Has Putin retreated on Ukraine?

posted at 10:11 am on June 25, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Don’t bet on it, at least not in the sense of letting it go. Vladimir Putin requested and received the repeal of the Duma’s authorization to use military force in Ukraine, which Anna Nemtsova at the Daily Beast interpreted as waving a white flag. But was that a tactical retreat, or a strategic play?

Russia’s upper house of parliament voted Wednesday to revoke the right of President Vladimir Putin to use Russian troops in Ukraine, as efforts to calm a separatist uprising in Ukraine’s east continue.

The Federation Council had approved Putin’s request for a resolution allowing for the use of force on March 1.

But on Tuesday, the President sent a letter to the speaker of the upper house asking it to cancel the resolution. Only one senator voted against revoking the powers Wednesday, with 153 in favor.

Putin’s request was made in light of ongoing talks on how to settle the crisis in Ukraine’s eastern regions, said presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Nemtsova sees this as a response to Western sanctions, although concedes it might be something else entirely:

On Tuesday, a day after Putin and President Barack Obama discussed the conflict over the phone, Putin made a curious move in the Federation Council, the Russian senate. Only a few weeks ago, as Putin massed troops on the frontier with Ukraine, threatening imminent invasion, he asked the council to give him the authority to use the Russian military outside Russia’s borders. The world held its breath. War seemed imminent. But on Tuesday Putin asked the council to repeal the authority it had given him and on Wednesday it did just that.

Why would Putin want his hands tied (however loosely)?

One likely reason: He made the request a few days before European leaders are to discuss new sanctions against Russia, this time covering the banking sector. Another possibility: He can get the reversal reversed any time he wants, and may be trying, once again, to wrong-foot the West by talking conciliation while stepping up covert action to support the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

No doubt Putin wants to avoid sanctions if he can, but he’s already made it clear that he believes the West has as much to lose in that exchange as Russia. Putin, like most Russian leaders over the last couple of centuries, wants to divide the West and keep them squabbling amongst themselves. Some, like the French, are already refusing to cancel lucrative contracts with Moscow on behalf of Kyiv anyway. This concession is nothing to Putin, easily reversible if desired but hardly necessary to keep up the destabilization efforts in eastern Ukraine.

Events this week prove that much:

A cease-fire in eastern Ukraine appeared to break down Tuesday when a rebel attack on a military helicopter killed nine people and a separate assault killed two soldiers, even as Russian President Vladimir Putin took steps to support the country’s tenuous peace process. …

[B]oth sides traded accusations Tuesday that the other had violated the truce, and the downing of the helicopter near the rebel-held city of Slovyansk dashed hopes for peace a day after the warring parties held their first talks.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement after the helicopter downing that he may end the cease-fire early and that he had ordered military leaders to open fire in response to any attack. The truce is set to expire at 10 a.m. Friday.

Vladimir Seleznev, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said on his Facebook page that the Mi-8 helicopter was struck by a shoulder-fired missile shot from the village of Bylbasovka, just outside Slovyansk. The helicopter was delivering monitoring equipment, he said, and all nine people aboard were killed. Shelling at a checkpoint outside Slovyansk killed two soldiers, he said.

The Ukrainans aren’t fooled by Putin’s gesture:

“It’s only a symbolic gesture from him to support this peace process,” a senior Ukrainian security official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media. “I’d like to be optimistic, but I’m not,” he added, saying that he sees little reason for Putin to scale back what he said was a supply route of equipment to the rebels.

In fact, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted just last week that Russia was building up its forces on the border, not moving them away:

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday (19 June) that at least a few thousand more Russian troops were now at Ukraine’s eastern border, a build-up he called a regrettable step backwards.

The Russian press wrote that Moscow could send troops to Ukraine to “encourage” government forces and separatists toward peace.

“We now see a new Russian military build-up around the Ukrainian border. At least a few thousand more Russian troops are now deployed,” Rasmussen said in London. “I consider this a very regrettable step backwards. It seems Russia keeps the option open to intervene further in Ukraine,” he said. “The international community would have to respond in a firm manner if Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine.”

Yesterday, Putin insisted that he would act to protect “ethnic Russians in Ukraine,” regardless of specific authorizations:

That doesn’t look like Putin’s waving a white flag — more like a red cape to the so-called “pro-Russian separatists” in eastern Ukraine.

