Useful Proxies

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Does Putin really want to annex Eastern Ukraine? It’s not clear to Gary Brecher (The War Nerd) that he does:

It’s very clear that the Russian state wanted Crimea, and was willing to risk war for it. It’s not so clear that Moscow will risk war for Eastern Ukraine, which does have valuable resources and major industrial installations, but lacks Crimea’s easily-sealed entry points.

The alternatives here, for Moscow, are not either outright annexation or total disengagement. It’s naïve to think that Moscow has to say a simple yes or no to the militias fighting in Russia’s name in Donetsk and Sloviansk. The history of Great-Power politics shows that in many cases, it’s much more useful to leave a disputed, ethnically-mixed area festering, giving your proxies there just enough weaponry, money, and moral support to keep them bleeding the occupying enemy.

Kashmir is the classic example in the contemporary world. Does Pakistan really want to take Kashmir, with its hopelessly messy, complex, bloody feuds, into Pakistan proper? Officially, yes; and in the minds of the millions of Pakistani nationalists, of course it does. But for the ISI, the intelligence agents who run the country, it’s much more useful to have Kashmir as a goad, an irritant, a reliable source of nationalist rage and suicide volunteers, than it would be to march in and try to govern the place.

So, despite the valid grievances of the Eastern Ukrainian Russian community, despite all the nationalist rage Putin is stirring up among nationalists in Russia proper, the Russian government may let Eastern Ukraine’s Russian militias be ground down by troops, tanks, and aircraft from Kyiv.

Not wiped out — that would be a waste of potentially useful proxies. But decimated, occupied, and humiliated. A population in that condition is as useful to a Great Power as Kashmir’s Muslims are to Pakistan.


  1. Candide III says:

    That sounds about right, except he contradicts himself by first saying it’s just local, no Russian infiltrators, and then goes on about newest weapons (so new you don’t need anyone to teach you to use them, I suppose) and Chechen mercenaries from Russia. I should add that there are also hundreds of Russian so-called Cossacks there, which “Strelok” complained about on youtube a few days ago, and there are honest-to-God recruitment centers in Moscow suburbs where you can sign up as a volunteer to defend Mother Russia in the Donetsk region. Ostensibly unofficial, of course, but that’s nothing but a bad joke, and War Nerd understands as much. Naturally, Ukraine can’t afford to let this region be, so the question will be whether the new government can show enough sticks and carrots to smooth things down.

  2. Al Fin says:

    They are called “cat’s paws” and they are very useful for purposes of plausible deniability. Eastern Europe is a playground for organised crime, and insider connections along with thugs on the ground can prove very useful in an “insurgency.” Throw in some Chechen mercenaries, Cossacks, and sprinkle with Spetsnaz for liaison, sniping, and organisation, and the really tough jobs get done to Moscow’s specifications.

    If Putin can control Ukraine without actually occupying it, he can save a lot of money. Intimidation has always been a useful tool for Russian Tsars, Party Secretaries, and presidents.

    Ukraine must be kept out of the EU orbit at all costs, to avoid side by side comparisons (North Korea/South Korea, East Germany/West Germany) that might make Putin look like the anti-people’s dictator that he is.

    If ethnic Russians (other than organised crime mobs) living outside Russia were as oppressed as Putin’s propaganda machine paints them, they would have moved to Russia long ago. Instead, Russia is being flooded by Central Asian Muslims, who will before long make up most of the rank and file of the Russian Army.

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