Russian Mythbusting
The Putin Doctrine: Myth, Provocation, Blackmail, or the Real Deal?

When it comes to explaining Russia’s Ukrainian adventurism, the West has attempted to hide behind a wall of myths and hope its problems will just go away.

Published on: April 14, 2014
Lilia Shevtsova, an AI editorial board member, is senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
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  • tantorsea7

    Another neoconservative chicken hawk journalist who would like us to bomb Iran, Syria, Russia, etc. like they led us to bomb and invade Iraq, bomb Syria, bomb Serbia, etc. etc. Why not report the botched abuse of government power vs the Bundy ranch in Nevada? That is an abuse of government power in our own land. We dont have look at Crimea for this. Stop playing on our love of freedom to bamboozle us into more foreign conflicts, dear necocons. We are up to you. You cannot con us any more.
    Instead, let
    us attend to our own borders, which are a joke, as millions of unauthorized
    people invade us; and let us focus on our other problems since we have a 17
    trillion debt and growing, and our inner cities are terrorized by a series of
    urban underclass gangs numbering in the

    thousands, mugging, trafficking in drugs, hooking teenage women into drugs and
    then prostituting them in vast sexual trafficking rings, stealing, vandalizing,
    graffiti writing, etc. . In Chicago alone, the Vice Lords gang, just one gang,
    numbers 70000 according to the Chicago Crime Commission. We don’t talk about
    all this?

    Our country has bombed, invaded, and
    subverted and economically sanctioned sovereign countries for the last 50 years
    at the rate of one country every forty months. Enough.

    Our most recent feats of foreign meddling to
    “help human rights” and secure “freedom” and “punish tyrants” include bombing
    Libya (on BO’s orders and with complete GOP and Democratic Establishment
    backing) a country that had not attacked us or threatened to attack us, deposing
    its ruler, and causing a terrible chaos that has led to the burning of our embassy
    in Benghazi and the killing of an ambassador and other Americans and to the
    filtering of weapons to Islamists in Lybia as well as Mali and other African
    nations. Great success. In Iraq, on Bush
    Jr.’s orders and with complete GOP backing, we bombed and invaded a country
    that had not attacked us or threatened to attack us and deposed another guy and
    created a similar ongoing chaos that has resulted in the destruction of the
    Christian population of Iraq. We are doing the

    same in Syria, a country that has not attacked us or threatened to attack

    us, by supporting the Islamists (on BO’s orders and with almost complete GOP
    and Democratic Establishment backing), who are destroying the Christian
    population there too, with our help. In Serbia, on Bill the Sexual Predator
    Clinton’s orders and the backing of the entire GOP and Democratic
    Establishment, we bombed to smithereens a nation

    that had not attacked us and approved a referendum that gave independence to

    Kosovo, now a Muslim state in the midst of Europe, from Serbia, a Christian
    nation, to which it had belonged for centuries. Now we dont like a referendum
    in Crimea. And now, under BO, again with almost total GOP and Democratic Party
    support, we want to “punish” Russia, a country that has not attacked
    us or threatened to attack us. Give us a break. Enough.

    • S.C. Schwarz

      Just read the comment above and weep. It’s the Fall of the West and we are living through it. Sad for our children and grandchildren. Even sadder for the eastern Europeans who will be slaves again.

      • Cards240

        Yes, I’m sure our children and grandchildren will be so sad that they weren’t sent to fight for Ukraine. “Eastern Europe” isn’t even part of the “West” by any definition pre-five years ago. What ridiculous hyperbole.

      • RTO Dude

        @scschwarz:disqus, I wouldn’t see things so bleakly, and the post above yours is melodrama, hardly worthy of censure. In many ways Putin is doing us a favor, by highlighting the nature of reality for our current crop of fearless leaders. (As well as reminding those of us who perhaps keep a more sober view of things.)

    • Chadnis

      Umm, the article was about Putin. That’s why it didn’t mention the Bundy ranch. If you want to read a story about the Bundy ranch, then just find a story about the Bundy ranch.
      ” we want to “punish” Russia, a country that has not attacked us or threatened to attack us. Give us a break. Enough.” Poor little Russia huh? You have no idea what you’re talking about. Go find the Bundy ranch story and put your ignorant comments there…

    • Dan Hossley

      Nice try Boris. But no one believes you’re from the US.

