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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Putin Holds an Equivocating Press Conference, Tells a Few Falsehoods

Posted by on Tue, Mar 4, 2014 at 9:58 AM

Putin has given a press conference in Moscow saying that Russia has no intentions to wage war against Ukraine and has no desire to annex territory—but left himself an enormous loophole by claiming that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych was still the head of state, that he had asked Russia for help, and that Ukraine's upcoming elections will be illegitimate.

Putin said enough to mollify the headlines ("Putin Says No War," "No Plans to Annex Territory") but gave himself enough wiggle room to do whatever he likes in the name of helping a fellow head of state.

And, as we saw yesterday with Russian embassies tweeting that Putin had not even deployed troops, Russian officials have no trouble saying one thing and doing another.

Guardian reporter Alec Luhn breaks down five falsehoods Putin told during the press conference, including a strange assertion that protesters in Kiev were killed by their own leaders, not police snipers.

The New York Times has an article on Russian "protest tourists"—some of whom appear to be getting paid—traveling through Ukraine with flags and enthusiasm, presenting a staged spectacle of people welcoming the invasion with open arms for the world's news photographers. They're little, mobile Potemkin villages.

And the New Republic is publishing a series of articles by (mostly) Russian dissidents and independent journalists on what's been happening in Ukraine. There is one by Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot:

The principle “divide and rule,” which has been preventively implemented in Russia, cannot be justified, just as the stance of people who are actively or passively supporting this principle cannot be justified. Last night, frantic calls were made to those who receive salaries from the state, such as teachers, to order them to take to the streets in a rally supporting the sending of troops. They were paid to go. They went to rally for war. In the afternoon we saw them in the streets and on the squares. And we weren't even surprised, just like we weren't surprised at arrests on Red Square of people who were singing the national anthem.

And Tikhon Dzyadko, deputy editor of "Russia's last independent television station," writes that Putin doesn't seem to know what he wants:

A Russian invasion of Ukraine—if it ends up happening—will mean catastrophe, most of all for Russia. Paradoxically, it will only help Ukraine: Questions about the legitimacy of the new government in Kiev will fall away; the IMF and the West will be tripping over themselves to help Ukraine financially; this, in turn, will prop up the government in Kiev, which is currently broke; and, finally, the Ukrainian people will be united in their fight against an occupier—and isn’t this exactly the kind of unity you need after a revolution? Russia, on the other hand, will be left with international isolation and yet another neighboring territory recognized by no one. In 2008, it was Abkhazia and South Ossetia; now, it is the Crimea. But in acquiring the Crimea, Russia will lose Ukraine, its biggest partner for transporting gas to Europe.

It seems that the invasion of Ukraine is being done merely to remind the world about Russia and that it is a powerful regional player. But this is a game without an endgame.

He's right about at least one thing—Kerry has shown up in Kiev with $1 billion of guaranteed loans and technical assistance. Although, as one anonymous American official remarked:

“The Russians are major holders of Ukrainian debt,” the senior American official acknowledged. “So in any scenario in which Ukraine is getting financial assistance some of the money very likely is going to end up in the hands of Russian of institutions. I think there is probably no way of avoiding that. “


Comments (9) RSS

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Former Lurker 2
Putin should just say that Ukraine has WMDs and show some memo about yellow cake... or that he intends to launch drones in search of terror suspects....
Posted by Former Lurker on March 4, 2014 at 10:33 AM · Report this
cressona 3
Brendan, thanks for the continuing coverage of what's happening in Ukraine. Great to have Chris Collison's contributions on the ground.

Interesting that Putin called this revolution an "unconstitional coup." Who knew the Ukrainian constitution had a provision that the president of the Russian Federation is also the protector of Ukraine's government?

(Paraphrasing a remark Samantha Powers made to the UN Security Council.)
Posted by cressona on March 4, 2014 at 10:44 AM · Report this
unknown_entity 4
I worry that Tikhon Dzyadko is overlooking another possibility. Putin has made his love of the old Soviet Union an integral part of his image and his long term goals. If you look at the situation in Ukraine with that mindset, here is what I see:

Plan A: Get the most pro-Russian government in control and make the Ukraine's economy heavily indebted to Russia. This is done by encouraging corruption and graft of public funds, forcing Ukraine to borrow ever larger sums of money from Russia.
Plan B: If the pro-Russian government goes to far and gets itself thrown out, use the turmoil and "threat" to Russians still in the country from the Soviet days to justify military intervention and take over the country outright.

