Unfortunately, the winter holiday season for the Russian People, as well as those of neighboring countries, will be a bittersweet time with New Year and Christmas cheer overshadowed by the woes of a faltering economy that is sure to offer them higher prices and fewer earnings. Although the Western world did not implement economic sanctions over the Ukraine Crisis to attack or harm the Russian People, they are the ones who are paying the harshest price for the decisions of Vladimir Putin and his government cronies. On the other hand, circumstances have changed and the ever-deviant Putin may lose this battle with the International Community sooner than later for different reasons than expected.
Ironically, the purpose of Western sanctions was to either make it too costly for Putin to continue his support of pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels and their insurgency or to create enough public outrage in order to force Putin from office. Instead of making the decision that was most rational for Russia, Putin decided to politically frame Western intervention as a fight for Russian independence, security, sovereignty, and patriotism in order to bolster support for his government.
With polls continuing to show strong support for President Vladimir Putin, it would appear he has been quite successful in his strategy. Whether or not Russians actually believe Putin’s fabricated truths and distorted versions of history, it is clear they support Russia standing up to the will of the West. Looking back at George W. Bush’s polls when he defied the will of the International Community by invading Iraq and throughout the faltering campaign, he was extremely popular in spite of his obvious shortcomings and distorted version of reality. Like Bush, however, Putin will also eventually discover the allure of the maverick wears off when your People get the bill for your party.
Back in the summer as the United States and the European Union were weighing sanctions against Russia, the reality that Russia controls Europe’s natural gas supply added pressure to implement major sanctions before the approach of winter chilled the willingness of America’s European allies to confront Putin over his invasion of Ukraine. It appears Putin included this reality into his calculations and decided Europeans would eventually tire of the Ukraine Crisis. Fortunately for Westerners, the sudden collapse in oil prices is doing more damage to the Russian economy than sanctions while lower energy prices help ease concerns over heating costs.
Consequently, Putin’s calculations have been turned upside down, once again. Had Putin not decided to invade Ukraine or not chosen to escalate the conflict in Eastern Ukraine by giving “humanitarian” (military) aid to the rebels, the International Community would be reacting to Russia’s economic problems with concern and seeking to engage in constructive policies that could help the Russian economy better cope with the collapse of energy prices. Instead of coming to see the Russian economy as an uncertainty and government as a threat to private industry, global investors would be looking to diversify investments in Russia and not turning away from the Russian economy for years to come.
Moving forward, eventually the International Community will come to reconcile with the Russian People. Vladimir Putin may even remain President until 2024 before he leaves that Office as promised, if his word can be trusted, but it will be politically difficult, if not impossible, for Western and other leaders to deal with Putin going forward. In terms of foreign policy and global influence, Putin is a lame-duck President. As such, the longer Putin rules Russia, the longer it will be before the reconciliation process can begin.
For Putin, he may want to pay close attention to what is happening in Israel. Certainly, America’s special relationship with Israel and the political taboos associated with criticizing Israel make it hazardous to draw an apology between Russia’s behavior toward Ukraine and Israel’s behavior toward Palestine, but it is a useful one for both aggressive nations. Israelis are continually under threat, yet its domineering policies and heavy-handed policy toward the Gaza Strip and West Bank have become a security threat in their own rights and will become an even more serious security threat in the future. Like Russia, Israel has strongly benefited from cooperating with powerful partners and superior military strength, yet hardliner conservatives within Israel have also gone too far in their policy against the Palestinian People and they are losing power.
Leaders like Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin may be able to hold onto power for some time, yet their reign grows increasingly poisonous. In turn, their history prevents them from building working relationships with neighboring countries and global powers that are necessary to solve their ongoing and future problems. In truth, the Russian People do have grievances over the West failing to truly embrace and assimilate Russia into the International Community in the post-Cold War Era. The world should not have a treated Russia as an outsider to be ignored and subjugated. With that in mind, what Vladimir Putin is doing to Ukraine is thoroughly unacceptable and unjustifiable, so it cannot be tolerated. Once the Ukraine Crisis ends, the Russian People and the rest of the world need to come together and reconcile our grievances.
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