What Happens After Sunday's Crimea Referendum Vote?

Tyler Durden's picture

Given this morning's UN vote declaring the Crimea referendum invalid (and Russia's obvious veto - along with China's abstention), and on the heels of Lavrov's words Friday that Russia would decide how to respond to the Crimean vote after the referendum had been held, it is thought-provoking to consider Putin's options given the vote's outcome is a near-certainty voting in favor of accession to the Russian Federation (especially in light of this morning's images across Crimea). Europe's Council on Foreign Relations notes "not knowing Vladimir Putin’s strategy makes it hard for Europe and the West to come up with meaningful and workable responses. In a way, we are all speculating and trying to get a glimpse into Putin’s soul. The five points below attempt to reinforce or refute some aspects of the conventional wisdom that has emerged from all this speculation."

 

Via CEFR,

1. Has Putin always wanted to invade Crimea?  

Russian diplomats (who probably hate their jobs these days) have made elaborate attempts to demonstrate that no international law has been broken in Crimea. But the breach is blatant and the pretext used to justify invasion is thinner than thin – and Moscow knows it.  

It is true that some hawkish groups in Moscow probably could not care less about international law. They would approve of any means to reunify Slavic lands. However, the bulk of the establishment has in fact always maintained a different position. For example, the Russian foreign ministry has traditionally adhered to a rigidly legalistic view of world affairs: in effect, post-1945 international law, with its strict emphasis on state sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and the inviolability of borders. Newer and softer concepts, such as the responsibility to protect, are alien to them. 

Putin himself has always passionately belonged to that legalistic camp, as evidenced by his positions on Libya, on Syria, and on multiple other issues. Therefore, deciding to invade Crimea cannot have been easy for him. He must consider that something extremely important is at stake. The corollary is that in defending his conception of what is at stake, he may well be ready to go further than many of us assume. 

2. Is Putin out of touch with reality?

Angela Merkel’s statement that Putin is out of touch with reality, which was leaked to the New York Times, gave rise to a considerable amount of conjecture and comment. Some people concluded that Putin has gone mad. In fact, while he may be living in his own version of reality, it looks like Putin’s world has actually been around for a long time.  

Putin seems to sincerely believe that dangerous extremist groups have taken power in Kiev. He may genuinely not realise that the events in Kiev represented a classic popular revolution. As pointed out by Fiona Hill, it is possible that the whole concept of popular revolutions is alien to Putin. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Russia was having its own revolution, Putin was not there – he was serving the KGB in Dresden. He did not personally witness the fact that a massive number of people were involved in the overthrow of the Soviet Union. His being abroad for these pivotal events, as well as his KGB schooling and worldview, may have made it easy for him to see the collapse of the Soviet Union as the result of a conspiracy by a few combined with betrayal by others. 

Similarly, Putin may see current events in Ukraine as a conspiracy by the West, which was definitely his view of the Orange revolution of 2004. Or he may see the situation as the result of recklessness: actions along the same lines as Western involvement in Libya and Syria. As Putin sees it, in both places the West has supported marginal and extremist groups against legitimate leaders, in a naïve hope that democracy will somehow take root in the ruins of the old regimes. It may well be that he saw the West applying the same logic to Ukraine and decided that he could not allow anything of the kind to happen in Ukraine. 

Added to this, he likely feels a sense of betrayal over the West’s (as he sees it) geopolitical incursion into Ukraine, and over the West’s failure (as he sees it) to support Viktor Yanukovych after the agreement of February 21. All this comes together to form the reality in which Putin lives. 

This means that what we are seeing as Putin’s revisionism may still be inspired largely by his conservatism. Also, much of his reality is indeed based on false premises. But understanding this does not make it easier to set the record straight and make Putin see sense – as multiple Western interlocutors have by now discovered. 

3. Does Putin want to use Crimea as leverage over Ukraine? 

Some analysts assume that Russia will stop short of incorporating Crimea, but will instead keep it in a Transnistria-style legal limbo in order to use it as leverage over Kiev. It seems likely that obtaining leverage over all of Ukraine, as opposed to just Crimea, is Moscow’s real goal. But it is hard to predict exactly what Moscow will see as sufficient and reliable leverage. 

The government that came to power in Kiev in late February is weak. Contrary to Moscow’s claims, it is not illegitimate – it is as legitimate as it can be under the circumstances. However, it still does not represent the whole of society in the ways that a government should. In theory, it would have been easy for Moscow to gain leverage over the new government by using a mixture of legitimate and more shady means. But Moscow did not even make the attempt. 

By now, it is unclear just how much the “Transnistrianisation” of Crimea would add to Moscow’s leverage. Kiev is now considerably less amenable to making a deal with Moscow than it would have been less than a month ago. Many in the nationalist camp may be secretly relieved to see Crimea go, taking with it its two million Russian voters and Russian base. 

