Gwynne Dyer: Russia will pay the price for Vladimir Putin’s treatment of Ukraine

Conducting an orderly retreat is the hardest thing not only in war but also in politics, as Russian president Vladimir Putin is now learning.

His own desire to avoid humiliation gets in the way of rapid disengagement from a losing battle, which why he waited until two days before last Sunday’s (May 25) Ukrainian presidential election to say that he would respect the result. And even then he said “respect”, not “recognize”.

The Ukrainian election went well. Petro Poroshenko, a minor-league oligarch with business interests in Russia, won convincingly in the first round, and 60 percent of voters actually showed up at the polls.

Even in Donetsk province, where most city centres are occupied by separatist gunmen, seven out of 12 district electoral commissions were able to operate normally. It’s a good start on stabilising the country.

So why didn’t Putin just say “recognzse”, when that is clearly what he will have to do in the end if Russia and Ukraine are to have peaceful relations? Why prolong the uncertainty about his intentions in the West, where the belief that he is an “expansionist” bent on recreating the Russian/Soviet empire takes deeper root with each passing day?

The answer is pride—and Russia will pay a significant price for Putin’s pride.

Last week Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, enlivened his royal tour of Canada by telling an elderly Polish immigrant that Hitler's relentless takeover of European countries in the 1930s was “not unlike what Putin is doing now”. Prince Charles is well known for saying silly things, but what he said in Canada sounded quite sensible to many people in the West.

That is a big problem for Putin.

Putin’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine, though completely illegal, was not the first step in his plan for world conquest. That is preposterous: Russia is a relatively poor country of only 140 million people. But it is a regrettable fact of life that the Hitler analogy has a powerful grip on the popular imagination throughout Europe and North America, and Putin’s aimless belligerence has been setting him up in Western minds as the next Hitler.

He was very cross when his tame Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown by protesters after he obeyed Putin’s demand to break off trade talks with the European Union. Putin punished Ukraine by annexing Crimea, and he started doing some heavy breathing about Ukraine’s eastern provinces as well.

He encouraged pro-Russian gunmen to seize government buildings in eastern Ukraine and warned that he might intervene militarily if the Ukrainian government used force against them. He moved 40,000 troops up to Ukraine’s eastern border on “exercises”.

It was quite pointless, since he could neither annex the eastern provinces nor remove the Ukrainian government without actually invading, but he was very cross.

Three months of that, and the damage to his and Russia’s image is starting to pile up.

Simple-minded people like Prince Charles talk about a new Hitler. Terrified Poles, Estonians, and other Eastern Europeans who used to live under the Soviet yoke fear that they might be next and demand NATO troops on their soil. And clever people in the Western military-industrial complexes see an opportunity to sell more of their wares.

So at last, in early May, Putin sobers up and calls off the fright campaign. He says that the Ukrainian election could be a move “in the right direction”. He publicly urges the pro-Russian gunmen in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces to postpone a planned referendum on union with Russia. He even says that he is withdrawing his troops from Ukraine’s borders.

But he doesn’t really withdraw the troops yet. He doesn’t use his influence to force the separatist gunmen in eastern Ukraine to postpone their referendum, and he doesn’t actually say that he will recognise the Ukrainian election as legitimate.

Putin wants to walk away from the game, but it’s too embarrassing to do a complete about-face. So he leaves the pot of fear and suspicion boiling for another three weeks.

Finally, only two days before the Ukranian election, Putin says he will “respect” the result, and his tanks start to pull back from Ukraine’s border. Too damned late. There won’t be any more Western sanctions against Russia, but Putin has managed to resurrect the image of Russia as a mortal threat to its neighbours. It will not lie down again soon.

European defence budgets will stop falling, and the integration of the armed forces of the various new NATO members in Eastern Europe will accelerate. Leading-edge technologies like missile defence will get more funding in the United States. Foreign investment in Russia is already declining. And the countries of the European Union will move heaven and earth to cut their dependence on Russian gas exports.

