Putin’s Lost Ground

I’m noticing a slight change in the CW about Ukraine. Until yesterday it was mainly a series of lamentations about Western weakness and half-admiring declarations about the toughness, shrewdness, and ruthlessness of Vladimir Putin. Well, those views are still being expressed, and they are not wrong or foolish. Putin is a formidable opponent, and of course he has largely run rings around Washington and Brussels, and very noticeably around President Obama.

But more and more people are beginning to notice that he has not in fact gained ground in Ukraine but lost it. Three weeks ago he had remote control of the country through his satrap, Yanukovych, who was very reluctant to break off the deal with the EU because it was popular. He was half-pressured, half-bribed to do so by Putin, and he no longer rules Ukraine. Only Crimea is still under the control of the Kremlin by methods that are causing Putin a lot of trouble. He won’t find it easy to get eastern Ukraine back onto the plantation, however, let alone the whole country. If he tries to do so by rougher methods, he could lose altogether or gain only part of the prize, again at some international and financial cost. His best bet at present is to make life difficult for Ukraine as a sort of punishment. But that’s a lot less than he had before he boldly, decisively, ruthlessly, and unsuccessfully intervened.

Views like this are being expressed in London by Andrew Lilco (on Conservative Home), Alex Massie on the Spectator website, and, er, me, on the Spectator website and in the actual magazine. If I have value to add to the new CV, it is the argument that Putin wasn’t reversed by the U.S., the EU, Germany, or any great power but by ordinary Ukrainian demonstrators (with a little help from their friends in the Polish government).

Score:

Free citizens: 2

Authoritarian governments: 0

Okay, Andrew, that’s only the score at half-time.

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