Vladimir Putin’s recent invasion of the Crimean peninsula and the March 8 move into Kherson Oblast to establish control of land access into Crimea bring back unpleasant memories. The obvious threat of extension of this latest Russian military incursion from Crimea into Eastern Ukraine is undeniable. Having served the entirety of my Marine Corps career during the Cold War, this sort of confrontational brinksmanship is all too familiar.
In a move reminiscent of the Khrushchev Doctrine (used as an excuse for the invasion of Hungary in 1956,) the Brezhnev Doctrine (used as an excuse for the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968,) and a similar move by President Putin when he invaded Georgia in 2008, an invasion of sovereign territory has been justified in the following manner.
“A sovereign nation on our border has been subjected to violence and put in danger by unwelcome outside influences causing unrest and instability. At the request of the duly-elected government representing the interests of its people, Russian forces have peacefully entered this nation to restore order, and safeguard and protect innocent lives.” Really? Could any ruse or pretext be more transparent? Could any military aggression with purely expansionist political motivation be more thinly veiled? What sort of idiots does President Putin think populate the rest of the world?
So what reason would Putin have to make such a transparent move? His potential gains in the short term are political and economic. Politically, he appears to his supporters and countrymen to be a strong, decisive leader who is willing to stand up to the West and particularly the United States in the defense of fellow Russians. Economically and militarily, he retains unquestioned control of the Russian Black Sea Fleet port of Sevastopol and concomitant control of the access routes to the Mediterranean. Movement further into eastern Ukraine would provide access to rich coal fields and elimination of cumbersome Ukrainian regulation of Russian oil and gas imports to, and shipments through, Ukraine.
The downside of this all-too-familiar farcical political-military gamesmanship is extraordinary, though these probably weren’t considered by Putin and his planners prior to pulling the trigger. First of all, nobody needs what Russia has. The Russian economy is shallow and one-dimensional: it is based on the sale of oil and gas. In case no one bothered to inform President Putin, there is plenty of oil and gas in just about every region of the world, and those areas who don’t have their own supply can easily import these commodities.
Second, Russia is far more dependent on the rest of the world for staple products and goods than the rest of the world is dependent on Russia, making an economic boycott potentially devastating for Russia.
Third, the Russian government does not have the ability to control and manipulate information as it did when the Soviet Union was still in existence. People in Russia have access to the internet and a multitude of information sources and will no longer sit patiently by, believing phony platitudes while their country’s economy collapses around them. The Russian economy and currency have, in fact, already been weakened by Putin’s incursion into Crimea.