Putin has already turned to China as a new customer for Russian gas, but it will never pay as well as Europe did. He used to be able to play the Europeans and the Chinese off against each other, but that game is over. NATO sees him as a wild card at best, and at worst a real threat.

The master strategist has lost his touch.

Comments (31) Add New Comment
If you truly believe that Russia is not on track with their agenda.. You have been misinformed
Rating: -17
Vlad Komhiruzunuvavych
Putin just got bitch slapped by Obama. Old man Putin's 30 year old girlfriend will surely dump him for a man more viral.
Rating: -29
Putin is a master tactician, not a strategist. He either has no appreciation for his strategic weakness or if he does he hopes to punch his way through with quick action. Just like Hitler.
Rating: -19

The easiest and safest way to free Crimea and stop any other Russian aggressive acts is to make a list of 5000 Putin's top supporters, make it public, and then randomly ban for life ten persons ( and all their family members) a day from ever entering the USA, fifty-three countries members of the Commonwealth, and the European Union.

Miraculously and without any other military escalation from NATO, Russia will stop and then reverse its Ukrainian activities and gains.

Why? Because most Russian statesmen and bureaucrats made (read stole) their enormous fortunes in Russia.

But they keep, invest, spend money and enjoy the luxury life style mostly abroad. Their children study and live there. Because it is safer, cleaner, warmer, better (think of Paris, NYC, LA, Hawaii, London and you would understand). And because 95% of life and reality inside Russia is opposite to the preceding.

What is wealth without freedom to enjoy it? Almost nothing!

Every and ALL of 5000 Putin's top supporters will get scared to death of being among the first ones banned for life from enjoying their billions.

ALL 5000 of them will immediately push Putin to concede.

Putin has been on top only because of their support. And Putin will have no choice but to reverse and become a more civilized dictator.

Rating: +10
@ Vlad... I think you mean virile.
Rating: -6
Putin or his KGB buddies wouldn't survive 5 minutes on the F-train in the City.
Rating: -20
John-Albert Eadie
Gwynne Dyer has gone off his rocker. He is starting to eat the dog food of the Western press. Putin is in no way responsible for the SE Federalist reactions to a USA / Ukrainian Fascist coup and resulting totally Faux Election. If the Chocolate King refuses to treat with the SE leaders, and I expect he won't, THEN Putin will act. This is still a very dangerous time for Russia, the EU, and the USA. Whether the EU continues to be the USA's creature is the critical thing. Putin is only doing what he must.
Rating: -23
I really find it difficult to believe that our esteemed political commentator really believes the stuff he writes, especially the views expressed in this column. No doubt he is solidly on the western media bandwagon denouncing the west's preeminent bogyman and thereby further feeding public hysteria for waging
war against Russia. Well, eat it up sheeple, if that's to your taste. For something more palatable try reading:
Rating: -10
Putin know the West has no will power to confront Russia militarily. He also knows that they are scared that sanctions will make a dictator in the likes of him behave and act in a manner that will impact their economic basket policy.

Ukrainians should get ready for a long, hard and virtually impossible journey with Petrol.
Rating: -7
Wow a Jewish Billionaire runs Ukraine! I hope Wrong Sektor is happy now.
Rating: +4
Assegid Tiruneh
Why do you not blame the the American and The EU leaders for the mess that Ukraine finds itself in rather than blaming Mr. Putin. Putin did not create the crisis in Ukraine but the US and EU did. As for Crimea even the Ukrainians know that it belongs to Russia. It was natural for Russia to take it back before the Americans establish the base there. Did you expect the Russian leaders to sit quietly when the NATO forces are surrounding them from every side?If it were not Mr. Putin any other Russian leader could have taken the same measure to claim back a territory that was given as a gift under alcoholic influence with in the context of the USSR just 60 years ago. I have read most of your books and had a respect for you but now you are like any other propagandist trying to white wash history and blame not the perpetrator but the victim. Please sober up!
Rating: -9
Mark Watkins
I don't disagree in principle, but doesn't respect supersede recognition?
Rating: -17
I Chandler
"Western military-industrial complexes see an opportunity to sell more of their wares."

