Inside Putin’s Brain: Musings on the Ukraine and what is going on inside his head — Part II

For analysis of Putin’s 7-point ceasefire proposal, EU sanctions decisions, and NATO decisions to be taken in the next few days, see

“Putin seeks to divide EU to avoid sanctions with Ukraine “cease-fire” proposal; Russian words should be ignored, harsh EU sanctions and hard NATO decisions adopted,” The Trenchant Observer, September 3, 2014.

In warfare, as in diplomacy, it is important to try to put yourself in the shoes of your adversary, to try to understand what is going on inside his head (or her head).

Vladimir Putin, through his actions and rejection of the postwar legal and political order, has become the adversary of the West, just as Russia has become the enemy of all civilized countries which seek to uphold the United Nations Charter and its foundational principles prohibiting the threat or use of force across international frontiers.

Following are musings by the Observer on what may be going through Putin’s mind right now.

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See Part I here (September 2, 2014).

PART II

My “separatists” were kind of on the ropes as the Ukrainian army tightened the noose around Donetsk and Luhansk, after retaking Sloviansk. But then we tricked the Ukraine and NATO with our “humanitarian aid” convoy of trucks, repainted “white” with good foresight and admirable military efficiency, according to our master plan. The white truck convoy brilliantly captured the attention of the international media, for weeks, as I poured tanks, artillery, soldiers and other equipment across the border to bolster my “separatists” by joining them in the fighting.

Our plan to have the separatists call for military intervention to protect “Russians” (i.e., members of the Russian family) ran into a few snags, because as Lavrov pointed out we needed Ukrainians and not Russian intelligence officers to make the appeal for intervention. We got that all straightened out when I ordered “Igor Strelkov” (even my GRU operatives have plausible deniability!) and my other intelligence operatives to resign from their leadership positions among the rebels, turning their positions over to their local deputies.

Actually, this proved to be unnecessary, as the white truck convoy ploy proved so successful I was able to pour thousands of Russian troops across the “border” into the Donbass, with accompanying tanks, artillery, and other equipment, with hardly anyone noticing. Our earlier attacks on the border posts and their supporting command centers was an intelligent part of our plan, even though on this occasion we didn’t couldn’t go through the border crossings because there were too many press and international officials present.

A month later, the EU is still debating what sanctions to impose on us, while NATO has the “quick reaction force” concept to debate at the upcoming summit in Wales. They need a “quick reaction force because they are afraid to violate the 1997 undertakings under the NATO-Russia partnership agreement that prohibit the forward-basing of NATO troops.

Can you believe it? The NATO countries, and Angela Merkel in particular, are afraid to violate the 1997 agreements by deploying forces permanently in the Baltics! I am a lawyer, and I never cease to be amazed at the legal arguments my German friends can come up with when they don’t want to do something for other reasons. What are the other reasons? They are afraid of me! They are afraid they might anger or antagonize me!

I could have Berlin surrounded by Russian troops, and they would still be debating the legal technicalities of the Partnership Agreement, and whether it permitted them to respond with force. They are really incredibly stupid! Or incredible cowards, which gives me the same result.

This week the EU and NATO summits are considering what steps to take against Russia for our “invasion” of the Ukraine, despite my repeated explanations that there are no Russian soldiers in that country.

NATO members will congratulate themselves for adopting the rapid deployment force plan — without violating the 1997 Partnership Agreement! Can you believe it?

Once NATO has taken that action, it’s not likely to take any more decisions any time soon. Or maybe NATO will authorize the sending of “non-lethal” military aid to the Ukrainian military, such as personal armor, Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s), and finally, if they are really bold, socks!

They may debate whether to fly the MRE’s in, or send them by commercial truck in order not to anger me as they did a few months ago. By truck!

Of course, the EU will probably adopt some so-called “third stage” sanctions (Oh! how they love to organize everything, even their own thinking, into little boxes!). I can’t remember how many times they’ve huffed and puffed and threatened to blow my house down if I didn’t do what they said by a deadline of a month, or a week, and then they let the deadline pass and did nothing.

I am working hard with Lavrov to limit the nature and reach of the new sanctions.

We’ve floated the idea of a settlement with a new referendum in the eastern Ukraine under U.N. auspices, in Minsk, I think it was. Remember the promises al-Assad made under the U.N. Security Council resolutions and Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan? Lavrov did a good job of leading the West around by the nose with that 6-point plan, with Kofi Annan’s endless willingness to help find a diplomatic solution.

Last night I had a long chat with Petro Poroshenko on the phone, away from his staff, and enticed him with the idea of a “ceasefire” which would stop the fighting, and the killing of Ukrainian soldiers who after making contact with the Russian army are on the verge of being routed. We published the “7-point ceasefire plan” today, and after all the confusion we ended up looking good.

We can distract them from focusing on the severe sanctions some of them want to impose with our “peace plan” or “7-point ceasefire plan”, which in a week will have served its purpose. If they accept it, and hand us a victory, I’ll need to think about accepting the victory in view of our longer-term plans for the Ukraine.

Whatever happens, these proposals are useful in making EU leaders have second thoughts about adopting harsh economic sanctions. Maybe my peace proposals won’t avoid sanctions altogether, but they may help dilute the severity of those that are adopted. And, of course, it makes me look magnanimous to my domestic television audience.

At the same time, I have threatened to take Kiev in two weeks by military force, in a plausibly deniable sort of way, so that EU leaders will have further arguments for not imposing drastic sanctions now. They can keep these sanctions in reserve, in order to “deter” me from taking Kiev!

Can you believe how gullible and what pacifists and appeasers they are! They will grasp at any straw to avoid taking really strong actions against Russia that could hurt their own business and trade relationships with this giant market, not to mention their energy needs for Russian gas.

Big business understands this, and will lobby hard in the U.S. and in Germany and other EU countries against taking strong measures.

Finally, of course, we have the nuclear threat to make our opponents in the West think twice before taking me on. We have “gamed” all kinds of nuclear show-downs with Barack Obama, and in almost every scenario he folds and we win. I knew this intuitively when I saw him flinch in Syria after al-Assad used chemical weapons at Ghouta in August 2013. We saw that when his “red line” was crossed he didn’t have the “stomach” for a confrontation. He didn’t even have the guts to pull the trigger against al-Assad’s military, despite his overwhelming military advantage.

He doesn’t have the “cojones” to face me down in a nuclear show-down, as Madeleine Albright would say.

If he wouldn’t confront al-Assad militarily, what are the chances that he would risk a nuclear war in a confrontation with me? I and Medvedev and Lavrov have dropped a number of not so subtle hints that confrontation could lead to a nuclear conflict. But Obama hasn’t even responded. He pretends that he doesn’t hear such references, which makes me even more certain that we would have nothing to fear from him if things in the Ukraine were to escalate sharply.

Looking at the situation as a whole, the main thing is that the West has helped me consolidate my grip on power in Russia. There will be no repeat of the demonstrations in Moscow a couple of years ago. The press and television are either under my control or cowed, and I can pick off individual opponents one by one. I hope the beating up of the Duma representative who went to the grave of the boy who was killed in the Ukraine will serve as a clear warning to all. If that doesn’t work, we have stronger measures that can be taken.

Let’s wait and see what happens. The one thing that is certain is that the West will provide us with further opportunities to secure our historic strategic objectives, at little or no cost.

You know, I could take Kiev in two weeks if I wanted to. Maybe I should think some more about that.

End of musings by the Observer on what is going on inside Putin’s head.

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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