Why Putin did not send the army into the Donbass

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3/16/2015

Why Putin did not send the army into the Donbass

By Russkiy Malchik

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

More commentary on the Crimea film. What finally became
clear to me personally is that it was not the Western pressure which influenced
Putin’s decision not to send the army into the Donbass. Now we can clearly see
that when it comes to the Crimea, Russia’s resolve was demonstrated up to and
including the “nuclear briefcase.” In other words, just try something, and
you’ll be talking to ballistic missiles. This was improbable even during the
best years of the USSR. It tells us that if a similar decision were to be taken
concerning the Donbass, you’d see a similar operation, and there would be no
clash with NATO—it would drift away.

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The obstacle was somewhere else. This deserves close
consideration, and not throw about phrases like “how is the Donbass less
Russian than Crimea?” This is faulty logic at work, and it was never part of
Putin’s thinking. The problem is somewhere else. Donbass is not a peninsula
which can be blocked by cutting off the isthmus. If one sends troops into the
Donbass, then the frontline becomes longer with every kilometer West, from
the  Black Sea to Belarussian forests.
Therefore if one enters the Donbass one must march, as a minimum, to the
natural border of the Dnepr, but that’s Poltava, Sumy, Chernigov,
Dnepropetrovsk with their populations, a significant part of which had already
been zombified into Russophobia. With every kilometer we’d get a less
pro-Russian and more Russophobic (I know this on the basis of examples). The
junta was able to sway people’s minds already by March, April, May, so that one
could not expect a full support for the Russian Army even in the cities of the
Larger Novorossia, not to mention Vinnitsa.

This is an important point which Putin underscored both
earlier and at the anniversary of Crimea annexation: he based his decision on
the potential support by the population. Crimea was fundamentally ready for the
arrival of the Russian Army (it was already there, which made the task easier).
But the rest of Ukraine was not. Even in Donetsk a large proportion of local
“white collars” and housewives turned out to be Maidan support and ran away
from the DPR and LPR. This is not a criticism of the Donbass, but the sad
reality for which we are all at fault. Those who stayed on the Donbass paid for
their choice in favor of the Russian World with blood, and there isn’t enough
marble in the world for a monument to them. But the Russian Army would have had
to march further than Donetsk, to Melitopol, Zaporozhye, Kherson, Nikolayev,
all the way to Odessa. There are lots of Maidaneks there. And even more people
who very quickly accused Russia of aggression. Look at how people behaved in
the border town of Sumy, where nobody is so much as stirring against the junta.
Once again, it’s not their fault but ours in general, as is the pain and
sadness.

Look at how much importance “tyrannical” Putin attaches to
people’s sentiments and desires, even if those desires are imposed from the
outside. Now we know for certain that the Kremlin was conducting opinion polls
constantly and everywhere—in the Crimea, on the Donbass, in Russia concerning
both Crimea and Donbass, and in the various regions of Ukraine. One can
criticize VVP for this, but he does not want to do anything that does not have
the support of the inhabitants of a given territory. He acts in a similar
manner in Russia—he makes a decision only when the people are ready, or even
more than ready, for it. I think that’s due to an understanding that the
government’s actions are truly historical and make lives better only when they
are based on the desires of the majority of the population. When the government
and the citizens are acting as a united front, it leads to the government of
the people (unlike democracy, in which power belongs to the 2% who are
democrats).

Already in March Ukraine was not prepared to welcome the
Russian Army as a savior. Marching only into the Donbass would have been a
half-measure that would have escalated the conflict and put Russia in a dead
end. The decision not to send troops into Donbass was painful and forced, but
at the same time the most correct one. If one considers the reality, not
desires. Life is like that.

J.Hawk’s Comment: I suppose the corollary here is that already now the attitudes are shifting. Let’s not forget that the Kiev junta promised Ukrainians the world in the most literal sense. Just topple Yanukovych and Ukraine will become just like Switzerland! I dare say far fewer people are thinking along these lines now that the true meaning of the “European choice” is becoming clear. 

But the fundamental point RM is making holds true: the Russian government (of which Putin is the Chief Executive–I doubt he has more personal authority than, say, Obama or Merkel or Cameron) is remarkably attuned to the popular opinion in matters both domestic and international. Popularity ratings like Putin’s don’t grow on trees–they have to be earned. Whereas in the West our Big Money-elected leaders are reliant on “optics”, “messaging”, and PR to cover up their unpopular policies, while at the same time blaming the voters (!) for failing to understand the policies that are being foisted on them. 

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