Vladimir Putin, Raving Psychopath
As many predicted it would do after Russia’s 2008 annexation of Ossetia and Abkhazia, it appears Russian success with aggression in Georgia has induced it to turn its eye toward an even juicier tidbit known, for now, as Ukraine.
Last Friday, in one of the most fully deranged displays by a world leader in recent memory, Russian “prime minister” Vladimir Putin spontaneously announced at a press conference in front of his Ukrainian counterpart in Moscow that he thought it would be a good idea if Russia’s giant natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, acquired its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz lock, stock and gas pipelines.
What was so astounding was not that Putin would entertain such thoughts, or even that he would say them (most of Russian public supports neo-Soviet aggression against Ukraine and Georgia), but that he would publicly announce such a scheme without giving any advance warning to his diplomatic peer, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who could do nothing but stammer in diplomatese that Putin had “expressed it in an impromptu way.” It’s simply unheard of for a the leader of a major nation to behave this way. Which means, of course, that it’s not the least bit surprising to find the Russians doing it.
Such a deal, if realized, would place Russia in the position to control the passage of its gas supplies into Europe through Ukraine, and deny to Ukraine the only significant bargaining chip in dealing with Russia it has left. Ukraine’s new pro-Russia prime minister Victor Yanukovich has already abandoned the idea of joining NATO and of evicting Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol, these two being the only other meaningful weapons in Urkaine’s arsenal to stave off annexation by Russia.
With control over Ukraine’s gas pipelines, Russia could move to annex the Crimean peninsula, just as it earlier annexed Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, without fear of any significant reprisals.
Nearly as astounding, in fact, as the gigantic bribe Putin paid Ukraine to allow Russia to maintain its military base at Sevastopol for an additional 25 years. Russia will pay not hundreds of millions but at least four or five billion dollars per year throughout that period in enormous subsidies to Gaprom which will allow it to provide cut-rate gas supplies to Ukraine.
With the recent news that Russia is rapidly running out of both oil and gas reserves (both are slated by the UN to run dry by 2070) combined with the dramatic downturn in the Russian economy in recent years, the price being paid by Russia for the Sevastopol base is truly astronomical, a brutal burden for Russian taxpayers to carry especially since Russia barely has a navy to speak of.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the Russian dictator knows full well that Russia cannot afford to pay this price. Of course, if he moves to annex the whole of Ukraine, or simply provokes the country into war by annexing Crimea, then he would have an excuse to repudiate the deal and save countless billions. And given the weak-kneed attitude displayed so far by the NATO allies in general and the American president in particular, there is no reason for Putin to think he can’t get away with such a move.
Let’s be perfectly clear: The people of Ukraine do not want union with Russia. The only reason new President Victor Yanukovich even has power is that the opposition camp was divided between two rival, fractious candidates. The violent reaction in the Ukrainian parliament to Yanukovich’s announcement of the Sevastopol deal shows clearly that Ukrainians want no part of Russian domination. But such sentiments did not stop Adolf Hitler, and they won’t stop Vladimir Putin either.
It is up to the NATO allies to stop him. As Yulia Latynina’s most recent Moscow Times column, which we republish today, makes clear, the NATO allies are sending disturbing signals that they will repeat the mistakes of Munich. It is up to people of courage and good will in the NATO countries to make sure they do no such thing.