Goble: Crimea’s Annexation Shows World a New and Far More Dangerous Putin

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[Moscow analyst Aleksandr Morozov] begins by surveying what he describes as three basic interpretations of Crimea: the first, offered by many in Moscow and elsewhere is that what Putin has done is a form of “revenge” for Kosovo and that no one should think that Putin “is beginning any ‘new process’” at all.

The second, he suggests, is that “the ‘Ukrainian strategy’ of the Kremlin is a conscious effort to begin a new war with the West.” In that view which has been articulated by Fyodor Lukyanov, “Crimea is only a casus belli” rather than revenge for Kosovo, and thus represents an effort to overturn 1991 and “begin a new era” in international relations.

And the third, offered by Gleb Pavlovsky, holds the Putin’s involvement in the Ukrainian crisis is not really about foreign policy at all but rather is “only an occasion for changing his own system of power,” a revolution intended to allow him to exit from “’procedural democracy’” and to create “a situation of indeterminacy” in which he can act more freely.

Morozov himself offers a more radical interpretation. According to him, Putin in Crimea has dramatically changed course. Until 2012, he writes, Putin plotted his course between “capitalization” and “sovereignty,” terms that followed “a completely traditional political logic” and one entirely understandable in the West. But he continues, “Crimea’ means that Putin has completely shifted to another politics altogether. Now, he is prepared to sacrifice capitalization, to suffer a sanctions regime and risk the blocking of accounts.  And by seizing Crimea, he has broken with the old ideas about sovereignty as well. In short, Morozov says, “capitalization and sovereignty have been exchanged for the creation of a situation of an indeterminate future and the policy of revenge.” And revenge of this kind by its very nature “cannot be served by the forces of regular political discourse. It has another form of rationality” and “is based on a political myth.” That in turn means, he continues, that “the discourse of Realpolitik is giving way to risk, heroism, the hero-ization of suicide, and … [a handing oneself over to] ‘fate,’” a shift that “does not consider any other possibilities for the future, except success” and thus does not make the kind of calculations that most political leaders do.

“At the head of the Russian Federation stands a ‘conservative revolutionary,’ a revanchist player who is prepared to sacrifice any of the old statuses of the Russian Federation in order to be in a position to threaten the entire construction of the world as it emerged as a result of events in the 20th century.”

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia

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