Monday, March 31, 2014

My guess: Putin won't invade the rest of eastern Ukraine

My civil war predictions aren't so hot, but let's see how my war-war predictions turn out:  I think Putin means to consolidate control in Crimea and not invade the other parts of eastern Ukraine. There are good political and strategic reasons for thinking he'd go after Crimea and not the rest, but I'm basing my guess on the assumption that the smart time to invade another country is when it's unprepared. With a shaky government and unsteady military, that was last week. Now Putin's given the government time to sort out who in the military it can trust, go on alert and start calling up the reserves.

All that would have been predictable in advance to Putin's top military leaders, who would've told him then that if you're going to take east Ukraine, take east Ukraine. I've seen some speculation that he's waiting for a provocation as an excuse to go in, but that doesn't make sense to me - he wouldn't need an authentic provocation when he could just make one up. Every day that goes by makes an invasion more difficult and therefore less likely to be in the original plan.

I could be wrong of course. An invasion will defeat Ukraine's military regardless how much warning time is given, so maybe Putin doesn't care about the cost to Russia, but I'd think he would care about how triumphant-looking and problem-free it seems. A war could also happen by accident, the way people used to think that World War I started.

And then there's the claim that Putin is in an information bubble and believes at least some of his own propaganda. If that's true then it's hard to understand what world he perceives. OTOH, I don't think the actions so far make as little sense from the viewpoint of an authoritarian populist semi-dictator as westerners claim, so I'm not sure this KGB officer is that far unmoored from reality.

So that's my guess of no invasion for the rest of Ukraine, but it shows my level of confidence that I'll just check the news one last time before posting.

UPDATE:  we should also start the timer for news about significant Russian migration and settlement activity in Crimea - I give it six months. Will be interesting to see how our Likudnik congresscritters handle that one. And that btw may be the one good thing about all this for Crimean Tatars that hadn't yet moved back - they won't be stuck across a fortified border.