As recently as a week or so ago, Russia could probably have counted on the West to put pressure on Kiev. The West is terrified by what Moscow is doing and it does not know how to respond. So, many would have been relieved if, instead of annexing Crimea, Russia stopped at “Transnistrianisation”. The West would have been ready to put pressure on Kiev to accept Moscow’s conditions – thereby, of course, contributing to prolonged bad governance in Ukraine and, consequently, to more trouble down the road. But Moscow did not try to use the West either – and now it could be too late for that as well. The build-up of Russian troops at Ukraine’s borders has probably made the West more determined to counter Russia and less likely to go for unholy compromises. And, likewise, the massing of troops could indicate that Moscow is not interested in making use of Western pressure. The sort of control over Kiev that the Kremlin has in mind may be of a much harder sort than mere co-option and coercion.    

4. Is Putin acting only in response to domestic pressures?

Some analysts claim that the whole Crimea affair was begun in order to impress the domestic public, who have increasingly fallen out of love with Putin. Others, even those who do not share that interpretation, claim that Putin cannot back down because of domestic pressures. It is true that the invasion has boosted Putin’s ratings. And the domestic media-propaganda machine has created a powerful momentum for annexation, which has the support of many in Russian society. But it is still hard to believe that any of this constitutes serious limitations of action for Putin, especially given that he does not have to face the ballot box any time soon.   

Russian society has no capacity for an informed and critical discussion about foreign policy. The state-controlled media is masterful in justifying the regime’s actions, whatever they may be. Portraying a climb-down as a victory would be easy. (This kind of method is described well in an old Soviet joke about a 100-metre race between Ronald Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev: after Reagan’s win, the Soviet news agency reported that “in yesterday’s race between the heads of state the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR achieved a precious second place. The president of the Imperialist United States finished second-last.”)

In short, for the moment at least, Putin is in no way hostage to his domestic constituency. But that does not mean that he will want to de-escalate or back down.  

5. Will sanctions stop Putin?

Different people see different logic behind Western sanctions on Russia. Some hope that sanctions, or the threat of them, will force Moscow to back down. Others hope that sanctions will alienate Russian elites from Putin and leave him with little domestic support. Others simply believe that people who were instrumental in acting against sovereignty and territorial integrity deserve to be punished. And some look at the situation from a long-term perspective and think that sanctions should be applied to erode the economic foundations of an increasingly aggressive regime. 

Much of this reasoning seems accurate and justified. But even so, the calculation that sanctions will make Putin reverse course does not ring true. Ever since the domestic protests of 2011-2012, Putin has lost trust in the members of his elite who keep their money in the West and so are vulnerable to Western pressures. Losing their support, therefore, does not really matter to him. They have no leverage over him. In any case, “repatriating money” has been an unofficial policy for quite a while.  

Sanctions, as well as Putin’s growing alienation from Russian elites, may well have effects in the medium term. But they will not stop Putin on Sunday or in the days ahead. Even so, this does not mean that sanctions are futile or unnecessary – especially because it seems more and more likely that we are now facing a longer-term battle between Russia and the West. 

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DonFromWyoming's picture

"[Putin] may genuinely not realise that the events in Kiev represented a classic popular revolution."  Hah!  Organized and financed by the US State Department and the CIA!  It's the same playbook that the USA has been using to overthrow governments since the 1950's.

nope-1004's picture

Putin can export energy to the East via China unimpeded.  To the West, Ukraine is needed.  In addition, there can't be a global currency reset or petro dollar realignment without the delivery channels secured.

That's my take on Putin's strategy in Ukraine.

 

Winston Churchill's picture

Maybe Uncle Warren has purchased a stake in the Trans Siberian railroad ?

knukles's picture

His Leader ObiewanKohnObie Squirts Many Single Serve Ketchup Packages in the Sand

Anusocracy's picture

Another steaming pile of weekend neocon crap.

This mess was all caused by US Gov psychopaths and they consider Putin mad for not going along.

I don't think God could make people as stupid as those running the US and those writing this shit.

acetinker's picture

I got as far as "Therefore, deciding to invade Crimea cannot have been easy for him.", thought WTF!? and scrolled down here to see if it was just me.  Apparently not.  Whew!

Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

For example, the Russian foreign ministry has traditionally adhered to a rigidly legalistic view of world affairs: in effect, post-1945 international law, with its strict emphasis on state sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and the inviolability of borders. Newer and softer concepts, such as the responsibility to protect, are alien to them. 

This author must know anything about the Soviet Union. Remember Hungary, Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia?  I knew this article stunk at that point. Tyler, most of your content is good. This is crap.

