An article by Vladislav Inozemtsev* on Project Syndicate today prompted a long discussion on Twitter about where Ukraine and Russia are going, and what will happen this year. As always, I have thoughts. And they are too long to lay out in a series of tweets.
Russia still needs their land bridge to Crimea (yes, I know I sound like a broken record with this). I am still concerned that the Iskanders in Crimea may be utilised. In the meantime, it appears that some changes are being made to the situation on the ground in the Donbas. The current leadership of the so-called rebels is being liquidated, and Girkin/Strelkov is getting nervous.
Meanwhile, the terror attacks in Odessa against NGOs do not bode well for the situation on the ground. There have also been incidents in Kharkiv, and Kyiv in the past month. The lack of coverage on these incidents in the mainstream press seems to indicate that the West is getting bored with the Ukraine story. What that means is that the recent comments from Hollande and the Germans about reaching some kind of agreement with Russia are not just rhetoric. The US has opted out of taking a real leadership role in negotiations, thus leaving the two main players in European foreign policy to make a deal with Russia over Ukraine’s fate. Something that they seem more than willing to do. I think we are going to see a partitioned Ukraine this year. The European Union will accede to this, and tell Ukraine that it is for its own good. Poroshenko will cave because he feels he has to for financial reasons.
Freedom Of Speech in Russia
I don’t think that freedom of speech and press truly exist in Russia. A lot of self-censorship takes place, and editors are pressured to censor their reporters. I have not been following what is happening with Dozhd, but the fact that they did not question Medvedev as closely as they should have in his November interview makes me question their policies. And we have seen recently what happened with Ekho Moskvy. In the end, Venediktov caved to pressure by censoring the tweets of his journalists. That’s his choice, and I understand it, to some degree, but it’s certainly an indication of current practices among editors.
There is also the problem that New Times editor Yevgenia Albats is currently facing. I have not seen any updates on her situation, but such incidents are not uncommon among journalists working in Russia.
Kremlin Power Struggle
As for a Kremlin power struggle, I do not subscribe to the belief that there is no opposition to Putin in oligarchic circles. When you have a chart that looks like the one below, you cannot expect those same people to blindly follow you off a cliff.
In addition to these oligarchs, there is a group sitting in exile in London, and Paris, and Zurich who are eagerly waiting to return. And they are active, if not obvious. I include Khodorkovsky on this list, though many have been quick to dismiss him.
Alexei Navalny is a distraction. Leaving house arrest to go out to buy milk is not exactly news, but it is one of the only things that has been showing up in my news feed for the past 48 hours. Note too that the court has washed their hands of the situation, and refuses to act.
Putin thinks he can outlast Ukraine financially. He may be right, but Russia’s economy will crash eventually, and sooner rather than later. This report by BNP Paribas is based on the numbers supplied by the Russian Central Bank, but I doubt very much that Russia has the money they say they do. Remember too that some of the so-called reserves are in gold and other commodities whose values are also dropping.
The next group that takes power will be lucky if they have the $13 billion that Putin had when he came to power in 1999.
Putin will be ousted eventually. How that plays out is still unclear. He has really not been looking well recently, so his death is a risk. A Medvedev government would be, by definition, weak. Even so, in the event of Putin’s passing, the Russian constitution states that a presidential election must take place within 3 months. Would Medvedev be allowed to run? It seems doubtful.
I’ve probably raised more questions than answered them, but I hope it’s a starting point at least.
Inozemtsev is not offering advice in his opinion piece. He is informing us how this will all play out. What we will see in the end. A repeat of Yeltsin’s Russia, which brought neither freedom nor peace, by the way.