"It is Putin the conservative and not Putin the realist who decided to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty."by Ivan Krastev / March 6, 2014 / Leave a comment
Guarding a Ukrainian pier: Russian troops have taken control of much of the peninsula in the Black Sea. © PA Images
On March 1 Russia took de facto control over Crimea—prompting the German chancellor Angela Merkel to comment that President Putin was living “in another world”. Has Putin indeed lost the plot or is he simply asserting his power over Crimea and the East of Ukraine? Why did he decide to resort to force? And why does he seem unafraid of the West’s reaction? The popular opinion is that the Russian President is a hard-nosed realist who believes “it is better to be feared than loved.” Another theory is that Putin’s approach to power has evolved and whereas before he acted pragmatically to protect his military and economic interests, now he is styling himself as a more ideological figure in the mold of Tsar Nicolas I, an ultra conservative autocrat who crushed two revolutions and went on to fight the Crimean war.
Russian officials have already declared that they view the change of government in Kiev as a coup. Their conditions for diplomatic negotiations over Ukraine are a return to the February 21 agreement between Yanukovych and the opposition, which was sponsored by the three EU foreign ministers. This is the agreement that Russia refused to sign. While Moscow is aware that Yanukovych cannot be reinstated, the Kremlin wants to see the current transitional government in Kiev replaced with one that includes pro-Russian figures from East Ukraine. Russia is also insisting that the parliamentary and presidential elections be held in December instead of May. What Putin expects are talks on the nature of the future Ukrainian constitution.
The Kremlin has always had doubts about Ukraine’s capacity to exist as a sovereign state, and over the last two decades it seems that the Ukrainians have done their best to prove them right—the level of dysfunction and corruption has been astonishing. According to the political doctrine of the Kremlin laid out a decade ago by the architect of the current regime, the former Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov, sovereignty is a capacity and not simply a legal right. In order to be sovereign a state must be economically independent, militarily strong and culturally assertive. In Putin’s opinion Ukraine is lacking all three components, and as a result is likely to always be dominated by…