  • Kurt NY

    Putin’s geopolitical goal is to rebind the former lands of the old Soviet Union into some sort of union under Moscow’s tutelage, and with Obama as President, he will never have a better chance. I am sure he hopes that we will simply force Ukraine to knuckle under, just like Messrs Daladier and Chamberlain muscled Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudetenland to Hitler at Munich. But, even if we do not, he will use his special forces to stir up sufficient unrest to create opportunities for him at least in Eastern Ukraine and maybe even Odessa.

    We should remember he used a similar playbook to detach South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, fomenting unrest and establishing an alternative government, then placing peacekeepers there, effectively sealing those areas off from the central government, and then when Georgia tried to recover its lost territory, slapping them down and absorbing the breakaway sections. Such effectively ended any chance Georgia had of joining NATO and similar tactics would work in Ukraine.

    Now, if it was the legitimate public wish of Ukrainians to merge with Russia, I would have no problem with it. But when Russia ignores international borders to seize territory for itself, it is incredibly destabilizing. Those who try to point to American actions as somehow legitimizing Putin’s actions ignore that aspect. As much as Ukraine is not our ally, were we to allow Putin to swallow that state in this fashion would only ensure that we shortly see similar actions elsewhere. Unfortunately, I do not believe that any deterrent will turn him from his goal now – the time for that is probably past (probably with some red line in Syria).

    • wimroffel

      Take some study of Georgia, please. In the early 1990s Georgia was dominated by some very nationalist militia’s. Russia intervened when those militia’s – who already had driven out quite a few minorities – turned their eyes on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia’s initial intervention enjoyed wide support in the Caucasus.

      Georgia could have taken the road of reconciliation since then. Instead it bet on confrontation. It started a kind of guerrilla in Abkhazia and in South Ossetia – that was a mosaic of Ossetian and Georgian controlled areas until 2008 – it harassed the Ossetians. And instead of inviting the expelled Ossetians who used to live south of Gori back, it made their return de facto impossible by throwing up bureaucratic obstacles.

      I certainly don’t approve all Putin has done there but his actions make a lot more sense than you suggest.

  • Dan Hossley

    So this is all about Putin propping up his flagging regime? That’s the master plan?

    But his approval ratings before Crimea were in the mid 60’s. That’s not enough to remain in power? He needs to be in the mid 80’s? I don’t think so.

    God spare us any more crackpot analysis from the experts that failed to anticipate Putin’s reaction to the EU/US “involvement” in Ukraine. The simple fact is that the US/EU helped overthrow the elected government of Ukraine and Russia sees that as a threat. He doesn’t want NATO on his doorstep.

    • toumanbeg

      Please! Approval ratings? Polls only matter in a free country. Russia is NOT a free country. Polls in Russia mean the form goes to the Kremlin, which fills it out then tells you how many copies you get.
      ” The simple fact is that the US/EU helped overthrow the elected government of Ukraine.”

      Pure Bull5hit! Nobody here care enough about the Ukraine to go through the bother.
      I still think the USA needs to send a couple of B-2’s over Moscow and drop toilet paper. Print Pooties picture on one side and “Free the Pussy Posse” on the other. Let the Russians choose which side to wipe their ass with.
      The FACT that the USA can fly bombers over Moscow whenever we want without the Russians stopping them should give pause to those dreaming of military conquest.

      • Cards240

        This is possibly the least intelligent comment on the internet today.

        • toumanbeg

          At least I said something creative and workable, instead of a random insult. If you keep your check, you have no shame. Pootie needs to get better posts for his инвалютный рубль. It just shows he is basically a stupid man. Ruthless and clever but stoooooopid. No cure for stupid, but a 420 kiloton bomb through the bathroom window while he is taking his morning dump will make his stupidity a non-issue.
          If you have something other then insults, I will respond. Otherwise, ta-ta.

  • Thomas Pavel

    Congratulations, Ms. Shevtsova! This is the best, most lucid analysis of the situation.

  • fredmr55

    The whole piece is a house of cards which falls down as soon as you know that Russia had to react to Western stupid and greedy actions.
    It is Brussels that is in empire building mode. Would be much better if they spend resources on solving their own problems.

