Mostly, What Josh Marshall said…(Via Talking Points Memo.)
The audio tapes posted by The New York Times might as well be from some future Russia-based version of Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show, a comical rendering of rustics and morons stumbling into an event of vast carnage and international consequence mainly because they’re hotheads and idiots – the kind of people no one in their right minds would give world class weaponry to. It’s like finding some white supremacist/militia types on their little compound in the inter-Mountain west and giving them world class missile launchers and heavy armaments.
Europe and even America never cared that much about Crimea. It is difficult to dislodge an annexation when a majority of the population likely really did support it. And the Europeans, as long as the big red lines weren’t being crossed, are too tied to Russian fuels and their myriad other concerns to care that much about mischief on Ukraine’s eastern border. But having a passenger plane, filled with EU citizens, shot out of the sky above what is presumed to be the bubble of first world safety that is “Europe” is a game changing event not only in the Ukraine crisis but much more broadly about Putin’s role in Europe generally.
In a paradoxical way, I think the future ramifications of this are almost greater because it is about Russia’s recklessness and bumbling than it would be if it were more clearly a matter of intent. This is a f’-up on Putin’s part of almost mind-boggling proportions. Yes, a tragedy. Yes, perhaps an atrocity. But almost more threatening, a screw up. Malign intent is one thing. So is aggression. But goofs of this magnitude by someone who controls a massive military arsenal and nuclear weapons are in a way more threatening.
This is what happens when you let a narcissistic ex-KGB agent with delusions of grandeur run your country.
Putin has now put his big, shirtless, man-tit in the big ringer. And now, the big question is what happens next. (Via Daniel Treisman writing at CNN.COM.)
Putin will, thus, have two options, both dangerous for his regime.
He could reject the conclusions of the international investigation and stand by the separatists. This would result in serious damage to the Russian economy from sanctions that might now target whole sectors such as banking or energy. Such measures would send the economy — already forecast by the IMF to grow just 0.2% this year — into a painful recession.
At the same time, the Kremlin would find itself more internationally isolated than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Not just the U.S. and Britain, but many other countries that were previously friendly or neutral would start to treat Putin as a pariah. And Putin would have to worry that his protégés across the border might commit some new atrocity, provoking the world into even tougher countermeasures.
Putin’s second option would be to accept the report’s conclusions and cut off supply lines to the rebels. But that could create significant problems for him at home.
To those informed about the conflict by Russian state-controlled television, such a turnaround would be bewildering. A relentless barrage of propaganda has convinced many Russians that their co-ethnics in Donetsk and Luhansk are being massacred by troops commanded by a fascist regime in Kiev. For Putin to bow to international pressure and abandon his former charges would look like cowardice.
Bottom line: He either becomes a pariah or a pussy. Neither of which bodes well for Russia.
For years, Putin has tied his political brand to his masculinity. The hunting. The sports events. The many, many photos of his bare, barrel chested manliness. All of it tied to one message. “I am Russia! Russia is me! Together, we are powerful!”.
Hell, no wonder he and Bush got along so well. They both share the same 2D image of manhood.
But now, Putin is stuck with a choice that will diminish him, no matter which way he swings.
And like the schoolyard bully, he’s about to discover that manly bluster means jack shit when you’re nose has been unexpectedly bloodied.