“Putin Attempts to Straddle a Divide He Helped to Pry Open in Ukraine”
The New York Times, June 23, 2014, p.A6
“Russia’s charged balancing act in its policy toward Ukraine was evident on Sunday, with President Vladimir V. Putin both endorsing a peace plan outlined by the Ukrainian president and rebuking Kiev for the shaky cease-fire. As the violence drags on without a resolution in sight, Mr. Putin finds himself treading a narrow path between conflicting goals, according to government officials, analysts and diplomats. His main objective is to preserve as much Russian influence as possible over Ukraine’s future, championing the goal of the separatists for significant autonomy. That autonomy would keep the southeast closer in orbit to Moscow than to Kiev, rendering Ukraine’s central government weak. But Mr. Putin must achieve that goal without getting Russia enmeshed in the politically fractured and economically backward briar patch of the breakaway regions. That would be expensive, not least because any hint of a military role or even a hand in the area’s destabilization could provoke far harsher Western sanctions. …Mr. Putin is trying to satisfy several mutually antagonistic constituencies at once. Much of his domestic audience, fed for months on a diet of frenzied, Ukraine-in-flames reports on state-run television, endorses the need for a firm Russian hand. The military and staunch nationalists, encouraged by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in March, are considered the leading chorus for this approach. They hope the Ukraine crisis can serve as the catalyst for Russia to go it alone once again as a superpower — an idea with popular appeal. … But the more liberal constituency in Russia, including many business executives, economists and diplomats, want to avoid the rupture with the West that would surely follow a full embrace of the separatists.”
Quickie Analysis: Putin is no stranger to tricky balancing acts. This one is more of his own making, though.