  • mf

    This is just another chapter in the sordid history of Russia. An attempt at reform has failed (again), Russia is sliding back into autocracy. The clock is ticking for Russia though. This latest failure may very well be the death warrant for Mother Russia as she has been known since the accession of Romanovs. Russia today is an increasingly untenable historic anomaly, controlling 25% of Eurasian landmass with only 2% of worlds population, or less than 4% of the population of Eurasia. The challenge to her survival will come from the overpopulated Eurasian South, not from the West. Her only hope is rapid modernization, safe western frontier, and establishment of collective security mechanism for the world. Priceless, when China finally feels she has no other choice but to start marching north, even at a risk of nuclear exchange. None of this will happen now, certainly not under Putin. Since Putin is establishing a personal autocratic regime, a period of chaos is likely to follow his demise. More lost time for Russia.

    As far as Ukraine is concerned, she is infected with the same Russian disease. This is the real problem in Ukraine, she fails to reform just like Russia fails to reform. Perhaps not surprising, since Ukraine has no history of statehood. The West has no choice but to try to muddle through and pull Ukraine in “Western” direction, with outcome by no means assured. And then there is Belarus waiting in the wings. Just wait until that fellow gets overthrown or kicks the bucket …

    US is again becoming an indispensable nation. Needed in Europe to try to prevent the re-emergence of Great Power politics. Germans are sure tempted. Needed by the world to try to build a system of collective security, and try to prevent the emergence of Great Power politics writ large. And the outcome is by no means assured there either.

    Perhaps this emerging need will channel US imperial impulse in a positive direction. Let’s hope, which is all that the little people can do.


    My money is on Putin. Putin will have the Eastern Ukraine sewn up within 30 days. Pajama Boy will continue to sip his chocolate in his “Onesie”.

  • jamesmace

    Putin is a dead man walking and he does not even know it. It might take a few months but mysterious strokes, hunting accidents, and unexplained loss of deepbillion dollar diving subs in 5,4,3….

    • Cards240

      Predicting Putin’s demise has been a losing trade for a decade. I suspect it will continue to be so regardless of your hopes…

      • jamesmace

        Au contrare – the Putin mystique is definitely dead and the world sees the Emperor has no clothes.

        • Cards240

          Russia’s economy has slowed, it is true…like…the entire rest of Europe (only they aren’t about to fool around with money printing bond purchases). Subconsciously among Russians Putin will remain popular as well because as of now there is no real viable alternative (you hear this among many Russians all the time). The clowns promoted by publications like the WSJ – Garry Kasparov? – have no constituency there and wouldn’t even with a free media. The Putin mystique may be dead with people who never liked him to begin with, but among Russians (i.e. the 95% of the country other than the Moscow liberals) it is greater than ever.

          • jamesmace

            “…but among Russians…
            it is greater than ever.”

            Pray tell, by what leap of logic are you asking to believe this when 10,000 just filled the streets in protest despite the threat of arrest? His inner circle of 100 is waiting to stab him in the back for ruining a good thing.

          • Cards240

            C’mon James, even you are smart enough to know that 10,000 people on the streets of Moscow is meaningless relative to the big picture of “Russia” generally. Despite the claims of some clowns (everyone is too afraid to answer honestly!), the independent polling agencies in Russia are broadly respected and he has about 80% approval. Castles built on sand, perhaps…but as of now he is more popular than ever and there is no rational reason not to believe that.

  • CincinnatiRIck

    Putin is both despot and Russian patriot. He’s playing a weak hand but he’s playing it well.
    Just an inconvenience and annoyance to Obama. Obama’s objective is the radical transformation of his own country and thus the only mortal enemies he recognizes are domestic. The election is over and the “flexibility” Obama promised is now manifest.

  • toumanbeg

    Pootie is crazy like a fox. He is in his right mind if your world view is that Nations are the players on the world stage. The stake they play for is power. Power is a measure of Military strength and the land a nations controls.
    Pootie thinks Western leaders are out of our minds because we no longer believe in 19th century international politics, AJKA The Great Game.
    As far as who is in their right mind, only time will tell.
    The Great Game is a zero sum affair. One side will win, the other will lose.
    Right now the west is losing.
    The only ones demonstrated to be out of their minds are those who think wishful thinking will stop Putin. There are ways short of war. Those ways are almost as bad as war and will destroy the current geopolitical order just as surely as war.

    • Cards240

      Like your idea of sending B-2s over Moscow? Yeah, that’s a great plan to avoid a war.

      • jamesmace

        It wont take much more than that to get Putin’s inner circle of 100 to administer a Stalin Stroke.