Yes and American GMO agribusiness will see an opportunity to embrace Ukrainian farmers. However -they may be suicidal afterwards:

Eric Margolis describes how this is the long-dreaded embrace between the Chinese dragon and Russian bear that has given western strategists the willies:

'One must suspect that the recent fracas in Ukraine was the last straw that pushed China to make a strategic alignment with Russia. Until now, the two great powers had quietly cooperated, not always without problems. Thanks to all the bluster and sabre-rattling from the US and its allies over Eastern Europe and the South China Sea, China decided to deepen and expand its entente with Moscow....Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin usually wears a perfect poker face. But last week in Shangahi, the icy-cold Russian president came awfully close to bursting into a big grin.
And why not? Putin had just stolen a march on his western rivals. The US-British attempt to wound Russia’s economy and punish Putin for disobedience had just blown up in their faces...'

'The Republicans who have been beating the war drums and calling for Obama to get tough with Russia (whatever that means) now share blame for pushing Moscow into China’s arms. All perfectly predictable and perfectly dumb. A diplomatic fiasco...'

"EU will cut their dependence on Russian gas exports."

Yes their will be opportunities to Unleash Euro-Fracking: 'An enterprising Texas oil man is trying to help Europe help itself...'
Rating: +3
Al Tinfoil
Dyer' is serving pure US propaganda.
PM Yanukovich asked the EU for eased access for Ukraine's goods. The EU presented an Association Agreement with a customs union, but demanded "market reforms" to western-style markets, elimination of subsidies on home heating fuel and food, and turning Ukraine into a NATO base. Yanukovich came close to signing, but the "market reforms" would cost Ukraine $20 Billion, so he asked for financial help (Ukraine was nearly skint). The EU offered only about $660 Million, so Yanukovich held out for more. Then Russia offered a $15 Billion loan, a customs union, and cheap natural gas (crucial for keeping Ukraine's old, energy-inefficient factories running), and Yanukovich accepted. Pro-EU people started demonstrating in Maidan, encouraged and funded by the US and by pro-EU oligarchs. Yanukovich and the opposition leaders make a deal to set up a coalition government and hold early elections. The US, having spent $5 Billion on destabilizing the Ukraine government, was not satisfied, so it stirred up bloody riots and Yanukovich was forced to flee for his life. Yatsenyuk, the US choice, was installed as the new PM. Victoria Nuland revealed that the US arranged the coup.
The US/EU/NATO plan was to take over Ukraine for cheap, exploit its resources and people, install NATO missile bases, and force Russia out of its naval base in Crimea. Russia, aware of the US intentions since at least as early as 2008, was prepared. Russia, following the procedure established by NATO in taking Kosovo from Serbia, adopted Crimea after the Crimean people, in a popular vote, overwhelmingly chose to join Russia. East Ukraine, heavily ethnically Russian, rose up against the junta in Kiev. East Ukraine, the industrial heartland of Ukraine, is heavily dependent on Russian fuel and Russian markets.
The US has been screaming in mock outrage, claiming Putin is the bad guy. Now the IMF is ready to pick Ukraine's bones clean, but the IMF wants all of Ukraine, and insists East Ukraine separatists must be defeated. The killing goes on. Kiev and the US don't care how many die.
Putin has not provoked any of this - he has reacted to US moves. It is the US that, having seen their plan fall apart, refuses to admit defeat and is now trying to stir up a new Cold War to help their ailing economy, and to force the EU to remain allied to the US.
Rating: +4
What a total crap !
Rating: -8
I Chandler
"But it is a regrettable fact of life that the Hitler analogy has a powerful grip throughout Europe and North America..."

