Given his economic problems at home and Western sanctions over Ukraine, many in the West have convinced themselves that Vladimir Putin will not launch a major war. But despite or even because of these challenges, Yury Felshtinsky says, Putin is preparing for just such a conflict, even though time is working for Ukraine and the West.
And because time is working against him in that regard, the Russian analyst based in the United States writes in the Apostrophe, the possibility that he will launch a major attack in Ukraine or against other targets in the near future is far greater than many think.
Felshtinsky says that those who have been following Putin’s aggression since March 2014 can be divided into optimists and pessimists. Among “the optimists,” he says, is Andrey Piontkovsky who argues that Putin is stymied by his current difficulties and that those around him will soon remove him.
Felshtinsky puts himself among “the pessimists” because he believes that “Putin and the people which he has put in power and who have entered his closest entourage have not understood and do not understand” the nature of the situation they face. Consequently, they are likely to act in erratic, even irrational ways from the point of view of others.
[quote]“The junta ruling Russia today consists of primitive, uneducated officers of the Soviet and Russian special services who have studied all their lives the specific science of destruction. They have never learned to create and build.” They can sell raw materials like oil at world prices, but they are incapable” of managing the country in the direction of development.[/quote]
This group “seized power in order to restore the Soviet Union, the Russian Empire, the ‘Russian world,’ but not a civilized, cultural, economically developed and independent state,” the analyst says. Thus, Felshtinsky argues, “it is early to conclude that the danger of a third world war has been liquidated by falling oil prices and the low ruble exchange rate.”
“If it were possible to buy peace,” the analyst continues, “there never would be any wars because any war is more expensive than peace.” A corollary of that “a low ruble or a high ruble is not a guarantee of European or world security.” Wars happen not just because of what one side wants but also how the other side acts or is perceived to act.
Thanks to the recent Bloomberg report, we now know that the West told Kyiv not to react militarily when Russia seized Crimea. “One after another in March-April  leaders of Europe and the US in one voice as from a script told their populations that Crimea is ‘immemorial Russian land,’ and that Russia has every right to seize it.”
And then these same leaders turned things on their head and said that the fact that “Ukraine had surrendered Crimea without a battle” proved that it was not really Ukrainian because countries do not give up land that is really theirs.
Piontkovsky is among those who have suggested that what took place was the result of a new “Munich,” in which the West “paid for peace with the division of Ukraine” just as it had in September 1938 with “with the division of Czechoslovakia.” Nonetheless, the question remains: will the West go to war against the aggressor as Britain and France did in September 1939?
“No one has yet declared war on Russia, but Russia, in contrast to Hitlerite Germany, has stalled at the initial stage of its aggression,” Felshtinsky says. Already for a year and a half, it has not been in a position to break through beyond the borders of its puppet DNR and LNR,” despite its enormous concentration of forces nearby.
Moreover, the Russian analyst says, “Russia continues to exacerbate the military-political situation on the borders with all its neighbors,” not just the Baltic countries and the former Soviet republics but “also with traditionally neutral states like Finland and Sweden.” And it has sent its aircraft along the US borders as a provocation.
And while this is going on, “throughout the Russian Federation are being carried out military training exercises, increases in military spending, changes in laws governing call ups of reserves, concentration of forces in Crimea and Kaliningrad, and so on and so forth,” Felshtinsky points out.
“Absolutely everything points to Russia’s general preparation for a world war.”
How has the West reacted so far? Has it done enough to convince Putin that he must not act? The answers to those questions are not clear. “No one has yet imposed serious sanctions on Russia. The West is optimistic. It also considers that Russia is so weak economically and militarily that it cannot possibly think about a major war.”
“Therefore,” he continues, “the leadership of Europe and the US, having replaced the slogan about Crimea as ‘immemorial Russian land’ for a demand for the return of Crimea to Ukraine and the withdrawal of Russian forces from occupied areas of eastern Ukraine is waiting while preparing to give a rebuff to the aggressor.”
[quote]And “the leaders of the free world justly consider that time is working for them and for Ukraine,” a conclusion Felshtinsky shares. But precisely because it is, that could prompt Putin to act more quickly and more broadly than they expect.[/quote]
Putin certainly has concluded, the analyst suggests that if he is going to act, he must do so while Barack Obama is still in office as US president, that is, sometime before January 20, 2017. That is not because “Obama is bad or good” but because “Obama came to office to end the wars begun by the previous administration and hardly in order to begin new ones.”
“For that reason,” Felshtinsky argues, “Obama would be the last person in the US ready to begin a war with Russia over Ukraine or with Iran over the Iranian nuclear program. Putin, just like Ayatollah Khamenei understands that perfectly.” And the Kremlin leader understands something else as well.
Putin recognizes that “the new president of the US, regardless of who it is and which party, will take a harder line toward Russia and toward Iran.” That means, Felshtinsky suggests, that if Putin is going to move, he will want to do so before that happens and before time really works against him.