Putin playing a 'conniving game' in Ukraine maneuvers - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Expert: Putin playing a 'conniving game' in Ukraine maneuvers

Posted: Updated:
Russian President Valdimir Putin has seen soaring popularity in his country since his intervention in Ukraine.  (Source: MGN/Wikimedia Commons) Russian President Valdimir Putin has seen soaring popularity in his country since his intervention in Ukraine. (Source: MGN/Wikimedia Commons)
  • InternationalMore>>

  • Ukraine parliament ratifies EU pact

    Ukraine parliament ratifies EU pact

    Tuesday, September 16 2014 9:32 AM EDT2014-09-16 13:32:01 GMT
    The city council in Donetsk says three people have been killed and five wounded in shelling overnight in the city in eastern Ukraine.More >>
    Ukraine's parliament ratified an agreement to deepen economic and political ties with the European Union on Tuesday, and passed legislation to grant autonomy to the rebellious east as part of a peace deal.More >>
  • Woman survives 4 days after Nigeria building falls

    Woman survives 4 days after Nigeria building falls

    Tuesday, September 16 2014 9:31 AM EDT2014-09-16 13:31:54 GMT
    Rescue workers say they dug a woman out of the rubble of a building that collapsed four days ago and she walked away with only a slightly dislocated hand.More >>
    Rescue workers early Tuesday dug a woman out of the rubble of a building that collapsed four days ago and she walked away with only a slight injury, a government spokesman said.More >>
  • US to assign 3,000 from US military to fight Ebola

    US to assign 3,000 from US military to fight Ebola

    Tuesday, September 16 2014 9:22 AM EDT2014-09-16 13:22:54 GMT
    The Obama administration is ramping up its response to West Africa's Ebola crisis, preparing to assign 3,000 U.S. military personnel to the afflicted region to supply medical and logistical support to...More >>
    The Obama administration is ramping up its response to West Africa's Ebola crisis, preparing to assign 3,000 U.S. military personnel to the afflicted region to supply medical and logistical support to overwhelmed local...More >>

(RNN) - As the crisis in Ukraine evolves, Vladimir Putin has history, public opinion and economic leverage on his side, said an international relations specialist.

With the May 25 Ukraine elections fast approaching, the Russian President's ultimate objectives are not immediately obvious, but his methods are clear.

"Putin is hard to read," said Mark Habeeb, PhD., who is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a past chairman of the Forum for U.S.-Soviet Dialogue. "But he clearly has the mentality of an aggressive chess player. He'll make a move and see what you do. He took Crimea, and not much happened except the U.S. put sanctions on some of Putin's friends and his inner circle. So now, he's seeing how far he can go in Ukraine.

The region's turbulent history - particularly in the past 25 years or so - has made Putin's apparent land grab an enormously popular move in his own country. The Levada Center, a Russian public opinion research institute, released a new poll showing Putin has an 82 percent approval rating in his country, up from 80 percent in March.

Russia also has a great deal of economic leverage in Europe, making meaningful retaliation difficult and costly. Similarly, the United States' tenuous recovery from the recession has limited what sanctions President Barack Obama is willing to impose to make Russia "pay a price" for the violation of the sovereignty of a neighboring country.

"In theory, we could hurt the Russian economy, but we could go down with them," he said. "Would Obama really jeopardize the recovery over Dunyetsk, Ukraine? The American population does not want to get involved in overseas ventures – we had war for eight years under President George W. Bush."

And while economic sanctions could do as much harm to the U.S. and Europe as to Russia, they could also galvanize public opinion behind the already popular leader.

"He's a true Russian nationalist," Habeeb said, "And nationalism can get kind of paranoid. A lot of people don't realize what a narcissistic wound Russia felt after the fall of the USSR. They went from being a world power to a laughing stock after [Boris] Yeltsin.

"They are a proud culture. Not long ago, anything the U.S. did, it had to think about how the USSR would react," he said. "Suddenly, they don't matter at all. Putin comes in, gets the economy back on track and suddenly attacks Georgia. Then he takes Ukraine back. The people in Russia are elated."

Obama said at a May 2 news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the U.S. is prepared to impose more sanctions on Russia if the incursion threatens Ukraine elections on May 25. Obama and Merkel both said they would prefer not to use sanctions on economic sectors that might hurt U.S. allies in Europe, but both are prepared to implement them if the elections do not go on.

This could backfire, Habeeb said.

"Russians are good at suffering," Habeeb said. "They might rally behind Putin. Russia has a historical narrative of the West trying to hurt them. Hitler, the Cold War, World War I, it's not hard for a Russian leader to sell the narrative that ‘the West is trying to hold us back.'

"The last thing we want to do is play into a narrative that supports their national paranoia."

Putin most recently announced that troops have pulled back from the Ukrainian border, and he urged insurgents in southeast Ukraine to postpone a May 11 referendum on declaring their autonomy from the rest of the country.

The Pentagon denied any change in Russian force along the border, and a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman would not identify the troops' location.

Saying one thing and doing another are typical of the Russian's strategy.

Late in April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to sponsor negotiations in Ukraine to reunite the country at the same time that pro-Russian militants were holding members of the organization hostage in the east of the country. A few days later, the hostages were released.

"The foreign minister was talking one thing while there were gangs going around creating havoc," Habeeb said. "It's a conniving game."

Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

  • Crisis in UkraineMore>>

  • Ukraine parliament ratifies EU pact

    Ukraine parliament ratifies EU pact

    Tuesday, September 16 2014 9:31 AM EDT2014-09-16 13:31:53 GMT
    The city council in Donetsk says three people have been killed and five wounded in shelling overnight in the city in eastern Ukraine.More >>
    Ukraine's parliament ratified an agreement to deepen economic and political ties with the European Union on Tuesday, and passed legislation to grant autonomy to the rebellious east as part of a peace deal.More >>
  • Russian ruble drops to historic low amid sanctions

    Russian ruble drops to historic low amid sanctions

    Tuesday, September 16 2014 5:51 AM EDT2014-09-16 09:51:28 GMT
    Russia's currency has dropped to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar as it continues to suffer from the fallout of economic sanctions.More >>
    Russia's currency dropped to an all-time low against the dollar on Tuesday as investors fret about long-term economic damage from Western sanctions.More >>
  • Ukraine village hopes for chance to rebuild

    Ukraine village hopes for chance to rebuild

    Tuesday, September 16 2014 2:32 AM EDT2014-09-16 06:32:01 GMT
    The kindergarten building in this village in eastern Ukraine was once a source of pride. Renovated and brightly decorated with money provided by German donors, its classrooms were opening the doors of education to...More >>
    The kindergarten building in this village in eastern Ukraine was once a source of pride. Renovated and brightly decorated with money provided by German donors, its classrooms were opening the doors of education to 120...More >>