VVP is many things, of course: paraplane pilot, scuba diver, tiger hunter, race car driver, judo black belt. One thing he isn’t is dumb. In fact, he’s alot shrewder than people in the West give him credit for.
With Ukraine’s economy in freefall, Putin has plenty of policy options. If he’s as smart as he seems to be, he’d do exactly what the West appears to want.
He’d say: “You want Ukraine? Here, take it. You can have it. Have fun. Knock yourself out.”
Basically, call the West’s bluff. Washington and Brussels flapped their gums and waved their hands back in October and November, but as the saying goes “money talks, bullshit walks.” The Kremlin ponied up $15 billion. The EU and the US? Um… well… let’s see…
Yatsenyuk, the new prime minister of this basketcase of a country (nee breadbasket?), laid it all out, in case anyone had any doubts:
“The treasury is empty, it faces debts of $75 billion and Ukraine’s overall debt is $130 billion. Pensions haven’t been paid in full for more than a month and the foreign-exchange reserves have been looted.” (courtesy WSJ)
Putin could just let the West give Ukraine and its new leadership a big ol’ bear hug… as Ukraine then slips into default, its currency collapses, its economy implodes and the populace takes to the streets to demand bread, heat, water, electricity and all the other trappings of modern civilization, which until now have been subsidized by the corrupt Yanukovych government. (and probably by his predecessors, too…)
Mass protests in the streets at Western austerity and economic reforms, and pretty soon, you have the REAL radical/nationalist/asshole neo-Nazis coming out to promise restored glory to Ukraine and to hell with the IMF and the World Bank and Barack Obama and Angela Merkel.
(Speaking of which where the hell is Yushchenko and why hasn’t anyone figured out why he’s dead silent?)
A couple places have hinted at this option for Putin, most notably the Times today:
“Perhaps Mr. Putin’s most effective weapon though is time, sitting back and watching as the West takes ownership of an economy on the brink of collapse.”
The problem for VVP is that where he might be shrewd, he’s built himself up on the backs of the military and the security establishment, neither of which are known for subtlety or nuance. (“Ok boys, let’s mobilize 150,000 troops on the Ukrainian border just days after the Ukrainian president, whom we sorta kinda like, is ousted by those crazy salo-eating Uks from Lviv, sorry, we mean, Lvov. Maybe they’ll take the hint over in Brussels…”)
The problem with doing nothing, from Putin’s perspective, is that Russia– as a culture, as a society, as a nation, as a people, as a “narod”– is such a psychological basketcase that people in Moscow are probably sitting around discussing all the mistakes Catherine The Great made in 1856 that resulted in the imperial army have its pants beaten of it by the Brits and French (and the Sardinians, natch).
Doing nothing in Ukraine isn’t an option for the masses, because, well, you know, this is RODINA! The Motherland!
And don’t you ever forget it.