Is Crimea a Short-Term Gain for Putin, but Long-Term Loss for Russia?

Ongoing tensions in Ukraine have recently settled with a ceasefire deal and Russian troops also pulling back from the area. This is certainly a positive development, though many still wonder whether we are witnessing the beginnings of a new Cold War or worse between Russia and the West.

Last week we had the pleasure of speaking with one of the foremost experts on Ukraine and Eastern Europe, the Ukrainian-American political scientist Alexander Motyl, who says that Putin’s move to annex Crimea has, despite soaring popularity at home, cost Russia much more in the long run.

Here is the relevant excerpt from his interview (click here for audio) that recently aired to our subscribers.

FSN: Professor Motyl, you have stated that this conflict has actually worked against Putin and, in many ways, helped to galvanize pro-Western support among Ukrainians and other Eastern European nations. Would you mind elaborating on your comments?

Alexander Motyl: “What Putin has done with his aggression is he has turned Ukrainians against Russia. That was never the case. Until recently, every single public opinion survey in Ukraine for the last 15-20 years had shown that 90% of Ukrainians thought of Russia and Russians positively. That's changed… I happen to belong to this cohort of analysts that thinks that Putin has not been a very good leader. I think he's been a disaster for Russia. He's also been a disaster for Ukraine in many respects... When you consider that back in November of last year before all this began in Kiev, he essentially had Ukraine in his pocket. He had Yanukovych, the then President, in his pocket... Russia's stature in the world was very positive. People were on the verge of the Olympics. Putin was beaming and expressing his solidarity with the world and playing the role as a great statesman. The reputation that Russia had—its ties with the world were rapidly expanding. People were even talking about Russian soft power: its ability to attract peoples by virtue of it being an attractive country. That's all changed… He's now economically, diplomatically, politically, and militarily isolated. He's got NATO rejuvenated and turned against him…and sooner or later the Russians...will pay an increasingly higher price in the next few months and years.”

With its weakened economy and high dependence upon oil revenues, which are now declining, Motyl simply believes that Russia cannot afford a long drawn-out war with Ukraine nor the West.

Even with the potentially massive underwater reserves Russia acquired in taking Crimea, it has also absorbed a severely weakened economy that needs to be rebuilt. Perhaps The Moscow Times said it best when they recently wrote, the “Crimean adventure will cost Russia dearly.”

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