Asymmetrical

by Andrew Stuttaford

Writing in Prospect, James Sherr with a typically interesting analysis of what Putin is now weighing,

This, in particular, caught my eye (my emphasis added):

The Russian President is a high-risk player who understands that economic interdependence is not politically neutral. Instead of constraining those with the most to lose, it constrains those who are most afraid of losses. The EU summit of 7th March was a victory for those who fear losses. Putin also understands that business interests take priority over geopolitical interests in today’s Europe. For him it is the opposite: Russia’s loss of Ukraine will be far more damaging than any measures the EU (or even the United States) is now prepared to take. Without action, Western outrage means nothing. The American President and German Foreign Minister still assume that Putin seeks Western approval. He does not. The premise of his entire policy is that “Russia is not the west”—it is a proud, apprehensive and ambitious power.

James goes on to highlight flaws in Putin’s approach, some less significant, in my view, than he thinks (my own guess is that an occupied Crimea will not be that hard to manage), then ponders the effect of a Crimean occupation on the population in Ukraine’s southeast (could it rally them behind Kiev?) and wonders if it might also provoke the EU into reducing their dependence on Russian gas. That last sounds good in theory, but such a reorientation would take years, and it’s not clear what happens in the interim  (Russia supplies the EU with about 25 percent of its gas—and the figure is quite a bit higher in Germany) and, for that matter,  how it can be reconciled with the bizarre greenery that has made such a mess of the EU’s energy policy.

Here (via Reuters) is Polish prime minister Donald Tusk earlier this week:

“Germany’s dependence on Russian gas may effectively decrease Europe’s sovereignty. I have no doubts about that…”Increasingly more expensive energy in Europe due to exorbitant climate and environmental ambitions may also mean greater dependence in Russian energy sources…Hence, I will talk (to Merkel) primarily about how Germany is able to correct some economic actions so that dependence on Russian gas doesn’t paralyse Europe when it needs…a decisive stance.”

Beyond channeling additional support to the Baltic states (there’s that whole credibility of NATO thing), I would not claim to know what the West’s next move should be, but my suspicion is that the paralysis that Tusk fears may start setting in before very long. Sanctions are all very well, but if they go beyond the merely symbolic, the Kremlin will bite back with, effectively, ‘sanctions’ of its own against the US and EU, a prospect that takes us back to contemplating the reality of James’s grim formula: those with the most to lose (Russia’s economy is faltering) can outplay those who fear losses more.

Oh, and there is this:

Putin is also not a master strategist—today’s approach is weakened by its reliance on short-term strengths. He succeeds in unbalancing opponents only because he plays by rules they don’t understand.

Well, they still don’t understand.

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