First off I'd like to say that I'm not a mind reader, I'm not an Ukrainian/Russian scholar with 20 years of experience, and I'm not some ex-CIA/KGB agent. I'm just writing this diary to work through some thoughts that have been bubbling in my head after watching and reading both Western and Russian media, and having talked with people who are actually in the Ukraine right now. I wanted to game out what President Putin, President Obama, and other world players may be thinking, and how this all might play out in the end. This is all stream of consciousness, but please feel free to chime in!
Before we begin, Wikileaks has taught me that essentially all important things happen off camera, so the only way to know anything half the time is by guessing, taking whatever you know to be true and just extrapolating. It's how conspiracy theories are born, but if you try to stick to some facts, it can just be a conspiracy hypothesis :)
First off, the American Right fawning over Putin is both disgusting and telling of exactly how authoritarian the American Right has become. They are shameless and should be called out on it. Putin, like all other politicians, displays himself just as the public wants him. Any politician worth their salt does this. They sublimate their own ideas, their own feelings, their own emotions, and display a hologram based on their voting public.
Russians want their President to be an emotionless robot. They want someone who makes decisions quickly without hesitation, regardless of the consequences. That is because there is no consequence, as far as the average Russian is concerned, that is worth more than the thrill of glory for Russia. I am not overstating my case. Picture an entire country that is majority Republican. Really picture it for a second. After the Soviet Union fell, and Russian elected its first president, that was the first real democratic election the country had in 1,000 years. Coincidentally, their experiment in democracy occurred in the Ukraine, but I digress.
This gets Russia into big trouble sometimes. Rudy Giuliani fawns over Putin because he "makes a decision, and in half a day, it's executed," but in many cases in Russian history, this has proved fatal to the empire. You can decisively do something stupid. The invasion of Afghanistan was idiotic and set off a chain reaction that led to hyperinflation and an economy in free fall. What about the environmental disasters brought on by trying to compete with the United States in corn production which drained the Aral sea and caused mass topsoil erosion all through Kazakhstan? Russian incursions into Chechnya has created an entire lost generation of young Russian men whose only solace to escape from the horrors of their war crimes is a bottle of vodka. Russia is gripped with AIDS, poverty, brain drain, alcoholism, and income inequality that is pervasive. To make it worse, the average Russian does not believe in liberalism or trying to gain human rights or equality within society. There are the elites, and the non-elites. You try to be an elite if you can, because once you're dug into the hole, that's where you stay.
The disgusting trappings of Putinism show off that deep in the Russian soul is a streak for authoritarianism and offering up one's individual self for "God, Tsar, and Orthodoxy." Attempts at liberalizing Russia have historically ended in failure. From the Decembrists to Catherine the Great, Russia has always loved the material trappings of the West, but never gets around to truly instituting, at a personal level, the fruits of the enlightenment.
Russia has a beautiful culture, they are an advanced nation, and there are plenty of good things to say about them. Don't get me wrong. However, you have to play the ball where it lies. Putin must maintain an image that aligns with his people. He is not the person he displays himself as. He has a parliament filled with men who are almost all over 60, raised in the Soviet Union gripped in competition with the West. He has to maintain an image, but in fact, he's a conservationist. He is a political realist with respect to Europe. He has to bend to his people. Look at Edward Snowden. Please don't tell me that he, the President of Russia, wants to have an American spy defector in his country. He would've dumped him off at the first boat leaving for the Arctic Circle, but the Russian populace felt that Snowden had humiliated the United States and that letting him stay in Moscow would be a slight towards the United States. Notice how Putin gave him a year, just long enough for Russian to feel happy, but short enough to shove him out once people forget.
Things might not be so dire.
First off, let's consider events. Putin has the ability to invade the Ukraine. He has naval assets in the Black sea and a land army nearby Ukraine which he could easily mobilize. The Pro-Russian leader has been ousted by a popular movement. There is no way Putin or anyone in the KGB really thinks neo-Nazis are behind the coup, but there presence is important to inspire fear in the Russian populace. Ukraine is an important region for Russia strategically as the ancestral Russian homeland, and also given the fact that there are gas lines running through the Ukraine, and it'd be difficult to defend oneself given the fact you could strike at a lot of major Russian cities through the Ukraine, Ukraine has clear strategic importance.
However, closer ties with the EU and the US are inevitable for the Western region of the Ukraine. There is a serious cultural divide between the east and the west. The West sees the eastern part of the Ukraine as backwards and conservative. The east is the industrial center and people there, economically speaking, receive a lot of Russian support, not to mention the fact, that the region identifies itself as more Russian than Ukrainian. The Ukrainian identity is not firm across the board. Some people see themselves as Ukrainian, some people see themselves as Russians living in the Ukraine, and some see themselves as their own background and living in the Ukraine for awhile. Russia is a multi-ethnic nation with a divide between the "Rooskee" people, ethnic Russians, and the "Roseeskee" which mean people who fall under the imperial power of Russian hegemony i.e. Jews, Azerbaijanians, whatever.
