NEWSWATCH: Inside Putin’s Head: The Crisis in Russia and Ukraine and Worst-Case Putin Scenarios

Kremlin and Environs Aerial View

[“Inside’s Putin’s Head: The Crisis in Russia and Ukraine and Worst-Case Putin Scenarios” – Gordon M. Hahn – – January 31, 2015]

Gordon Hahn considers the impact of the conflict in Ukraine and economic repercussions on the stability and viability of Russia’s Putin regime.

The … Russian-NATO proxy war in Ukraine along with the Russian-Western economic cold war could destabilize Russia’s political metastability and even topple Putin and his system. Assume … Putin really is pushed into a corner. … foreign reserves begin to run out cutting into his popularity, and/or he loses his battle with the West over Ukraine because of Russia’s economic weaknesses in conditions of falling oil and natural gas prices and Western sanctions. Political and economic crises mount … the foundations of his system begin to shake. Putin the winner has become Putin the disappointing loser.

The regime elite begins to split; some defect to the opposition. The latter begins to mount successively larger and more turbulent demonstrations led by a Maidan-like mix of democrats, angered by economic dislocation, and ultra-nationalists, disgruntled by a failure to annex or protect the Donbass … a perfect storm – in the runup to, during or just after the 2018 presidential election. It is around elections when corrupt authoritarian systems are often challenged because of limited levels of public trust in the electoral process. …

… how would Putin and his political order likely react? What would his options be and which … would he most likely choose? … what would Putin try to do to salvage his rule?

Hahn argues that Putin might seek to “up the ante” and that the West should be prepared. However, he also argues against current Western pressure such as sanctions.

Putin’s system may soon be under real existential threat for the first time. In the winter 2011-12 demonstrations the system’s economic and political fundamentals were sound – not now. In circumstances of crisis politics with his survival at risk, Putin will push the envelope – as he did in Crimea – and perhaps beyond the breaking point. He will crackdown on the domestic opposition and purge Russia of foreign entities, institutionalizing isolation from the West to the extent necessary. In foreign relations, defeat in Ukraine is unacceptable, and Putin can be expected to repeatedly up the ante in any escalation of the crisis. The same may be true in the event that domestic problems such as a collapse of the ruble or full economic depression challenge his and his system’s survival. This could also provoke him into one of several optional gambits in Ukraine, global confrontation with the West from Eurasia to the Western Hemisphere, or asymmetrical escalation elsewhere in Eurasia or beyond against Western interests.

… the West would do well to beef up its military preparedness, step up efforts to negotiate a settlement in Ukraine, and put an end to sanctions and other measures that might lead to state breakdown in chemical-, biological-, radiological-, and nuclear-laden Russia. Armageddon was averted during the Soviet regime and state breakdown in 1991. There is no guarantee a second brush with Armageddon will end well. In this light, the West needs to ask itself a fundamental question: Is Ukraine’s membership in NATO and/or the EU worth such a risk?

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