New York Times asked me a question on April 25th on Putin's pros and cons of invading E. Ukraine and here is what I wrote back to them, but I don't think they used any of this, so I think I can post without preempting any story. As you can see cons outweigh pros, and, therefore, I think Moscow will continue to opt for using protests in E. Ukraine to push ahead with May 11th referendum there, prevent May 25th presidential elections, and convince Kiev to first adopt a new constitution to codify federalism and neutrality of Ukraine before electing its president and governors.
The basic cons are as follows:
· Ukrainian armed forces and interior troops are more likely to offer armed resistance to an overt attack by Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian units are mostly manned with locals, and, that’s what made it difficult for units in Crimea to mount resistance – after all, as polls show, majority of residents there have been pro-Russian, which should come as no surprise as many of them are ethnic Russians. The share of ethnic Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine is considerably greater than in Crimea. Also, the interim government in Kiev has deployed units from central and western Ukraine to that region. In Crimea, which has functioned as an autonomous republic, there was and there is a clear ethnic Russian majority that has always strongly favored integration into Russia. Such majority is absent in eastern Ukraine. A February 2013 poll: 33.2 percent of respondents in the Donetsk region, 24.1 percent in the Lugansk region and 15.1 percent in the Kharkiv region backed the idea of joining Russia. Though most people in Ukraine's eastern regions are Russian-speaking, ethnic Ukrainians accounted for 56.9% in the Donetsk region, 70.7% in the Kharkiv region and 58% in the Lugansk region, as opposed to just 24% in Crimea, according to the 2001 census, which was the last one conducted. All this makes is much more likely that advancing Russian units will encounter first organized resistance by Ukrainian armyy and then guerilla war afterwards.
· There is no clear line separating pro-Russian parts of eastern Ukraine from others whereas Crimea can be cut off from Ukraine by imposing control over Isthmus of Perekop, which is only 5-km wide at its narrowest point. Therefore, establishing a line separating conquered areas from rest of Ukraine would be more difficult, but not very difficult.
· Russia may gain more land, but land is probably last thing that the largest country in the world needs, while such a move would bury Russia’s hopes for an Ukraine that would be neutral militarily, if not politically.
· Deployment of Russian troops into E. Ukraine will spur not only US, but also reluctant Old Europe to impose much harsher sanctions on individual Russian officials and businessmen as well as on companies and, possibly, sectors of the Russian economy, in what may send Russia’s already stagnating economy, into a full-blown recession, which, if it is long, would make it difficult for Vladimir Putin to honor the social contract with the population. Such sanctions would leave Russia without many important technologies it needs to develop and diversify its economy. More important, isolation by West would be more likely, in what would leave Russia with no choice, but to edge closer to China, and, that won’t be a partnership of equals, I am afraid.
· The Russian budget will be saddled with extra expenditures that would be needed to take over the interim Ukrainian government’s public, social and other obligations in financing E. Ukraine, where many regions are recipients of subsidies from the national budget.
· Further undermine supremacy of international law – that Moscow has been championing all the years after disintegration of USSR – and seal Russia’s reputation as a revisionist power.
· Dim Russia’s hopes for being given a substantive say in legal mechanisms of collective European security, strengthen proponents of containing Russia in NATO who argue deterrence of Russia should be the alliance’s new old mission.
The basic pros would include:
· Strengthening Putin’s popularity among the nationalist electorate in Russia.
· Reaffirming the lesson to post-Soviet states as to what would be the alternative to accommodating Russia’s interests.
· Strengthening Russia’s reputation as a state that is prepared to withstand Western pressure to pursue a policy of its own choice.
· Increasing Russia’s GDP and population. Depending on how far Russian troops go, these increases could vary. Eastern Ukraine’s GDP equals 3.4% of Russian GDP, but its population equals 14% of Russian population, so demographic gain for Russia, but not a huge economic gain. The social burden would not be as great given that the eastern Ukraine’s GDP per capita is $3397 while Russia’s GDP per capita is $4,037 in current dollars. In comparison, the losses for Ukraine would be disastrous: almost half of population and GDP.
PS I also wonder what Putin may have been promised (and what guarantees have been given that the promise would be kept) when he decided to end categorical opposition to holding the presidential elections in Ukraine prior to changes in Constitution and called for delay of referendums in E. Ukraine. Wonder if this plan by Kiev to grant most of his wish for federalization could be part of the promise.