With this in mind, Putin sees a Ukraine that is really three separate countries. From a Russian perspective that's cool. They kept a vast multi-ethnic multi-religious empire together cohesively for a long time, so a region that is tagged as one country, but really is like five, is not a new situation. In fact, usually Russians are quite keen on knowing the cultural makeup of a given region because it helps to figure out whether you should assign them to make plane parts or tank parts or whatever.
Get to the point.... Okay got it!
So, back to Crimea. Putin, the gun-slinging, take no prisoners, shoot first questions later, president, does the militarily minimalist thing he could possibly do by picking Crimea as his invasion point. He must invade and do something decisive, or people at home will turn on him. Remember, Putinism is a monster of his own making. Once the authoritarian nature of the Russian people is awakened, it's Frankenstein's monster: no going back. Russians already turned on a president before for not acting "decisively" enough. Well, Putin must act then, but honestly speaking, this was the least aggressive option.
Crimea is mostly Russian, and by that, I mean "Rooskee" not "Roseeskee." The people there consider themselves to be Russian. After all, the region was a gift to the Ukraine by Nikita "We will bury you" Krushev himself. The people there are not fighting off the Russian soldiers, protesting, or really doing anything aggressive towards them (as far as I know). Think about it a sec. Normally, when a foreign force invades your area, some people have the balls to try and fight back. The Crimeans aren't. It could be fear, but it also is the fact that many of them buy into Putin's state run media and think of the Russians as saviors.
Russia could have invaded the entirety of the Ukraine already and would have caught the Ukrainian military off guard. Think about it. That's the best time to attack. If your goal is to crush Yanukovich's opposition and restore him to power, then you send the brutal Russian army into the Maidan and you suppress everyone. If the West doesn't like it, then give them the middle finger and finish your operation up quickly. Yes, it invites a war with the U.S., but if you want the entirety of the Ukraine to fall into your control forcefully, then war it is. The Russian army is absolutely brutal and inhumane. They wipe out whole families and have no regard for the rules of war. I understand war is brutal, but if you look at the conduct of American soldiers, for the most part, their goal is just to kill people they're sure are there enemies. Russian soldiers will convince themselves, in a purely authoritarian fashion, of who there enemies all and treat everyone accordingly.
So why not take the open, easy (relatively speaking) door? Because Putin doesn't want that. That'd make enemies out of the Western Ukrainians, and excessive brutality will only make enemies out of Eastern Ukrainian nationalists, and may even make Pro-Russian people at best neutral. Ukraine is necessary for Russia's oil and natural gas economy. Just as Angela Merkel is thinking about the fact she can't go without 30% of her natural gas, Putin is thinking that without his pipelines through the Ukraine, his oligarchs can't trickle down the wealth to Russia and make it a powerful nation. Remember, the average Russian has no shot and should be content knowing teh gays won't get him, so pumping the oligarchs with more money is a viable strategy.
Something does have to be done, because the Ukrainian opposition is so disjointed, all it can really offer is what it tried to put in place before. However, from Moscow's perspective, Tymoshenko might represent everything Ukrainians had been trying to get away from, and that a divided, factional opposition that doesn't gravitate towards a singular leader is impossible to control.
So instead, we go the route where we risk the fewest amount of casualties to our own soldiers, go to an area that's open to us, invite both Yanukovich and the opposition leader Tymoshenko to Moscow, and try to go about solving this problem Soviet style, i.e., finding a way to make sure the leadership is to our liking but so that we can be mostly hands off while we take care of our own polity. I can see the Ukraine as being redone with some sort of multi-leadership kind of deal where the separate parts are governed or effectively controlled by viceroys loyal to each faction, so that no one faction gains too much power. Given the importance of oil and natural gas to Europe, I don't see a more pro-EU Ukraine being too much of a threat to Russia, so long as Ukraine is divided enough not to ever belong to NATO. Sure, that means part of the country does go the the E.U., but as long as the other two parts are equally powerful and strategic, no one part outdoes the other.
This can mean an effective split for the Ukraine. In which case, the most aggressive move on our part would be to take an East-West Germany strategy of ensuring our piece is economically more viable than the other parts. We brought down the Soviet Union with better living once, it can happen again. However, it might be difficult because our aid package cannot be used to buy Tymoshenko, or whoever, a fleet of Mercedes Benzes.
Putin is a savvy leader, but he's not crazy; he's Russian. He really is just operating from a standpoint of what is best for his country and using a lot of the same business as usual strategies the Soviet's employed. Given the anti-gay laws and the level of authoritarianism in Russia, he's started something he may not be able to stop. He himself may be on a freight train to hell of his own making. We'll see where it ends up.