Look at how after Yanukovich was ousted, military bases and political centers were quickly seized by paramilitary groups with no insignia but with similar uniforms and weapons. The speed and efficiency says this was planned well in advance, like the Tonkin Gulf resolution.

You can argue that Russia risks uniting the opposition, but you can also argue that they have shown all the former satellite states that if they don't tow the Russian line, the same could happen to them.
Posted by unknown_entity on March 4, 2014 at 10:56 AM · Report this
Yeah, sure, it'll most likely turn out to be disastrous for Putin. But I think we can all agree the IMPORTANT thing is, Putin has made the American right wing swoon with his decisive, authoritarian manliness.
Posted by Pope Buck I on March 4, 2014 at 11:05 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 6
I told you he lies.

I meant it.
Posted by Will in Seattle on March 4, 2014 at 11:28 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 7
I'm old enough to remember the Prague Spring. This is history repeating.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on March 4, 2014 at 12:26 PM · Report this
I'm old enough to remember Budapest 1956.
Posted by Toe Tag on March 4, 2014 at 1:05 PM · Report this
Ipso Facto 9
@7) Not if you ask Ray McGovern:

Unlike ‘Prague Spring’ 1968

Moscow’s advantage was not nearly as clear during the short-lived “Prague Spring” of 1968 when knee-jerk, non-thinking euphoria reigned in Washington and West European capitals. The cognoscenti were, by and large, smugly convinced that reformer Alexander Dubcek could break Czechoslovakia away from the U.S.S.R.’s embrace and still keep the Russian bear at bay.

My CIA analyst portfolio at the time included Soviet policy toward Eastern Europe, and I was amazed to see analysts of Eastern Europe caught up in the euphoria that typically ended with, “And the Soviets can’t do a damned thing about it!”

That summer a new posting found me advising Radio Free Europe Director Ralph Walter who, virtually alone among his similarly euphoric colleagues, shared my view that Russian tanks would inevitably roll onto Prague’s Wenceslaus Square, which they did in late August.

Past is not always prologue. But it is easy for me to imagine the Russian Army cartographic agency busily preparing maps of the best routes for tanks into Independence Square in Kiev, and that before too many months have gone by, Russian tank commanders may be given orders to invade, if those stoking the fires of violent dissent in the western parts of Ukraine keep pushing too far.

That said, Putin has many other cards to play and time to play them. These include sitting back and doing nothing, cutting off Russia’s subsidies to Ukraine, making it ever more difficult for Yanukovich’s successors to cope with the harsh realities. And Moscow has ways to remind the rest of Europe of its dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Another Interference

There is one huge difference between Prague in 1968 and Kiev 2014. The “Prague Spring” revolution led by Dubcek enjoyed such widespread spontaneous popular support that it was difficult for Russian leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksey Kosygin to argue plausibly that it was spurred by subversion from the West.

Not so 45-plus years later. In early February, as violent protests raged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the White House professed neutrality, U.S. State Department officials were, in the words of NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies Stephen Cohen, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”

We know that thanks to neocon prima donna Victoria Nuland, now Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who seemed intent on giving new dimension to the “cookie-pushing” role of U.S. diplomats. Recall the photo showing Nuland in a metaphor of over-reach, as she reached deep into a large plastic bag to give each anti-government demonstrator on the square a cookie before the putsch.

More important, recall her amateurish, boorish use of an open telephone to plot regime change in Ukraine with a fellow neocon, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. Crass U.S. interference in Ukrainian affairs can be seen (actually, better, heard) in an intercepted conversation posted on YouTube on Feb. 4.
Posted by Ipso Facto on March 4, 2014 at 1:10 PM · Report this
Olympics are over, putin wants to keep himself in the spotlight, he's a piece of shit.
Posted by longwayhome on March 4, 2014 at 7:57 PM · Report this

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