There are troubling signs that Vladimir Putin may order a military intervention in Ukraine. The propaganda from Moscow is so shrill and Putin’s understanding of Russia’s long term interests so dim, that it is actually conceivable that he would iintervene militarily in Ukraine.
Should he do so, his actions would sow Ukrainian enmity for generations.
The civilized world, including the European Union and the United States, could not let any such military intervention go unpunished. European and American sanctions against Russia would be likely to ensue quickly.
In the 21st century, authoritarian governments betting that steel and blood will open the path to the future are likely to be surprised by the power of ideas of freedom harnassed to the computing and networking power of peer-based communities, in which knowledge of events can no longer be suppressed, and leaks in electronic curtains inevitably grow in exponential fashion.
Military intervention in the Ukraine is the one thing Putin could do that could greatly hasten the speed with which the Maidan comes to Red Square.
Yet as Russian policies in Syria amply demonstrate, Putin is fully capable of making extraordinarily self-defeating decisions and policies. Russia’s “brand” is already severely tarnished by Syria. If Russia intervenes in Ukraine, the positive memories and gains in international prestige from the Sochi Winter Olympic Games could easily be replaced by memories of Stalin’s crimes, of Soviet tanks in East Germany in 1953, in Budapest in 1956, in Prague in 1968, in Kabul in 1980, and of Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008.
The results of Putin’s miscalculation in Syria is clear. From Syria, the new cradle of religious warriors, Putin and Russia will feel the “blowback” and baleful consequences of their support for al-Assad for years to come, in the Caucasus and beyond.
If Putin miscalculates again, if the Russians intervene in Ukraine, they can forget any illusions they might have had about being seen as a “normal” country by the civilized world. Where they once might have moved toward closer ties with Europe, they would now be seen as authoritarians antagonistic to European values and ideals.
They can also forget their recently-acquired MFN status with the U.S., and expect trade sanctions that may last even longer than did the Jackson-Vanik amendment.
The Trenchant Observer