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Poot saw Dog Eater warming up the ‘prompter and figured, “Holy hell, I don’t want that guy on my case, I better back off.”

Bishop on June 25, 2014 at 10:17 AM

************* Helicopter Shot Down–9 Dead ***************************

Ukraine, Russia political crisis

NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says Russia needs to stop destabilizing Ukraine, create peace plan implementation conditions and stop support to armed separatists – @AndersFoghR
see original on twitter.com
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yatseniuk is hopeful of receiving 2nd tranche of aid from IMF bailout program, says Ukraine is fulfilling criteria – @Reuters

On Putin’s request, lawmakers rescind resolution allowing use of Russian military in Ukraine – @AP
End of alert

Germany’s Chancellor Merkel says Ukraine’s Poroshenko took courageous step in announcing unilateral ceasefire – @Reuters

White House: Vice President Biden stresses need to have monitors in place to verify violations of the ceasefire in Ukraine during call with Poroshenko – @WhiteHouse

White House says it welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s acceptance of Ukraine cease-fire but says that tangible actions in de-escalating crisis will be critical in coming days – @Reuters

Iraq violence
White House says President Obama called British PM David Cameron and discussed Ukraine and Iraq – @Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin says canceling mandate to use troops does not mean Russia will stop protecting interests of Russian minorities in Ukraine – @Reuters

More: Ukraine helicopter used for carrying military cargo brought down by rebel fire near the town of Slaviansk in eastern Ukraine; 9 feared dead, government forces spokesman says – @Reuters


canopfor on June 25, 2014 at 10:25 AM

Not only am I not going to bet on it … I’m going to bet against it.

listens2glenn on June 25, 2014 at 10:26 AM


Natasha Mozgovaya @mozgovaya · 16h

.@VP #Biden spoke w/ #Poroshenko: “offered condolences for the deaths of #Ukrainian service members (transport helicopter shot down..)

canopfor on June 25, 2014 at 10:26 AM


Retweeted by NATOSource
Jason Healey @Jason_Healey · 1h

Gen Scowcroft: US was ‘asleep’ for much of Ukraine crisis while EU delivered ultimatum and Putin raised the stakes #FutureNATO

canopfor on June 25, 2014 at 10:28 AM

Obama sez yes – which is why he treated himself to a Chipotle burrito… And a Nicorette for dessert.

Skywise on June 25, 2014 at 10:32 AM

3D Chess versus Checkers.

OldEnglish on June 25, 2014 at 10:33 AM

3D Chess versus Checkers Tiddlywinks.

OldEnglish on June 25, 2014 at 10:33 AM

ReWrite™ engaged for what Teh SCOAMT plays after 36 holes of golf.

Steve Eggleston on June 25, 2014 at 10:37 AM

Putin was just rubbing Dog Eaters face in His impotence.
Flap, flap flap goes Dear Leaders flaccid arms.
“Why, whatever shall we do?!”

King of Hearts: What do you know about this unfortunate affair?
March Hare: Nothing.
Queen of Hearts: Nothing whatever?
March Hare: Nothing whatever!
Queen of Hearts: [shouts] That’s very important! Jury, write that down!

Tard on June 25, 2014 at 10:38 AM


@NSCPress @NSCPress · 34m

Readout of @VP’s Call with President Petro Poroshenko of #Ukraine: http://wh.gov/l6fOm

For Immediate Release
June 24, 2014
Readout of the Vice President’s Call with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

Vice President Joe Biden spoke today with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and offered condolences for the deaths of Ukrainian service members, including the shooting down of a Ukrainian transport helicopter in eastern Ukraine. The Vice President underscored the importance of having monitors in place to verify violations of the ceasefire, as well as the need to stop the supply of weapons and militants from across the border. The two leaders agreed to remain in close contact.


canopfor on June 25, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Steve Eggleston on June 25, 2014 at 10:37 AM

Lol! I was trying to not be too nasty – but you’re right.

