Ukraine: Call me a crazy optimist, but I think that in the long run, Putin and his kleptocratic pals will be the losers here
- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I spent a good part of the weekend reading various punditry on the Ukrainian situation. The Russian takeover of Crimea is awful, but I do believe that Putin’s Russia will be the long-term loser in this situation. If the Europeans needed a reminder of why they need NATO, they just got it. And I think they do need such a notice every couple of decades or so that the purpose of NATO is to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.
As one smart officer I know put it yesterday, "Putin remains what he always was — an opportunistic, self-promoting, KGB lieutenant colonel who believes that he is some sort of great statesman. He rules Russia by co-opting as much of the population as he can into his preferred game of corruption, graft, cons, and bribes and by intimidating the rest to keep quiet. His brazenness is belied by his vulnerability — and by the vulnerability of oligarchs gathered around him. The sad truth is that he and his clique are destroying Russia more surely and rapidly than any action that the US and our allies (or, for that matter, China, Muslim separatists, Ukrainian nationalists, etc.) ever could."
Bottom line: No, this is not 1914. Nor is it 1938. Lots of panicky customers out there selling the West much too short. This just may be the last gasp of a sick, Ottoman-like empire. Let’s not get too flighty.
On how to respond to Vlad the Invader, I am, with Garry Kasparov, a "banks not tanks" guy. The way to inflict genuine costs on Putin and his buddies is with a financial squeeze. This situation is a challenge to the European Union to step up and do the right thing: Stick it to the Russian kleptocracy. We can help by providing information and by shining a bright light on what Russia is doing.
This is also a real opportunity for the WikiLeaks/Snowdenistas to leak material damaging to the Russian oligarchy, like who has all the money and how they get it out and where it is now. What a wonderful way to bring together the leftist information types and the rightist hawks.