
    Maybe it is cheaper in regards to risk to just bomb and shoot anything outside of Russia for the moment?
    But he is hitting the wall… there is no way he can afford any military agression towards Turkey, if they appear as the next possible target…
    And he has run out of targets…
    He is going “all in” in Syria now, .. But Syria will never be a “victory” as long as Assad is there, because large parts of Syria will never forget or forgive Assad nor Russia now, it will stay apart and with constant conflicts untill a political solution appears..
    So no matter how that ends, it will be a short respit for him, so what will be next?
    Will he chew on, inside Russia?
    Crush a small uprising near the borders with all the military he got and claim victory?
    For how long? And in what state will Russia be in when he is finished?

  • Joe Birch

    But Russia sits on the UN Security Council so if Russia does attack Turkey with nuclear weapons the rest of the world will be unable to do anything about it as Russia will simply veto any UN resolution condemming Russia’s nuclear attack on Turkey.

    • laker48

      LOL! Like your irony! BTW, on a more serious tune,Turkey has 60 older B61 bombs (Mod 4 to 7, 115-180 m accuracy, up to 500 TNT equivalent each) in its Incirlik air force base and F-16s Block 30 and 40 able to deliver them. https://fas.org/blogs/security/2014/01/b61capability/

      • Oknemfrod

        Interesting. Thanks for the link.

  • Philippe de Lara

    Thank you Paul, you to feed us with substantial datas and arguments, but you remind also that another Russia exists and lives, even if it is drown by putinamania.
    M. Ikhlov’s notion of how wars begin is illuminating (and scary), and the current situation certainly looks more like pre 1914 years than like the thirties, as conventional wisdom often thinks.
    Yet, there is a big difference. Nuclear weapons, but also the fact the in 1914, every country, and not only Germany was trapped on the path of war, meanwhile Putin is alone until now. Other countries are not bound to play the same game.
    And doing everything (including supporting its army) for Ukraine, that is more than what we do for the moment, will not lead the world on the threshold of war, not even of the “cold” type, but, quite the opposite, to a stabilization of Europe, without Putin and with Russia.

  • Quartermaster

    The only way for Putin to save himself is go before the country, admit failure, resign, then go into exile. He has more than enough money in Swiss banks to make the rest of his life. The Russian mafia has taken care of him quite well.

  • Tony

    I dont know, on the one hand war with Turkey, even with nukes seems suicide(Turkey is under US nuclear umbrella). On the one hand russia is like a drug addict who constantly needs a stronger dose to overcome acquired tolerance and the wars are the drugs, at this point anything short of taking on NATO might not be enough. Perhaps he will simply do as the DNR/LNR and pump up the domestic propaganda/”patriotism”.

    • laker48

      Turkey has 60 US B61 Mod 4 to7 nuclear bombs, 500 kilotons each (accuracy 110-180 m), that can be dropped from fighter jets F-16 Block 30 and 40. The F-16s are manufactured in Turkey on the US licence.

  • Joe Birch

    Good article but Russia has a veto on the UN Security Council so any censure for a nuclear attack on Turkey would simply be vetoed.

    • laker48

      Turkey has over 60 tactical thermonuclear bombs B61 Mod 4 and 7 (250 to 500 tons of TNT each) in its airbase in Incirlik, and over 200 F-16s able to deliver them, so RuSSia may see Turkey nuking Crimean ad NovoroSSiysk navy bases in retaliation. These are gravity bombs accurate to the nearest 115-180 metres, so any anti-missile defence is powerless and helpless. Turkey also has its own military satellite system deployed in space, independent from American or RuSSian ones..