Staunton, August 11 – Most commentary on the so-called “Crimean incident,” a classically Russian stage-managed provocation, has focused on the way Vladimir Putin will use it to promote his foreign policy agenda, with some suggesting it will simply reduce pressure on Moscow to fulfill the Minsk accords and others saying that it is a prelude to a major war.
Given the Kremlin leader’s past performance – and the West’s unwillingness to challenge him in a serious way – both of these interpretations unfortunately are quite possibly correct. But Valery Solovey, an MGIMO expert on foreign affairs, says that the most important fallout from this event and thus quite possibly the reason for it is to be found in Russian domestic politics.
In a comment for the Kasparov.ru portal, Solovey says that “a full-scale military conflict between Russia and Ukraine is impossible” now because it is “senseless and counterproductive.” Moscow didn’t elect “a military solution” in 2014 when conditions were favorable and so won’t now when “the situation is extremely unfavorable” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57AB80A94E13D).
It is true, he continues, that “the unmasking of Ukrainian ‘terror’” is intended by Moscow to “stimulate the West to put pressure on official Kyiv so that it will accept the Russian interpretation of Minsk-2.” But given Western distrust of Moscow, it won’t do so and therefore Kyiv won’t move either, although propaganda will ease pressure on Moscow to shift its position.
Solovey suggests that the latest intensification of military activity in the Donbass is less an indication of a strategic choice than a response to local conditions, including, although the Moscow scholar doesn’t say so, the rapid decay of pro-Russian forces into a state of atamashchina and dissolution.
Consequently, he argues, Russia will use “primarily propagandistic, diplomatic and economic” measures against Ukraine in the wake of this “event,” something that as Solovey points out, is “nothing new.” Indeed, although again he does not say so, this “event” repeats almost all the features of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine in the past.
And all this means, Solovey suggests, that “the main consequence of ‘the Crimean incident’ is about domestic issues rather than foreign policy ones. The Duma elections of September 18 will now take place in ‘an atmosphere of vigilance.’ And under the pretext of the struggle of terrorism, the screws will be tightened and any signs of civic activity suppressed.
In general, he concludes, what the ‘Crimean incident’ shows is that from the Kremlin’s perspective, it “must be afraid of Voronezh” and other Russian cities rather than Ukraine.
That the incident in Crimea and the increasing tensions in the Donbass are affecting Russian opinion is clearly shown in the results of recent public opinion polls in Russia which show that, very much as Putin hopes, once again Russians are focusing on foreign affairs and the possibility of war rather than domestic problems.
On this latest shift away from domestic concerns to foreign policy ones, a shift that helps Putin both by getting Russians to forget what his policies have done to them and by re-igniting patriot support for Moscow as such, see nv.ua/opinion/gudkov/chto-rossijane-dumajut-o-donbasse-192914.html, svpressa.ru/politic/article/154136/ and