Leon Aron of AEI takes a sober look at what’s likely to happen next in Eastern Ukraine. He begins by noting that, although new sanctions are likely to be imposed against Russia and are likely to be painful, they are not likely to cause Putin to permit the pro-Russian separatists to suffer defeat:
After half a year of deafening war-mongering propaganda, the rebel’s defeat would be an enormous blow to the regime. Facing very bleak economic prospects and until recently widely despised and mistrusted by the population, the Kremlin has boosted its legitimacy by a foreign policy that taps into the longing for the lost superpower imperial glory of the Soviet Union. Therefore, retreat is not an option.
This mindset leaves Putin with two options. First:
After new sanctions are imposed, Putin may very well decide that having paid the price he might as well double down by sending regular troops to save his proxies and help them hold Luhansk and Donetsk.
Second, and more likely in Aron’s view:
[He may] try to have his cake and eat it too: by saving face inside Russia and also avoiding further isolation abroad by “freezing” the conflict.
In this scenario, Moscow would call for immediate cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire, and an international “peace conference” that would include the EU, US, Russia, the “self-defense forces” and Ukraine. In the meantime – and it could be a very, very long time – the rebels will remain in control of the territories they hold today.
I assume that, if he follows this strategy, Putin will find eager partners in President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. “Cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire and an international ‘peace conference’”? That’s like winning the lottery for this pair.
But notice that in both scenarios described by Aron, the pro-Russian Ukrainian murderers, who were on the run before they shot down the Malaysian airliner, improve their position as a result of their criminality.