Putin's strategy to step back from the crater

Putin ‘backed away from the crater’ of tensions with the West


After Putin asserted strength from heightened tensions with the West, Putin this week made a series of downward moves.

Over the past several days, Russian forces have concentrated in large numbers near the Ukrainian border, raising fears of a full-blown war in Europe. But on April 23, Russian state television showed pictures of soldiers on trains and ships to withdraw. On the same day, opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny announced an end to three weeks of hunger strike because his requests for independent medical care had finally been fully met.

“Putin has used anxiety, suspense and military forces to assert his power and influence. Putin sees the anxiety he can create at home and abroad as a tool to have.” can adjust according to the circumstances or to serve a larger purpose, “said Anton Troianovski, reporter for NYTimes comment.

This tactic is reminiscent of Putin’s past as an intelligence officer: leaving the enemy with speculation and anxiety, but self-restraint when needed.

Gleb Pavlovsky, former top Putin adviser, said of the recent tensions: “This is a show. But the show is important to our system.”

Russian President Putin reads the Message of the Federation in Moscow April 21. Image: AFP.

This week, Putin’s new “Cold War” logic became evident. This is a term that former Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev used in an editorial published by the Russian government news agency on April 23. Putin has made a move push tensions with the West go to high place. 100,000 Russian troops were gathered near the Ukrainian border, and Navalny’s associates said he was on the verge of death in prison. Meanwhile, Putin is preparing for his State of the Union address. Analysts had predicted he could announce plans to annex part of Ukraine.

But Putin did not do so in his speech on April 21. He spends most of his time talking about domestic issues such as discounts on children’s summer camps. On the evening of the same day, when thousands of supporters of Navalny organized protests across the country, police in many cities took an unusual approach. They arrested only 32 people in Moscow, while each arrested 1,900 at a protest in favor of Navalny on January 31.

On April 22, the Russian Defense Minister announced a partial withdrawal of troops from the border with Ukraine – a step welcomed by the President of Ukraine. Putin also “gave the olive branch” to Biden when he appeared at the online climate summit hosted by the US President. On April 23, Navalny said he had been examined twice as required by civilian doctors.

“Even though Russia tries to present itself as a rock, does not listen, does not care about outside opinions, in fact, they still react to pressure from inside and outside,” said a top aide of Navalny. , Leonid Volkov, wrote on Twitter.

In the above Medvedev article, he compared the current situation with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the US and the Soviet Union approached the brink of nuclear war. The problem today is that unlike the original Cold War, the US no longer respects Russian power, he writes.

One risks in approach of Putin is that if he applies it, he will need to be very aggressive in order to achieve the desired effect. That’s what happened at the Russian-Ukraine border. While the war in eastern Ukraine has lasted since 2014 and Moscow is believed to have sent weapons and soldiers to the separatists they support, they have made no move to consolidate their strong forces on the border to show off. strength has risen as in recent weeks.

In Kiev, some Western officials and diplomats believe that Putin’s consolidation is a costly, risky attempt to defame the Ukrainian government, as they take a tougher stance on Russia in the recent month. It was also the message sent to Biden that Russia continues to hold a dominant position in the former Soviet Union, whatever sanctions may come.

“He thinks he needs to sit at the table with the Americans and come up with an agreement to divide the zones of influence,” said Oleksiy Danilov, national security adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensy.

By the middle of this week, when Putin finished sending his message about his “red line”, Ukraine was frightened and prepared for the possibility of a full-blown war. Biden last week called to invite Putin to meet. The Kremlin sees this as a victory, but leaves the possibility of Putin’s disapproval.

“We have heard words from our American counterparts, expressing their readiness for dialogue on issues of mutual concern. But unfortunately, the American statements do not match the concrete action”, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said.

However, Putin’s comb has the potential to find it difficult to find a way down the smooth tension ladder. Some Russian soldiers on the Ukrainian border were withdrawn but left behind armored vehicles, showing that tensions continue.

“The worrying thing is that he takes his inability to appear weak very seriously,” said Kadri Liik, a policymaker at the European Council for Foreign Affairs in Berlin. “That would of course place a double burden on the others, they had to pave the way back for him.”

At home, Putin’s softerness in dealing with Navalny and handling the protests may not last long. Next week, a Moscow court will look at Navalny’s possible disorganization – a move that could pave the way for a new series of criminal cases against the opposition.

On April 23, the Russian Ministry of Justice announced that one of the most popular Russian-language news sites, Meduza, was a “foreign mission”. This would make it difficult for the Latvian-based news agency and mark an important step in the Kremlin’s fight with the independent media.

However, even those close to Russia’s ruling elite are sometimes unable to determine tactics in Kremlin moves. Konstantin Remchukov, the editor who ran the campaign to help the Moscow mayor re-election in 2018, says that certain groups of powerful officials have pushed Putin to take a tougher policy than he personally wanted. follow. While Russia is subject to economic sanctions, some elite factions benefit from businesses that replace blocked imports, or from military contracts.

Remchukov says these groups are pushing for confrontational policies that Putin sometimes has to refrain from. This path, he warned, could push Russia into an era of “geopolitical loneliness”.

Phuong Vu (According to the NYTimes)

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