  • fzk5220

    Let’s not succumb to the Stockholm syndrome. Putin is no different than the former USSR leaders and a clone of the leader of North Korea.
    It is one thing to invade and another to occupy. Please remember that the USSR (which is basically Putin’s Russia) did invade Afghanistan in recent history and were defeated by a militarily inferior force but strong in will and determination to survive. It was USSR’s Viet Nahm.
    Ukraine’s survival rests with the will of their own people and hunger for independence. They will succeed with some basic help from the outside even though it will take a long time and Putin just like BO has not shown the willingness for a prolonged, perhaps covert, war.
    INMHO Putin’s present goal is to completely cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea and leave only a small landlocked Ukraine.

  • John Wondra

    Murmurs in Russia are that Putin’s ambitions are far greater than few so far have dared to mention.
    The talk is that the Kremlin will target the aged and ailing Gorbachev as having conspired with Western subversives to break up the Soviet Union. Once charged with “subversion,” Gorbachev will be used to “prove” that the illegitimate dissolution was unlawful and that the U. S. S. R. must be restored to its rightful state.
    The West, and Barack Obama, will not intervene; given that for the past 35 years the liberals of the world have criticized “American aggression” and “expansionism” to the detriment of weaker States.
    Welcome to a New World Order.

    • jamesmace

      A plummeting economy smaller than California and the laughing target of the world is going to do what?

  • RTO Dude

    This is not a comment on the article’s thesis, I just noticed a factual error.

    Fact correction: Shevtsova credits Scowcroft with the quote “He’s a person full of venom, because he thought that [the Soviet Union’s] collapse was taken advantage of by the West, or especially the U.S. to take advantage of Russia… now we’re strong again; you can’t push us around anymore…”

    As nearly as I can tell this is a conflation of two different interviews with Brent Scowcroft, one given to Euronews in 2009 and one at a recent conference in DC. Odd. In the 2009 interview Scowcroft was discussing humiliations Russia suffered after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin resented those humiliations, and *PUTIN* said, “Now, we’re strong again and we will not put up with it”.

    In the second Scowcroft said about Putin, “He is a person full of venom, because he thought that that collapse was taken advantage of by the West…”

    Note that Shevtsova is mistakenly attributing the “we’re strong again” quote to Scowcroft, not Putin. This entirely changes the sense of her opening paragraphs. Indeed, it seems Mr. Scowcroft, far from not understanding the situation, has a very good handle on things.

    I hope that was clear. The links to the two interviews below.

  • tantorsea7

    Excellent Ms. Neocon. Keep misdirecting patriotic Americans from what is going on in our own country. Keep neo…conning us like you have neo conned us so many times already, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Serbia….but dont forget to remind us of Iran, too, before we forget we have to bomb them too.

    • RTO Dude

      I’ll probably regret this, but – what are you critical of? It doesn’t seem like Ms. Shevtsova is recommending any action at all, merely commenting on current affairs. If anything she counsels against trying to force Putin out of Crimea, noting that to retreat would be a disaster for him domestically. (Which I believe is a well founded argument.)

      I’m not averse to a civil disagreement, I honestly just don’t understand your objection.

  • Waywuwei

    Any attempt to deconstruct what is happening in Russia without taking into account the EU and the US role in the Ukraine. is pointless. Capitalism as in banker capitalism is a dismal failure. It has seriously impacted the world economy and has totally failed to address the fossil fuel problem, a problem that is characterized by the peak oil situation, now over 10 years past and the climate change impacts of failing to address the issue. Also the failure to address the Ukraine’s balance of payments deficit due to liberalization of trade that is lopsided driving up the Ukraine’s debt despite Russia’s giving deep discounts on gas to the Ukraine to try to support the economy. I keep asking myself, “What did the pople in Washington think was going to happen when they undermined the government of the Ukraine?”

    • caap02

      By “government of Ukraine” I assume that you mean the Yanukovych kleptocracy? The sorry state of Ukraine’s finance’s is due mainly to the fact that Ukraine’s governments have for the most part been primarily occupied with the personal enrichment of it’s members, and the Yanukovych government was the worst of them all. As for any gas discounts from Moscow, these were not so much “discounts” and payment for particular policies or actions in Kiev (e.g. extension of the Sevastopol lease), and were CERTAINLY not in any way connected to any attempt to support Ukraine’s economy.

      • Waywuwei

        I take it you are in the Communist camp that opposes Democracy?

