Just yesterday, Russian President Putin called John Kerry and said that he is now ready to offer a seemingly meaningful response to the American plan for Ukraine. This naturally raises the question of whether Putin is going to soon capitulate to US and European demands. I doubt it.
Of course, until we see what comes out of the meeting between Kerry and Sergei Lavrov next week, we won’t know for certain. But Putin has to believe that the US and the EU will happily ratify the taking of Crimea in exchange for peace and a promise for now that Putin will not send troops into Eastern Ukraine. Indeed, the Kremlin statement made no mention of Crimea, suggesting Putin considers the matter a fait accompli that is no longer up for discussion.
With the Russian economy suffering and the Russian ruble and markets fading, it is in Putin’s short-term and intermediate term interest to try to stabilize the situation.
But in the longer term – which could be just a few months – it may well be in Putin’s calculus that he will simply decide to let the Ukrainian situation play itself out and hope that the level of instability there creates an opportunity where he can make a legitimate argument for sending troops in to protect Russian interests or put the government itself in collapse.
And Putin wouldn’t be mistaken to think that Ukrainian government could collapse.
Indeed, just this week the leader of the right wing extremist leader, Oleksandr Muzychko, was killed during a raid by the police. As a result, his party stormed parliament Thursday night to demand the ouster of the minister of the interior.
We have also seen the resignation of the Ukrainian defense minister, Ihor Tenyukh, due to his failings – and that of the Ukrainian government’s – to present any sort of meaningful defense strategy to protect Crimea, which is now lost to Russia.
And with a presidential election coming up on in just a few weeks, and with right wing extremists holding a solid minority of positions in the interim government, it is not at all clear that a stable and consistent Ukrainian government will emerge from the political and electoral process. It is actually far more likely that the same chaos we have seen since the fall of 2013 will continue.
Consequently, there’s every reason to believe that even if Putin backs down next week it will be a short-term concession to try to consolidate his gains. This will surely position himself to continue his advance if, and arguably when, the Ukrainian government shows instability or internal chaos which will present the irresistible opportunity to the ever opportunistic and always expansionist Russian President.