DCFusor's picture

Uh, the bear has been all about the law when we break it, but forgets when they do.  Sound familiar?  Evidently not to the OP, but gee, it's been pretty obvious.

Husk-Erzulie's picture

I find this just fucking bizarre.

Fractal Parasite's picture

I hope this abomination of an 'article' was published only for regulatory reasons,

i.e. they have to give both sides in order to hold on to some publishing license.

acetinker's picture

Fairness Doctrine redux?  Let's hope not.

chumbawamba's picture

Perhaps its operating under the "Fareness Doctrine", i.e. pay a fare and get your work published on Zero Hedge.

I am Chumbawamba.

fx's picture

Is this the European wing of the us council on Foreign Relations? Reads like that. I stopped wasting my time with this bullsh!t after I read that Putin was "out of touch with reality". Tyler, publishing conflicting viewpoints is good, when they are well argued, but you do ZH no favor by publishing such crap that is factually wrong and intellectually dishonest to the hilt.

acetinker's picture

Chumba, I've enjoyed your work in my brief tenure here.  Gotta say, I never considered that angle.  You're in a position to know.  Seen hedgeless lately?

GW told me I may have been "shadow banned" from here.  But, you can see me, is it that selective?

I'll be back in a sec, gotta get my tinfoil hat;)

acetinker's picture

It makes me sad and angry that in each of the instances you mention, the US has been the agent provocateur that started the shit-show to begin with.  That said, Russia (then USSR) royally fucked up in Afghanistan.  Putin may be a tyrant, but he's not stupid.  Wish I could say the same for Barry & Kerry.

adonisdemilo's picture

@ acetinker

Correct, European Council Of Foreign Relations, WTF is that.

That's as far as I got, before realising it was just more bullshit propaganda.

So, if the "invasion" of Ukraine is a crime, what do you call the overthrow of a legitimate government you m----f--krs.

Snidley Whipsnae's picture

Very well put, Anusocracy.

Putin is a very saavy geo-politician and is holding far more cards than the author of this article enumerates... and, unlike the neo-cons, he seldom makes major mistakes.

After watching him work the Syrian and Gerogian situations I would characterize Putin as a very good counter puncher ;ie, he likes to let his opponent make the first move.

I suspect he is one hell of a poker player.

BTW, how is that 'Project For A New American Century' thingy working out?

Anusocracy's picture

The US is run by emotional thinking ivy league grads stuffed to the gills with hubris.

Russia and Putin don't have that problem.

StychoKiller's picture

What knowest thou of Judo? (Of which, Putin holds a black belt!)

August's picture

>>> how is that 'Project For A New American Century' thingy working out?

The first "American Century", the Twentieth, coincided with unprecedented worldwide conflict and violent death.

Personally, I think we can all do without the another "American Century".

Freddie's picture

Why did the Tylers post this shitty article aka State Dept propaganda.  We can get that shit anywhere in the western media. F that!

Angry White Dude's picture

To help folks know their enemy and the propoganda they're using to push their agenda.

0b1knob's picture

Pan-slavism.   The motivating force behind Russian policy 100 years before Putin was born.  The reason Russia came to the aid of Serbia in 1914 and started WWI.  The pan-slavic flag from 1848 is identical to the current Russian flag.  The more things change the more they stay the same.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan-Slavism

Blood is thicker than water.   Blood is thicker than ketchup.   Blood is thicker than lurch's skull.   Don't expect Putin to behave logically or predictably in this crisis.

666's picture

Maybe Putin got tired of watching the US meddle in everyone's affairs and saw this opportunity, provided by the western power's stupidity, as a way to humiliate them as well as taking back part of the former USSR.

TahoeBilly2012's picture

Did anyone explain to the world that while Europes leaders claim to support sanctions against Russia and support of helping Ukraine join the EU/NATO, that in many of these  Euro Countires citizens never voted to join the Euro themselves and recent polls show many Countries (Holland, UK) are ready to bailout of the Euro?

 

Seb's picture

UK is not in the Euro Zone.

Lost Word's picture

Presumably Tahoe Billy meant the European Union.

Anusocracy's picture

Pan-slavism pan-smavism, hardly. Blood is not thicker than our programming, just one aspect of it.

If that were the case, what holds the US together when the idea it was based on effectively disappeared four score and seven years after it was founded and there is no common blood?

Dupery is thicker than blood? I think so.

Seb's picture

Don't think so, because the other country he named - Holland - is in the European Union.

adonisdemilo's picture

@seb

Fortunately for us the politicians who wanted to join were known to be either  (1) stupid, (2 ) crooked, (3) perverted or all three.

ebworthen's picture

People seem to forget that Russia had no problem moving in with tanks and ships to subdue Georgian separatists.

