Is Putin Making a First Move to De-Escalate?


From the LA Times:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to a German proposal for international observers to review the tense standoff in Ukraine’s Crimea area, a Kremlin news service dispatch indicated Monday.

The proposal for a “contact group” of mediating foreign diplomats and an observer delegation to assess Moscow’s claims that ethnic Russians are threatened with violence under Ukraine’s new leadership was made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a late Sunday phone call to Putin, her spokesman told journalists in Berlin on Monday.

Is this for real, or is it just a stalling tactic? There’s no telling, of course. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s at least semi-real, since it could provide a convenient excuse to call a halt to things. And that’s something Putin probably wants. I don’t know what his long-term plans in Crimea are, but I doubt that he has any appetite for a military incursion into the rest of Ukraine. That’s not because he’s voluntarily showing a sense of restraint. It’s because Russia just doesn’t have the military to pull it off. A few thousand troops in South Ossetia or Crimea is one thing, but even a minimal military presence in eastern Ukraine would be orders of magnitude more difficult and expensive. Unless Putin has truly gone around the bend and is willing to risk another Afghanistan or another Chechnya, that’s just not in the cards.

A lot of American pundits are pretty cavalier about Russia’s military capabilities, assuming they can do anything they want simply because Putin is such a tough guy. But it’s just not so. The Russian military might be up to an intervention in eastern Ukraine, but it would take pretty much everything they have. This is not the Red Army of old.

It’s also the case that although Putin may put on a brave show, he’s well aware that intervention in Ukraine would unite the West against him in no uncertain terms. Those same pundits who are so cavalier about Russian military strength are also far too willing to take Putin’s bravado at face value. That’s a mistake. He doesn’t want Russia cut off from the West, and neither do his oligarch buddies. He may be willing to pay a price for his incursion into Crimea, but he’s not willing to keep paying forever. As long as Western pressure continues to ratchet up, at some point he’ll start looking for a way out.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.