For Putin, the Ukraine is About More Than Just Territory

Акция "Свобода" П.Павленского в Санкт-Петербурге

One factor widely overlooked in the breakdowns of Ukraine’s ethnic populations and territorial maps, is that it’s not just about territory. It’s also about the risks of allowing a friendly government to be overthrown by street protesters.

Not too long ago, Putin faced major street protests. The success of the protests in Ukraine spilled over into Russia.

It was a little over 48 hours since enraged protesters based at Kiev’s Maidan opposition camp had driven Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych from power, but the shockwaves were already being felt on the glitzy streets of central Moscow.

“If there is no freedom in Russia, there will be a Maidan!” shouted a middle-aged man, as some 1,500 protesters, angry at jail sentences handed down to fellow opposition activists, defied a police ban to gather opposite the Kremlin on Monday evening.

“Things can’t go on like this forever,” sighed Olga, a rosy-cheeked young woman sporting ear muffs and the white ribbon that is the symbol of discontent with “national leader” Vladimir Putin’s long rule, as police snatched another activist from the crowd. “The people of Kiev rose up to kick out Yanukovych, and we’ll do the same to Putin one day.”

The chanting of “Maidan!” was not the only indication that Russia’s 21st-century dissidents have been inspired by recent events in Ukraine. As opposition activists in Kiev burnt car tyres and erected barricades in the weeks and months before their final bloody showdown with state security forces, Russian anti-government protesters could only watch with a mixture of admiration and envy. Now, that admiration has turned to mimicry.

Following an online call by a well-known opposition journalist, some activists hauled tyres to this week’s demonstration in Moscow, where they were promptly nabbed by police. Other copycat tactics were also in evidence, such as the singing of the national anthem and the unfurling of the Russian flag, both clear nods to the rousing displays of patriotism by Kiev’s tenacious protesters.

While toppling Putin would be harder than toppling Yanukovych, the USSR, which was a good deal tougher than Putin’s mafia state, was overthrown in part by popular protests.

Behind the staged photographs of a bare chested Putin hunting tigers or spearfishing for alligators is a narrow coterie of corrupt businessmen and an equally corrupt police state whose only interests in support the existing system are financial.

Putin isn’t just playing at empire, he’s also protecting his own back.

What really keeps Putin up late at night isn’t the protesters themselves, but the fear of another Yeltsin, a brash maverick figure within the establishment who can rally support against the regime and turn protests into power.

The best way to dissuade any such alliance between the opposition and disgruntled insiders is to ruthlessly crush the opposition and to demonstrate the futility of such protests. In part, Putin’s Ukrainian adventure is about showing how weak such protests are and to dissuade any establishment figures from putting their faith in popular protests.

  • edlancey

    And Obama has finally found a bad guy who isn’t Muslim…

  • Liberals are Bolsheviks

    I really admire how easily Putin has walked all over Barack Obama.

  • truebearing

    Good point. Slapping Obama around doesn’t hurt his image either.

  • Harry

    The ideal that Putin is going into Crimea not solely recreate the Soviet Empire, but to head off dissent is interesting and compelling.
    I am reading about Vlasov’s Army during WW2 in ‘World at War” #38 FEB MAR 2014 issue. The German army had 700,000 Russians working for them. H_tler was outraged.. He ordered them disbanded yet they remained. Paragraph 2 of page 44 is interesting. It is definitely true of all empires.
    “due to the fact the Third Reich lacked homogeneity, In reality it was made up of a range of competing institutions that often clashed over priorities and methods to enact policies.”
    We think of Putin as being a tough KGB guy and believe the KGB is pulling all the strings that some of us forget the Russia is a Mafia state with competing factions (I would like to think the U.S. is better, but our Santa Claus politics and De Tocqville tells us other wise.).
    With the usually caveats if Russia keeps Crimea. It will be large in population and GDP. Putin will be seen as a hero. Russia while still weaker will have grown more formidable.
    Interesting fact. Germany started WW2 with only 16% of the world’s industrial capacity.

  • RMthoughts

    “Behind the staged photographs of a bare chested Putin hunting tigers or
    spearfishing for alligators is a narrow coterie of corrupt businessmen
    and an equally corrupt police state whose only interests in support the
    existing system are financial.” Sounds a lot like our one-party State

    • Daniel Greenfield


    • Anukem Jihadi

      and what exactly do you think is waiting in the wings to replace it?

      • RMthoughts

        you tell me.

        • Anukem Jihadi


  • MJUdall

    Is it possible that the Obama administration and the Department of State had a hand in toppling the government in the Ukraine? After what we’ve seen in Egypt and then Libya, and what they tried to do in Syria with Assad, I put nothing past these people.

  • zaza

    i don’t admire putinski at all!

  • Anukem Jihadi

    There’s no question in my mind this is a factor but destabilization has already born predictable fruit in the Middle East. This is a very dangerous game to play.

  • LadyFloridaCracker

    HURRY! Go to Constitutional Emergency and sign up for the surge (peaceful) onto DC led by US Colonel Riley on May 16, 2014 called OPERATION AMERICAN SPRING! All signers are vetted.