And the ruble is in free-fall.Dec 22, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 15 • By CATHY YOUNG
A year ago, Ukraine’s “Euro-maidan” protests, spurred by then-president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject a promised trade agreement with the European Union and rush into the well-paid embrace of Vladimir Putin, began to escalate in Kiev, turning to violent clashes with government forces. A Ukrainian revolution, a Russian land grab, and months of undeclared war later, we still don’t know whether these events signaled the beginning of a revival of Russian power or the beginning of the end of the Putin regime.
There is a widespread view in the West that Putin is a super-savvy operator, a master strategist who plans far ahead, cleverly manipulating events in his quest for both personal and national dominance, and always comes out ahead. (That view is also common among Russian political analysts, pro- and anti-Putin alike; one blogger mockingly summed it up as the “Putin has outsmarted everyone” meme.) Yet it is hard to see his Ukraine strategy as particularly smart. Had Ukraine finalized the deal with the EU, Yanukovych likely would have continued to maintain friendly ties with the Kremlin, playing off his suitors against each other and getting expensive presents from both. Instead, Putin used both carrot and stick to sabotage the agreement—unwittingly precipitating his Kiev pal’s political demise, pushing Ukraine all the way into the “enemy” camp, and escalating a crisis with far-reaching and mostly negative consequences for Moscow.
Many pundits have said that, at the very least, by fomenting conflict in Ukraine, Putin has achieved his goal of sabotaging that nation’s opportunity for development as a market-oriented, pro-Western, liberal democracy with membership in the EU and especially NATO. Support for joining NATO among Ukrainians themselves may have skyrocketed, from just one in five in 2012 to nearly half this past summer, according to polls; but NATO is understandably wary of being drawn into an unpredictable confrontation. Meanwhile, the Russia-sponsored insurgency in eastern Ukraine has exacerbated both Ukraine’s economic woes and the volatility of its politics. The brief moment of national unity at the time of the Euromaidan revolution has already given way to squabbling, partly over ways to deal with the separatist enclaves that serve as vehicles for Russian aggression.
It’s far too early to tell how Ukraine will fare in the face of these challenges, even with increased Western assistance. What’s not in question, however, is that Russia’s stealth war against Ukraine has high costs for Russia itself.
For one, while the Western response to the Kremlin’s aggression can hardly be called an exemplary display of backbone, the sanctions directed at the Russian financial sector, political elite, and billionaire presidential cronies are inflicting some pain. (Even sanctions-averse France finally mustered the will to suspend, indefinitely, the delivery of Mistral helicopter carrier ships to Russia.) For the general population, including the urban middle class that has been Putin’s principal constituency, the damage has been compounded by Russia’s countersanctions targeting imports of Western goods, particularly food. In a poll conducted in mid-November by the Levada Center, Russia’s leading polling firm, nearly half of the respondents said they had experienced “problems” because of Western sanctions (and, presumably, Russian retaliatory measures). Only 16 percent described these perceived sanctions-related difficulties as fairly or very serious; fewer than a third, however, were unconcerned about the effects of sanctions on themselves and their families down the road.
Between the sanctions and the drop in crude oil prices, the ruble has been in free-fall, depreciating by some 60 percent against the dollar over the past year. In a Levada Center poll in late November, the fall of the ruble easily topped the list of the last four weeks’ most memorable events for Russians, spontaneously named as such by nearly 40 percent of respondents. (Continued fighting in Ukraine was mentioned by just 25 percent.) In early December, a satirical verse commentary on the ruble’s woes by writer Dmitry Bykov, published in the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, quickly went viral on the Russian-language Internet. It depicted a surreal dialogue between the ruble and Russia’s collective manhood—one pathetically drooping, the other rising in self-destructive pride and imperial lust.
11:38 AM, Nov 20, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Europe is experiencing increased, and threatening, intrusions by Russian aircraft and:
NATO war planes have had to scramble 400 times this year in response ... a rise of 50 percent over last year, the new secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said on Thursday.
7:29 AM, Oct 23, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
While some in Congress have warned that Russian involvement in Ukraine portends a "looming" new cold war, Obama administration officials have for the most part brushed off the comparison.
2:40 PM, Oct 7, 2014 • By JEFFREY GEDMIN
"Even wallpaper has a better memory than human beings," says protagonist Oskar in Guenter Grass's acclaimed 1959 novel, later an academy award winning film, the Tin Drum.
Putin’s success has been exaggerated.Sep 29, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 03 • By CATHY YOUNG
The conflict in Ukraine took some dramatic turns this month that led many observers to conclude that the Kremlin was succeeding in its effort to keep Ukraine under Russia’s thumb, with the collusion of a spineless West. Actually, while Russia has wrested some concessions, the handwringing is largely unwarranted—so far. But much depends on the West’s willingness to continue applying pressure to Russia and offer meaningful aid to Ukraine. And, even in the best-case scenario, a “frozen conflict” zone in eastern Ukraine is a likely and troubling outcome.
12:00 PM, Sep 10, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
House Speaker John Boehner has invited Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko to address a joint session of Congress. The speech is scheduled for September 18.
Hosted by Michael Graham.4:14 PM, Sep 5, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with senior writer Stephen F. Hayes on why you shouldn't bet on President Obama using any muscle on his foreign policy.
No U.S. leadership, no NATO.Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By JOHN R. BOLTON
Vladimir Putin’s efforts to establish hegemony over Ukraine may now have reached a decisive point both for the balance of power in Central and Eastern Europe and for the NATO alliance. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko warned on August 30 that Russia’s invasion of his country and extensive aid to pro-Moscow separatists could soon “reach the point of no return,” becoming a generalized conflict. German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that “the situation is increasingly getting out of control.”
2:10 PM, Aug 29, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
New rule for investors: Don’t listen to stock tips from White House flacks. As Steven Dennis of Roll Call writes, then White House press secretary Jay Carney said at the March 18 daily dog and pony show, when asked about the effects of sanctions on Russia:
9:10 AM, Aug 29, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Russia has "outright lied" to the United Nations about its actions in Ukraine, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power charged during an emergency meeting Thursday of the Security Council. "At every step, Russia has come before this Council to say everything except the truth," Power said. "It has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied.
Russia’s virtual reality.Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By CATHY YOUNG
"Maybe it’s all a matrix and we’re all like programs written by somebody else. . . . And none of us really exists, just the matrix. The program works, you live your life and think everything’s fine. Here you are drinking coffee right now.
12:16 PM, Aug 28, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Less than a week before President Obama and other NATO leaders gather in Wales for a two day summit, NATO is accusing Russia having "well over 1,000 troops" in Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists continue to skirmish with Ukrainian forces.
9:57 AM, Aug 28, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
After news broke this morning of Russia furthering its invasion of Ukraine, the White House announced that President Obama will meet with the National Security Council later this afternoon in the Situation Room:
7:29 AM, Aug 28, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Kateryna Choursina, Volodymyr Verbyany and Bryan Bradley of Bloomberg are reporting that:
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called an emergency security meeting to defend against what he called a Russian “invasion” after separatists gained ground in intensified fighting in eastern regions.
The AP adds that Poroshenko is staying in the country: