All Putin’s mistakes in Ukraine

From the annexation of Crimea to the frozen conflict in Donbass, Russia seems to have gained a lot from the Ukraine crisis. Let’s see where the aggressive policy of Putin did not get the desired results.



 Morten Morland/The Times

Last Sunday, the streets of central Moscow were filled with several thousand protesters (hard to say how many, police say 5 thousand, the organizers 50 thousand) who took part in the peace march organized by the opposition and some NGOs. When the demonstrators started gathering in Pushkin Square, where the march was authorized to move from, a large banner reading "March of the traitors" welcomed them. They responded with another banner reading "Hands off Ukraine." And the march for peace ended up into an anti-Putin demonstration.

 

The wrong emissaries

When the ATO troops came to Slavjansk, the city that has been for months the stronghold of the separatists under the command of Igor "Strelkov" Girkin, a scared crowd greeted them applauding and embracing soldiers. In some cases, Ukrainian soldiers also found people angered by the use of heavy artillery on their homes, but in general, the occupation of the territories of the East made many Ukrainians change their mind about independence from Kyiv. Strelkov ruled Slavjansk with absolute power, ordering summary executions and arbitrarily jailing citizens who refused to cooperate with the separatists. At least one mass grave with a dozen corpses was discovered by Ukrainian troops, and many residents have witnessed the killing of a Protestant minister and his four children just for refusing to fund the militants. Similar stories arrive from places still under the control of pro-Russian. "Putin has sent in Donbass wrong emissaries," told me a woman referring to the fact that Strelkov, like other separatist leaders, is a Russian citizen. It is not surprising that many eastern Ukrainians must have thought that if this is the independence from Kyiv, they might as well do without.

 

The soft power of Moscow

After a quick success in Crimea, Putin made a bad use of soft power on the Russian eastern regions of Ukraine. Igor Bezler, another separatist leader named "Demon", believed responsible for downing the Malaysia Mh-17 flight, has repeatedly complained about the poor response of Ukrainians of Donbass to the separatist cause. And Girkin himself, in a video released already in mid-May, accused of cowardice the men of Donetsk: "Hundreds of thousands are calmly sitting in the comfort of their homes watching events unfold on television while drinking beer, waiting for an army from Russia to come and do your fighting."

The wave of anti-Russian feelings after Euromaidan is no longer just a phenomenon linked to Kyiv and the western provinces, and could perhaps even shake the territories under the control of the separatists, especially after the Russian leaders of Novorossija have fled, leaving the command to local figures.

 

A modest result in a high price

Having delegated the conquest of the Donbass to a bunch of badly organized militiamen was not the only mistake that Putin has made since the crisis in Ukraine. Beyond the swift operation in Crimea, the attitude of the Kremlin towards the Ukrainian issue appeared far from unequivocal. Military aid to the pro-Russian east were modest and, above all, by fits and starts. The invasion of Ukraine, never really excluded from the crisis scenario (and even explicitly threatened) has never happened while, until the start of the ceasefire and the peace plan, the operation of military reconquer carried on by Kyiv was getting good results day after day. Even the high-sounding declarations of Putin on the defense of Russian citizens wherever they are, did not have a concrete follow-up, creating a latent discontent between the rebels and their leaders. Finally, while the operation Crimea was held without a shot being fired, the Donbass is devastated and its population exhausted by months of war. Putin may be "satisfied" of the situation frozen by the peace process, but it is a modest yet result in consideration of the price paid. With the deterioration of relations with the West, the cost of the sanctions, the growing anti-Russian sentiment widespread in Ukraine and other European countries formerly belonging to the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, and a growing opposition, perhaps the "campaign of Ukraine" is not a complete success.

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