Michael McFaul, who recently stepped down as U.S. ambassador to Russia, says President Vladimir Putin is riding "an ugly nationalistic fervor that's off the charts," and is likely to escalate tensions with the U.S. and Europe over Ukraine.
McFaul, who left his post as ambassador last month to teach at Stanford University, expects tougher sanctions to be imposed on Russia and anticipates Putin will respond "tit for tat." The Russian leader, he believes, has little interest in negotiations.
"These critics miss an important historical point," McFaul said. "When the Soviet Union or Russia decides to use coercive force against one of its neighbors, no American president has been able to prevent that. This goes back to President Eisenhower -- General Eisenhower -- who when the Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary in 1956 couldn't stop it."
He added that this also was the case under former President Jimmy Carter when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan; under Ronald Reagan when Moscow imposed martial law in Poland; and during the George W. Bush administration when, in 2008, Russia invaded Georgia.
Noting the "really ugly anti-American" atmosphere in Russia fueled by Putin, McFaul said Russia's reaction to stiffer sanctions, which he strongly supports, could range from symbolic retaliation to further military action in eastern Ukraine. According to McFaul, Russia's nationalistic fervor gives Putin more leeway to act.
McFaul thinks economic sanctions may hurt Russia's weakening economy in the long run but won't have much immediate impact. "Putin is highly motivated to prevail and he's willing to incur big economic costs," he said. "And, by the way, he doesn't answer to any real electorate or shareholders."
The crisis has ominous implications , the former envoy to Moscow believes. "This is the critical turn at the end of the post-Cold War period; the idea of integrating and engaging Russia is done."
This is a sobering but realistic appraisal, in my opinion. Of course Putin cannot be easily or safely stopped by Western forces from invading and annexing Crimea or any other region on its borders. The USA and the European Union are not going to risk serious military conflict, let alone WW3, to contain Russian aggression in the 21st century, nor should they.
The West can not talk Putin out of his macho destiny fantasy. However, it can increase economic pressure, as I discussed again yesterday, particularly if Europe creates some sensible self-sufficiency in terms of energy. This will be controversial and inevitably also take time, but Europe does have the resources and means to generate its own energy. This would also lower unemployment and help Europe’s economic recovery by eventually lowering unnecessarily punitive energy costs.
I have been asked by several people if they should invest in Russia’s beaten up stock market.
I would certainly not invest in Russia while Putin is in charge. Yes, its stock market is cheap but it usually has been for reasons which should be obvious. Moreover, diplomatic relations are no longer improving.Back to top