  • Putin will do all possible to gain terrain lost, and he will use any tactic or deploy any mean, not least to buzz an aegis. a new world order professed by the russian nomenklatura, i am afraid it is much about the same old one that assigned zones of influence in Iran . Can this be an option to be pursued to lessen the tension, on april 17 a line from kharkov to simferopol might well design a new russian dress in east ukraine, in respect of national priorities while extending many specifics for local aspects. failure to have an agreement of sort will plunge the country in a full fledged civil war. in the game putin is playing an arrangement will give him relevance for his bravados, but for the west it will stabilize ukraine and pave the way for presidential elections and stability to start. will putin accept a line of influence and to run his chances on Julia ? I say yes , after all slave blood will not honor him , as he will become no hero but a clown of internecine fights. secretary kerry should do this option.

  • life4fly

    There is the doctrine – the power over the world! This is the matrix which is being shown now. There is no Russia in now days – Russia was the property of Romanov family and it died. There has been USSR since 1917 with the communist doctrine to take power over the world. The main enemy is the west and USA in particular. Putin is the man from KGB and this is the key point to understand the direction of the state. They are the same as before, they believe they can do it now. They don’t have another way to save their power.

  • Giorgi Sanikidze

    It’s an interesting analysis and a good read – thank you.

    Putin’s (Russia’s) actions must be seen in the context – I think it’s all about the Middle-East. Looking at just Ukraine, EU and USA won’t help to better understand what his plans are. Clearly Putin is not delusional – rather Russia at the moment has no other option, but to do what it is doing. Unfortunately, to fulfill its goal (saving its economy in order to prevent its disintegration) it has to take drastic measures to slow down the rope slowly but gradually tightening on its neck.

    “It is plausible that the Russia’s current expansionist trajectory towards the west in Ukraine at some point is going to shift towards south, all the way down to Iran across the south Caucasus. Its strategy is aimed at achieving military dominance in and around the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea basins partially extending it in the Middle East through Iran. The ultimate goal is to extend its political influence over the countries in the region and more importantly to secure firm leverage over the energy supply routes to Europe, so that its economy, which is heavily dependent on the oil and gas sales to Europe, stays on-float.

    In conclusion, it seems that Georgia has become a stumbling block and the major obstacle to the Russo-Armenian-Iranian project [it lies between Russia controlled South Ossetia and pro-Russian Armenia which hosts the Russian military base in Gyumri] that would have offered much better and an irresistible deal to Iran [connect Iranian pipelines via Armenia and Georgia to the South Stream], warranting its disengagement from the deal with the West [currently being negotiated]. Russia is on the verge of losing its rich European customers along with its 60% revenues. To save the situation it has to urgently offer something better and meaningful to Iran and for that it needs a safe transit corridor on the Georgian soil along with the tight controls on the northern routes.” – GS

  • fzk5220

    It is astonishing how many of the contributors have already succumbed to the Stockholm Syndrome with Putin as the all powerful villain.

  • Irene Kodac

    Curiously, Mark Twain wrote in his book on travels through Europe that while Germans hated the French and the English they were absolutely servile towards Russians. That bias obviously exists to day, and could be a throw-back to the fact that German Catherine the Great was once queen of Russia, or possibly it’s some genetic similarity, after all the Germans spawned Hitler, while Russia spawned Stalin.

  • truthsojourner

    I want the author to realize there are true realists out there, and we have recognized the true nature of Putin’s regime for quite some time and the need to confront that international fact of life; the problem is the lack of realists in this administration. They are, in fact, dwellers in the land of idealism.

  • Ivan Petrov

    The best american scholars support Russia
    For example, William C. Wohlforth Professor of Government, Dartmouth College will participate
    at the Global University Summit
    Managing global risks, managing the future. The prognostic role of universities»
    Moscow, April 23-25th 2014 MGIMO

    • caap02

      Hmmmmm, I wonder what Prof. Wohlforth would say to the MGIMO professor who was fired for criticizing Putin’s invasion of Crimea?

  • Pete

    A lot of blather here. If you want a concise and more realistic view of things, please read Peggy Noonan’s “The Bear That Talks Like a Man” in today’s Wall Street Journal.

    Her piece concludes that Russia is a spent force and will collapse around the year 2020.

  • Waywuwei

    An interesting map of the distribution of Russian language speakers in the Ukraine:

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