I don't think Crimea or Eastern Ukraine - or all of Ukraine - will be any different.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_South_Ossetia_war

Lost Word's picture

Georgia invasion was a much smaller geographic area than Eastern Ukraine?

Oracle 911's picture

Yes, butthere was a choce point a pass (I don't recall the name).

Freddie's picture

Putin is an Orthodox Christian.  After a while, Christians get tired of being F over by non-Christians.  He and Russia were the only ones to come to the aid of Syrians and Syrian Christians being murdered by the State Dept., Obama, McCain, Clintons and Kerry - Saudi backed Al Qeada "rebels." 

The people F-ing over the Ukrainians and Russian Ukrianians - at the top are not Christians.

Aussie V's picture

Putin was prepared to turn the other cheek for Obama but then, Putin realised, specifically, which cheek Obama was interested in so, he invaded Crimea just to get the taste out of his mouth!

August's picture

The core link between Serbia and Russia is Orthodox Christianity, not pan-Slavism. 

Russians are perfectly happy to kill large numbers of Catholic Poles, who can be lumped into the general category of Godless Western Menace (i.e. with Germany, France, Sweden, Britain).

Gringo Viejo's picture

Putin is a serious player. He knows exactly what he's dealing with re: the neocon powers behind the throne and their child puppets. Fuck with this guy and there WILL be a serious price to be paid. American global hegemony is a fucking fantasy and these neocon sociopaths refuse to accept it. They may well get all of us killed. FUCK THEM!

cossack55's picture

Pipe thru Belarus, cut deal with Lithuania, pump out of Kaliningrad.  Or just pipe thru Baltic.

piliage's picture

The train lines in Lithuania connect Vilnius to St. Petersburg, not Estonia. The old contacts to the Soviet Union in Lithuania run very very deep. Wouldn't take much to get them back on side for a bit of Russian dosh, me thinks, after the EU structural fund sugar daddy money runs out.

DCFusor's picture

Sure take years and tons of bucks to build infrastrucure for a country that needs cash RIGHT NOW.  Great plan.  Not that trying to take away both of Russia's warm water naval bases in dickery by us was that smart either.  Hopefully you fools will go over there and fight each other, and leave me out of it.  I don't approve of the actions of ANY government inolved here.

Savvy's picture

Build all the pipelines you want, it's still Russia's LNG and just because you have electricity doesn't mean you have grub in the fridge.

Freddie's picture

Snowden's pal Glenn Greenwald works for Omidar.  Snowden needs new friends or he is an op.  Greenwald is not to be trusted.

Smegley Wanxalot's picture

Unclassic, unpopular revolutions are those the USA and CIA do not fund or subversively organize.  Classic and popular = US funded. 

Much like organic and homegrown uprisings all originate and are conducted by CIA operatives, with US support being promoted by the MSM at white house and IRS direction (do it or else, and shut up about facts!)

 

cough.

ILLILLILLI's picture

"The exceptional, indispensable, arrogant, self-righteous United States government does not need to ask anyone. Washington speaks not merely for itself. Washington represents the country chosen by history (and the neoconservatives) to speak not merely for itself, but for the entire world."

See...when you're the Chosen Ones, you can do what you want.

BlindMonkey's picture

"Putin may see current events in Ukraine as a conspiracy by the West, which was definitely his view of the Orange revolution of 2004. Or he may see the situation as the result of recklessness: actions along the same lines as Western involvement in Libya and Syria. As Putin sees it, in both places the West has supported marginal and extremist groups against legitimate leaders, in a naïve hope that democracy will somehow take root in the ruins of the old regimes. It may well be that he saw the West applying the same logic to Ukraine and decided that he could not allow anything of the kind to happen in Ukraine. 

Added to this, he likely feels a sense of betrayal over the West’s (as he sees it) geopolitical incursion into Ukraine, and over the West’s failure (as he sees it) to support Viktor Yanukovych after the agreement of February 21. All this comes together to form the reality in which Putin lives. "

 

Feb 21 agreement was made and witnessed by French, EU (Polish) and German representatives.  Clearly it left Yanukovych in power.  They then claim legitimacy in the subsequent overthrow.  Pick one, both cannot be legitimate stances.  ZH has pointed out the hypocracy time and again from the US and Western nations.  I am disgusted with this crew.

 

It is clear to me that Crimea represents a red-line for Russia and Putin.  He has been clear about that and has backed up everything he has said with the very credible threat of force but very little actual force.  I can see one and only one actor in this group that is acting in their national interests with consistency.  And it sure as fuck ain't Barry.

cossack55's picture

The US could give a Foch about spreading democracy. Its all about resources. Always has been, even more now since the resources are getting scarce.

Anusocracy's picture

It is about resources but the motivation for that is the irrational desire for absolute control.

In the animal world, control of resources means improved survival.