Putin’s Strategery

Michael McFaul views the Russian president as a failed statesman:

Putin’s failed proxy war in eastern Ukraine also has produced a lot of collateral damage to his other foreign policy objectives. If the debate about NATO expansion had drifted to a second-order concern before Putin’s move into Ukraine, it is front and center again now. Likewise, the strengthening of NATO’s capacity to defend its Eastern European members has returned as a priority for the first time in many years. Russian leaders always feared U.S. soldiers stationed in Poland or Estonia, yet that might just happen now. In addition, Putin’s actions in Ukraine have ensured that missile defense in Europe will not only proceed but could expand. And after a decade of discussion without action, Putin has now shocked Europe into developing a serious energy policy to reduce dependence on Russian gas and oil supplies. As a result of Putin’s actions in Ukraine, the United States is now likely to become an energy exporter, competing with Russia for market share. Some call Putin’s policies pragmatic and smart. I disagree.

Approaching the Ukraine conflict from a strategic studies perspective, Joshua Rovner outlines what scholars in that field can learn from it:

Ukraine raises at least two issues that may inspire new thinking on strategic theory. One is the problem of recognizing success when it involves something less than victory.

Ukraine has been on the offensive against the separatist fighters, rapidly driving them back into a handful of strongholds. But it’s unlikely the government can destroy them, given pro-Russian sentiment in the east and the possible existence of a large sanctuary for committed separatists across the border. Moreover, any durable settlement will require making concessions to groups that are extremely hostile to Kiev, as well as tacit promises to the Russian regime.

This might be a reasonable outcome, especially if Russia is badly bruised and if Ukraine comes away with increased Western economic and political support. But some Ukrainian leaders will bridle at any settlement that leaves their perceived enemies in place, especially after having lost Crimea. Not everyone will learn to live with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his proxies, and their unease may cause them to underrate important strategic gains. Such a scenario should resonate with American observers.