Bailey writes: “A wounded Russia, led by an immensely popular megalomaniac, is a very dangerous country, one which Putin never ceases to remind the world has a large and well-maintained nuclear arsenal and therefore cannot be intimidated. We cannot rule out a serious strategic error with disastrous consequences … it would be a serious mistake to assume that he is merely blustering.”
What risk does Putin pose for his neighbors, and how is it best managed?
Russia is not a wounded country, but a very weak one. It exports oil and gas, almost like a Gulf sheikdom. With some effort, its customers could abandon it. Its economic culture dooms it to poverty. Demographically, it is dying. Putin’s popularity does not mean that his cynical population is willing to sacrifice. Communism beat generosity (and a large measure of decency) out of the Russians.
Putin, however, is fortunate in his Western opponents. (The Chinese, secure in their size and dynamism, are content to play along with him for their own purposes, but will not take on troubles on his account). These Western opponents, including the US ruling class, justify the contempt that Putin has for them. Hence, what he has done in Georgia and Ukraine has convinced him – as it should have convinced any reasonable person – that there are no limits to the advantages he can gain at their expense with minimal risk. Bailey writes that Putin has overplayed his hand. I disagree, as regards Germany, France, US, et al.
He may have done so with regard to the Ukrainians, having awakened in them an even greater hatred for Russia than before (if that is possible.) But Putin counts on the West to damp down Ukrainian sentiments.
What is he likely to do next? There is no reason why he should not do unto the Baltic States precisely what he did to Ukraine. Vis a vis the “near abroad,” this would leave him able to control and eventually to reabsorb them by playing on internal political divisions. Vis a vis the West, showing how empty Article 5 really is is unlikely to bring about any serious move to stop him. The Western world has no Churchill waiting in the wings.
Putin is very dangerous, because his threats and depredations are convincing the West’s ruling classes of their own contemptible nature. The more they realize what they are, the likelier they are to wallow in their own decline. Putin will then have turned the tables on his beloved Soviet Union’s demise.