March 5, 2018


Behold Vladimir V. Potemkin (ANTONY J. BLINKENMARCH 5, 2018, NY Times)

[H]aving put his finger in the dyke, Mr. Putin can't remove it or Mr. Assad will drown. So Russia is stuck in the middle of multiple conflicts it cannot control -- between the Assad regime and the rebels; between Turkey and the Kurds; between American-led coalition forces and the Islamic State; between Israel, Syria and Iran; between Sunni and Shiite. This Rubik's cube of conflicting interests makes partners on one front adversaries on another.

Far from abating, Syria's civil war is raging -- slowly but surely becoming more lethal to Russia's forces, more damaging to its reputation, and more of a drain on its resources. Moscow is fully complicit in Mr. Assad's murderous campaign against the primarily Sunni opposition, which has now reached new levels of depravity with the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Ghouta, a suburban area outside Damascus. Moscow's alliance with Mr. Assad and Iran in slaughtering Sunnis risks alienating Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Turkey. It also will inflame Russia's own Sunni Muslim population and their brethren in Central Asia and the Caucasus, lighting the fuse for more terrorism directed at Moscow. [...]

Worse, his intervention in Eastern Ukraine has precipitated many of the very developments Mr. Putin sought to prevent.

NATO is more energized than it has been in years -- not because of President Trump's browbeating, but in response to Mr. Putin's aggression. The alliance now has forces on regular rotational air, land and sea deployments along Russia's border, and its budget is increasing, in part with a sustained infusion of funds from the United States. The European Union has revived the idea of strengthening its own defense capacity, spurred on by Mr. Putin's threats and Mr. Trump's rhetorical retreat from America's commitment to Europe's defense. Europeans are getting more serious about energy security. They are multiplying new routes, connections and sources for fuel and renewable power. That's making it harder for Mr. Putin to use oil and gas as strategic levers. American-led sanctions, despite Mr. Trump's reluctance to impose them, have done real, sustained damage to Russia's economy.

As for keeping Russia's fist on Ukraine's future, Mr. Putin has managed to alienate the vast majority of its citizens for generations. Systemic corruption is now a bigger bar to Ukraine's European trajectory than is Moscow.

Mr. Putin embarks on foreign adventures in part to distract his people from Russia's putrefaction at home. Reform is stagnant. The single-cylinder economy can't break its addiction to energy. Corruption and kleptocracy are all-corrosive. The population is aging and declining. The opposition is repressed but resilient.

You got played.

Posted by at March 5, 2018 3:33 PM