OldEnglish on June 25, 2014 at 10:39 AM

@NSCPress @NSCPress · Jun 23

Readout of the President’s Call with President Putin of #Russia: http://wh.gov/l6Pv9

For Immediate Release
June 23, 2014
Readout of the President’s Call with President Putin of Russia

President Obama spoke with Russian President Putin today about the situation in Ukraine. President Obama welcomed President Poroshenko’s peace plan and urged that Russia and separatist leaders work closely with the Ukrainian government to take concrete steps to implement it. The President called upon President Putin to press the separatists to recognize and abide by the ceasefire and to halt the flow of weapons and materiel across its border into Ukraine. The President emphasized that words must be accompanied by actions and that the United States remains prepared to impose additional sanctions should circumstances warrant, in coordination with our allies and partners. The President and President Putin also discussed the removal of chemical weapons in Syria and ongoing efforts to reach a comprehensive solution to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful.


canopfor on June 25, 2014 at 10:41 AM

Putin never retreats; he just refocuses.

Yesterday he signed a huuuuuge deal to build a pipeline into the EU: Austria, Italy, via Bulgaria, bypassing Ukraine.

Today there are small news about the US ‘exporting’ oil.

Putin versus obama, the latter always a tiny man in all regards.

Schadenfreude on June 25, 2014 at 10:49 AM

ReWrite™ engaged for what Teh SCOAMT plays after 36 holes of golf.

Steve Eggleston on June 25, 2014 at 10:37 AM

Steve Eggleston:0


Mark Knoller @markknoller · 14h

Of 177 rounds of golf, Pres Obama has played only once with Boehner. Six times with Biden.

canopfor on June 25, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Some, like the French, are already refusing to cancel lucrative contracts with Moscow on behalf of Kyiv anyway.

Apparently, the Russkies like to march in the shade, too.

formwiz on June 25, 2014 at 10:56 AM

At this point, What difference does it make!


D-fusit on June 25, 2014 at 11:13 AM

Putin was probably asked by Obama/EU to provide cover so the West can ease up. This doesn’t change things on the ground in the Ukraine one bit. Also, what ever happened to getting the Crimea back. That is never mentioned anymore.

Aplombed on June 25, 2014 at 11:24 AM


JugEarsButtHurt on June 25, 2014 at 11:59 AM

“MOSCOW, June 24 (Reuters) – Russia is considering banning state companies and other strategically important firms from holding accounts at foreign-owned banks, a governmental source familiar with the proposals told Reuters on Tuesday.”


“earlier today, in yet another coup for the Kremlin, one of the most stable and respected European countries, AAA-rated Austria gave its final approval to the “controversial” Russian gas pipeline project early Tuesday, defying EU officials and welcoming Russian President Vladimir Putin to the neutral country that has been a long-standing energy customer for Moscow.

As Reuters reports, “the chief executives of Russia’s Gazprom and Austria’s OMV sealed the deal to build a branch of the South Stream gas pipeline to Austria, a staunch defender of the project in the face of opposition from the European Commission.”

Viator on June 25, 2014 at 12:20 PM

But was that a tactical retreat, or a strategic play?

Well, given that Putin got what he wanted, Crimea, I’d say he’s just wrapping up loose ends.

It wasn’t Russia that was upsetting the status quo in Ukraine, it was the West. We pushed too close and too hard, and the Russian bear snapped back.

The Ukrainians haven’t helped matters, playing both sides off each other and at some points actively seeking a conflict between the two powers from which they could profit.

Joseph K on June 25, 2014 at 1:23 PM

Are you guys really resorting to trying to cover up Putin’s embarassing defeat in ukraine?

What is wrong with you?

everdiso on June 25, 2014 at 1:29 PM

Has Putin retreated on Ukraine?

I heard instead he decided to launch his own high-end fashion line–“Putin on the Ritz.”

Dr. Charles G. Waugh on June 25, 2014 at 5:45 PM

There was an editorial in pravda today that says putin is just playing meek so eastern Ukraine can appear to be independent when he finally accepts them into Russia so he doesn’t have to get his hands dirty so he can take the moral high ground when Obama invades another country in the ME

redyoshii on June 25, 2014 at 10:50 PM

Are you guys really resorting to trying to cover up Putin’s embarassing defeat in ukraine?

What is wrong with you?

everdiso on June 25, 2014 at 1:29 PM

Everdummy, notice how no one seems to mention Crimea anymore?

Notice how Putin has complete control over his legislature?

Notice how Putin declares he wants to suspend his authorization and yet builds up his military force in the area?

I really don’t think you’re in a position to be asking anyone else “What is wrong with you?”

BKennedy on June 26, 2014 at 10:30 AM