Is it regrettable that the Hitler analogy is loosing it's grip, with overuse in the last decade? Gaddafi , Assad , Hussein , Ahmadinejad , Milosevic and Chavez all took turns:

"West, where the belief that Putin is bent on recreating the Soviet empire takes deeper, each day.."

Simple-minded sock puppets spew this propaganda each day - I am not sure it's as effective as it once was. Special assistant to the Deputy Director of the CIA, describes the how the CIA is a master at distorting history - even creating its own version of history:
"By suppressing historical fact, and by manufacturing historical fiction, the CIA, with its obsessive secrecy and its vast resources, has posed a particular threat to the right of Americans to be informed..."

"Simple-minded people like Prince Charles talk about a new Hitler..."
Many didn't think Hitler was such a bad chap:
Rating: +2
This is strait as it gets!
1) We live in a global economy. Putin can't move against the west with out severely affecting the the Russian economy.
2) Putin lost any trust he had in the West. NATO will intensify its military budget and Russia's neighbours will steer more towards NATO.
3) Ukraine is more united than ever thanks to the new treat!
-- Thank you for becoming the big bad Wolf that will unite Ukraine and Europe against a common enemy. You are a narcissist and a idiot. You are well in over your head.
Rating: -21
I have disagreed with Dyer before but never like this. He comes off as a shill for the Washington-generated tsunami of media lies which hypocritically depicts Putin as villain, Putin as Hitler. Perhaps Dyer wants the ban on his columns in the US lifted in so shamelessly serving up this blinkered and simplistic narrative, in joining the pusillanimous chorus of faux "journalism" cranked out by various western Ministries of Truth with relentless mendacity.

And not a word about the USA/Ukrainian Fascist coup? Of course not, this is the first dictate of the West's "coverage" of this ongoing mess, a crypto civil war they ignited themselves. What other country would not have their forces on alert with a slow burn civil war starting up right across the border? If anything, Putin has been incredibly restrained. After what the Russian people suffered in defeating fascist Germany (and liberating all of the Ukraine in the process) you have to be historically tone deaf not to understand what the appearance of fascism in western Ukraine has on Russians. This coup government is shot through with ultra nationalists and openly condones crowds of people carrying SS runes on banners and swastikas. Fascism is rearing it's drear head again in eastern Europe--this is the real story that Dyer refuses to touch with a barge pole in his article. Ultra nationalists are referring to ethnic Russian Ukrainians in the east as "half human" just as the Germans did in Operation Barbarossa. It's chilling to witness.

Dyer, so often right on the money with his history-empowered analyses of events, has really dropped the ball on this one. It's frankly embarrassing.
Rating: -11
"the USA/Ukrainian Fascist coup"

There has been a democratic election and a new President has been chosen with no reported problems except those caused by the pro-Russian gunmen. The fascists candidates got 3%.
Rating: -6

1. Putin has just greatly strenghtened the Russian economy by concluding a multi-billion dollar, 30 year gas deal with China. What EXACTLY is the West going to do? After all, their "sanctions" have just been so effective, right?

2. NATO can intensify their military budget and make all the vague treats they want. But the Empire of the US is stretched pretty thin worldwide, and their client states aren't as enthusiastic about this as you may think. For example, Germany's Angela Merckel is a good US / IMF puppet, but accorrding to Der Spiegel magazine 92% of Germany's population opposes any kind of military action against Russia.

3. Ukraine more united then ever?!?! They are now in a civil war!

From Bloomberg:

Troops killed “dozens” of rebels without suffering any losses, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said today, while the mayor’s office in the eastern city of Donetsk said 40 people died and 31 were wounded. Gunmen also broke through the border from the Russian side after a firefight with government forces overnight, and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for humanitarian and military help, according to separatist leader Denis Pushilin.

“The anti-terrorist operation is in an active phase now,” First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema told journalists in Kiev today. “We’ll continue this operation until there are no terrorists on Ukraine’s territory.”


Rating: -3


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