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Putin's Dilemma After Crimea

Published: April 19, 2014 (Issue # 1806)


What is President Vladimir Putin's next move? The answer is thus far undecided, perhaps even for Putin.

To put ourselves in Putin's shoes, Western observers and analysts have searched history for analogous moments in time. Historians tell us that if we can find similar historical circumstances, we might be better able to predict what will happen next. Some experts look to 1914 and the run-up to World War I for clues and insights.

But for Putin and his inner circle, the most analogous moment in history is December 2001. Russia is playing the role of the U.S. as it basked in the initial "success" of Afghanistan and contemplated Iraq. The parallels are uncanny.

Today, flush from a stunning and rapid victory in Crimea, largely at the hands of special forces and intelligence services, Putin has mobilized and deployed a professional army, ready to fulfill his next orders. There is no opponent who stands in the way of a military adventure into Ukraine.

With an approval rating hovering above 70 percent, Putin is buoyed by almost universal support from Russians and elites for what he has done thus far. In the domestic narrative, he has swept into Crimea to protect the people from what some Russians are already calling the "Ukrainian Taliban" West-leaning protesters and opposition forces that include some extremist activists. He is now prepared to extend the same "protection" to other ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and maybe elsewhere.

Should Putin do the safe thing and pocket his easy victory, or should he "go long" and attack a problem that has been a stone in Russia's boot since 1991 Ukraine?

Putin's dilemma is whether to use his current advantage to change the game inside Ukraine once and for all to Russia's advantage. This is a choice very similar to the one U.S. President George W. Bush faced as he contemplated stretching his early success in Afghanistan into a game-changing victory in Iraq.

The Russian military that is now positioned along the Ukrainian border is certainly the most capable force the country has mustered since the Cold War. According to the commander of NATO forces, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, there are 40,000 Russian troops deployed along Ukraine's border, a combined arms force "capable of attacking on 12 hours' notice."

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 21


Time is running out to see the fantastic creations on display at the 2014 Sand Castle Festival on the beach at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Adhering to the theme of Treasure Island, visitors can wander amongst larger-than-life interpretations of pirate life or attend one of the workshops held to educate a future generation of sand artists. The castles will remain on the beach until Aug. 31.



Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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