Putin makes a move… and he’s wrong, by Jesús A. Núñez-Villaverde

Russia has its reasons for raising a new european security order, as Vladimir Putin demanded in the ultimatum he launched on December 17. Since the implosion of the Soviet Union, not only has it lost its “shock absorbers” in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, but has been reduced to the level of a regional power demographically in declinewith a monoculture economy, dependent on the ups and downs of the hydrocarbon market, and unable to prevent an expansion of NATO, which it perceives as a threat to its security; all this, despite its still impressive nuclear arsenal. But, although it may initially appear otherwise, the course it has taken following the recognition of the ‘people’s republics’ of Donetsk and Lugansk, and the deployment of troops in the sovereign territory of Ukraine, take it further away from its goal of being recognized as a global power and to reach an agreement to establish a new continental security scheme that guarantees their security.

Putin’s militaristic commitment makes it clear that, in his particular vision of history- holding that Ukraine has no national identity of its own, other than Russia, and that Lenin is the original culprit in the loss of the Russian empire-, he is willing to keep Kiev within Moscow’s orbit at all costs. And so he doesn’t care if that means violating the international right (the same that Western powers have also violated on so many occasions) or if Washington and other capitals add more economic sanctions to those that Russia has been suffering, at least, since 2014. He calculates, rightly, that neither the US nor NATO will dare to confront Russia militarily, least of all for a Ukraine that does not represent any vital interest for any of them. In the same way, he considers that after having disrupted any internal opposition to his power – eliminating dissidents, independent media outlets and protesting political parties – he has ample room for maneuver (while the price of hydrocarbons continues to rise) to manage discontent. that may occur in the face of increasingly harsh international sanctions.

But, in his eagerness to impose his dictate, he is also promoting dynamics that could very soon turn against him. From a Ukrainian point of view, his insistence that the recognition of the independence of Donbas includes the entire territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk ‘oblasts’, when their local separatist allies only control a third of the 53,000 km2 that they cover, points to an immediate military commitment that allows it to go far beyond its current positions, which inevitably means a direct clash with the Ukrainian armed forces. And no matter how favorable the balance of forces on the ground is for Moscow and the conviction that Kiev will not receive direct military support from NATO, it would be illusory to assume that this objective will be a piece of cake for the Russian troops. But it is that, in addition, and above all if it finally decides to annex that territory to Russia, Moscow would lose the option of continuing to count on its own allies willing to defend their positions in any Ukrainian political decision-making forumespecially in the field of foreign and security policy.

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As regards the Muscovite claim to establish a new European security order, Putin’s decision closes the door to any possible diplomatic process when Washington and NATO had been willing to explore possible agreements on the deployment of some types of weapons, including nuclear weapons, and military units on the European continent in line with the principle of the indivisibility of security, coined since the Act End of Helsinki (1975) in different documents that bear the signature of all the actors involved. A principle that determines that one’s own security cannot be achieved at the cost of the neighbor’s insecurity.

Definitely, Ukraine in state of emergency and plunged into its tragedy, Putin marching towards defeat despite his apparent strength and the US-EU tandem militarily powerless in the face of Russian aggressiveness.

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