Negotiate with a liar (Putin’s dog is a cat)
At the outbreak of hostilities in the Ukrainian regions of Crimea and Donbass in the spring of 2014, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich PutinSenators rally on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate Schumer calls for Senate briefing on Ukraine amid tensions with Russia Biden rushes to pressure Russia as fears of Ukraine intensify MORE to discuss the situation. She left shocked, stating that Putin was living in “an alternate reality”. For Putin, NATO was the aggressor, an illegitimate neo-Nazi regime in Kiev was murdering by crucifixion Russian-speakers, a civil war was engulfing Ukraine, and Russia was providing no military assistance to these brave fighters from the two “separatist” republics, standing to the ultra-nationalists of Kiev.
It was ‘Putin’s world’ in March 2014, and it remains ‘Putin’s world’ today as the West tries to negotiate with the Kremlin to defuse rising tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian-Belarusian border.
Western negotiators are learning, like Merkel a decade ago, that you cannot negotiate with an opponent who insists that black is white and a dog is a cat. Whether Putin believes it or not is irrelevant. What matters is that “a dog is a cat” is an integral part of his attacks on Ukraine, NATO and the United States.
Consider it a “fact” in Putin’s alternate universe that regular Russian troops never engaged in the Ukraine conflict. For him, what is happening is an internal “civil war”. Putin claims the lack of Russian involvement, despite the return of the bodies of Russian conscripts from Ukraine, the capture of regular Russian troops in Ukraine (they somehow got lost or were on vacation), and the panoply of Facebook posts ( vkontakte) of young Russian Troops from Ukrainian territory.
Oh, and by the way, the tanks, ammunition and artillery that the East Ukrainian “volunteers” are deploying against Ukrainian forces are mysteriously arriving of their own accord, including the Russian missile crews who shot down a Boeing 777 in- over Ukrainian territory.
The myth of the absence of Russian involvement is sometimes pierced, provoking frenzied denial from the Kremlin. The latest is a court case from Russian military headquarters in Rostov in which a supplier of food for the Russian army was caught paying bribes in exchange for lucrative contracts. Court documents describe the defendant as providing enough food on up to 70 trucks to feed tens of thousands of Russian troops stationed in the two ‘separatist republics’ (DNR and LNR) of occupied eastern Ukraine. Russia.
This one court case was big enough to prompt a denial from Putin’s own press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, as some sort of mistake. The Kremlin quickly thoroughly analyzed the recordings of these court proceedings, but not before they were captured in archived documents.
Presumably Putin can tell black from white and a dog from a cat. So why does he continue – and let’s use the right word here – to lie? Putin’s lies are central to his alternate universe that the fighting in eastern Ukraine is purely an internal Ukrainian affair with which Russia has nothing to do. In any peace negotiations, like those in Minsk in 2014 and 2015, Russia insists that it belongs to the side of the peacemakers and is in no way a fighter. In fact, according to this logic, Russian troops should be used to keep the peace. In fact, Ukrainian analysts fear that Russia will invoke “humanitarian concerns” to justify the permanent occupation of eastern Ukraine.
Imagine dealing with this: there can be no discussion of Russian troops leaving Ukrainian territory because there are none there now, and they never have been. Yes, and Russia, as a peace-loving nation, is ready to use its own troops to “keep the peace” along the border with Ukraine. Putin would claim that Russia is reluctant to intervene in this purely domestic dispute, but it must do so as a responsible global citizen.
I wish the United States Secretary of State Antoine BlinkenAntony BlinkenBiden rushes to pressure Russia as Ukraine fears escalate good luck. He needs it.
And Blinken enters the negotiation devoid of the greatest weapon of all – the threat of using US or NATO troops. This option is already on the table. Blinken can either wait to be caught off guard by Putin’s next move or put in place some really crushing sanctions to apply in case Russia violates a red line (which we don’t seem to have established). Among these sanctions would clearly include the end of the Russian gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2, personal sanctions against Putin’s inner circle, the withdrawal of Russia from the Society for Global Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) or the sanction of the Russian central bank – the ultimate weapon.
A gesture is obvious: the United States, Canada and NATO should do their best to arm Ukraine to the teeth. Those who hesitate, like Germany, will later regret their inaction.
Paul Roderick Gregory is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Houston, Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and Research Fellow at the German Institute for Economic Research. Follow him on Twitter @PaulR_Gregory.