When Vladimir Putin decided a year ago to annex Crimea, he and his supporters expected that this would be “the first event in a chain of unending victories which would show the world the dangerousness of ‘ignoring’ Moscow’s appetites and instead convert the Russian Federation into the Soviet Union of the 21st century, Vitaly Portnikov says.
But things have not worked out that way, the Kyiv commentator says. Moscow did not get the new Soviet Union it hoped for; instead, it set in train a series of developments “along the path of state suicide,” a path that, despite its dangers Putin, seems incapable of recognizing or getting off.
Putin did not understand that all the non-Russian countries or even the Russian speakers in them were uninterested in his project. He did not understand what the reaction of the international community to his invasion would be. He didn’t understand what losses economic and military he would face. And he didn’t understand that there is no way back for him from his crimes.
The readiness of some Russians to welcome the largely bloodless annexation of Crimea was like some teenager in a narcotic stupor powered by drugs that he had bought with money he had stolen from his mother’s handbag, Portnikov says. But that youth doesn’t want to suffer or even pay up – and now a year later, he sees that he might have to. He did not understand that.
According to Portnikov, Russia is “celebrating” the first anniversary of the Anschluss so broadly – not just on one day but for a whole week – is because Russians “are not certain” whether they will be in a position to mark a second anniversary next year.
It is possible, he continues, that even a year from now, Crimea may remain under Russian occupation. “But the economic situation of Russia, its chances for survival, and the ability of its population to be gladdened by anything besides the solution of their own everyday problems” — which are likely to be “more important topics for discussion than any political events.”
In March 2016, “somewhere in Moscow, Tula or Yaroslavl,” Russians will view Crimea the way they have viewed Chechnya, as a place populated by people who only make demands for their tax money and who are anything but pleased by their anything but asked for “’liberators.’”
Putin’s promotion of himself as “the unifier of Russian lands” will then look even worse than it does today to Russians and everyone else, given “the bloody war in Ukraine’s east, the collapse of the Russian economy, and the final marginalization even without this of its still-uncompleted state building.”
Consequently, Portnikov concludes, for Russians this March and perhaps next, “this is not a week of joy; this is a week of despair.”