Putin’s Russia, His Father’s Russia

Photograph by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on May 8, 2013, to mark the upcoming Victory Day.

Secretary of State John Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris today.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives promises to finish work on a series of sanctions punishing Russia for its incursion in Crimea and $1 billion in aid for Ukraine, both approved by the Senate last week.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin takes his military any further into Ukraine, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders have promised still tougher sanctions, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid calling the Senate-passed sanctions only the beginning. Sen. John McCain of Arizona told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt that the next steps could involve forcing U.S. companies to withdraw their interests from Russia.

So it’s possible that the troops that Putin has amassed at the Ukraine border are a human bargaining chip, providing him room for negotiation with the U.S. and Europe — a chip that he can withdraw. Yet the U.S. and allies are seeking more, a withdrawal from the Crimean peninsula that Putin already has swiftly annexed. Putin has his own proposals, as Bloomberg’s Terry Atlas and Henry Meyer report. It’s also notable that Putin started these talks with a phone call to Obama.

In light of all this, it’s worth reading a deeper account of what drives Russia’s longtime leader by Oliver Bullough, Caucasus editor at the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, writing for BBC News Magazine.

Russia wants Ukraine to grant greater powers to its regions, have a non-aligned status outside NATO and make Russian a second official language, Lavrov said in a statement on his ministry’s website yesterday, as Atlas and Meyer report.

“Putin may be changing tack a week after signing laws to annex Crimea from Ukraine in Europe’s worst political crisis since the Cold War,” they write. “Fearing that pro-Kremlin troops massing on Ukraine’s borders may invade the ex-Soviet state, the U.S. and EU have threatened to intensify sanctions on Russia’s military, energy and financial industries if Putin doesn’t back down. Russia’s proposal may be a hard sell for Ukraine’s political leaders, who are facing off for a May 25 presidential election.”

Or, based on the BBC News Magazine’s accounting of Putin’s history, something else could be at work here.

And, reading up on Putin, releasing Crimea from Russia’s hold would appear to be the last outcome of any of this.


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