In its quest to dominate Ukraine, Russia risks the quagmire of foreign regime change

On his Telegram channel, an exiled former Ukrainian parliamentarian allied with Russia announced that he has returned to Ukraine and begins to position himself as a leader who can sweep in and replace him. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Boys! As promised, we are taking action! The process of de-Nazification of Ukraine has begun,” Oleg Tsarov wrote in the message service. “I am in Ukraine. Kyiv will be liberated from the fascists!”

After more than a day of fighting, Tsarev promised his followers, “We are already close.”

But two days later, when the Russian army encountered unexpectedly fierce resistance, Tsarev was addressing his letters to those who “for some reason began to lose heart”, promising that “everything is just beginning.”

If the Kremlin believes that the introduction of someone like Tsarev – seen as a traitor by a large segment of Ukrainians – will provide an easy path to indirect rule of the country, or large parts of it, Moscow may underestimate the difficulty of securing a nation with regime change imposed from outside, according to scholars. who studied such scenarios.

Russia carried out similar plays in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk in 2014, raising marginal pro-Russian elites to control areas wrested from Kyiv’s control. But the scenario is quite different this time, with Ukrainians in many cities viewing Russia as an aggressive invader. Moscow will try to establish control over the Ukrainian cities it has recently destroyed and occupied by its forces, and overwhelm the hostile population – an entirely different proposition.

Alexander B. said: , Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. “This is what the regime changers are not looking at. They focus on the short term.”

Historically, when an outside power attempts to impose an opposing ideological or ethnic leader on a resisting population—as the Soviet Union did in Poland and Hungary after World War II or the United States did in Iran in 1953—the common method of retaining control thereafter Downes said is relying heavily on brutality and oppression. But even this may only work in the short and medium term, he said, because it is expensive and involves an extended occupation, which Moscow may not have envisioned in Ukraine.

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The Ukrainians, backed by Western arms and financing, have indicated they are ready to launch an insurrection in what could turn into a grinding and protracted conflict that would increase the costs of Moscow maintaining control.

“There will be no Vichy Ukraine,” said John Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and former US ambassador to Ukraine, referring to the regime in southern France that collaborated with Nazi Germany. “There may be an attempt to create it but the Ukrainians will not go nicely into a good night. They will fight like hell.”

In his writings and speeches, Putin presented the Ukrainians as fraternal people who were held hostage by Western countries in a plot to destroy Russia and must now be released. This misreading—while underestimating Ukraine’s sense of nation-state—may have led the Kremlin to assume that Ukrainians would embrace a new Russian-backed leader with minimal resistance.

“I think the biggest obstacle for Russia is the fact that Ukraine is a real country and has tens, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are willing to give their lives in defense of Ukraine,” he said. Mitchell Orenstein, Professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Orenstein said that even if Russia could seize all the major cities in Ukraine and install a puppet government, “that government would have a very, very difficult time controlling the region.”

Regime change imposed from the outside generally does not improve relations between the intervening state and the target state, and often worsens them or ignites a civil war, according to research published by Downs and Boston College political science professor Lindsey O’Rourke.

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Their research showed that nearly two-thirds of leaders installed in overt changes to the foreign system were either assassinated, swept through revolutions, or violently overthrown, Including Carlos Castillo Armas in Guatemala, Laurent-Désiré Kabila in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Shah of Iran.

O’Rourke said that any new authorities have a great incentive to capture and eliminate any remnants of the previous regime and its supporters – and it is Russia’s incentive In this case if the occupation continues.

They will have good information and means of suppression,” O’Rourke said. “It kind of paints a scary picture.”

Tsarev is part of a small cadre of Ukrainians who have spent much of the past decade in exile or politically obsolete deepening their ties with Russia.

The former factory owner from the Ukrainian city of Dnipro served as a member of parliament for the party of Russian-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych. Then, in 2014, a pro-European uprising in Kyiv forced Yanukovych to flee to Russia and led to the formation of a Western-leaning government. Tsarev emerged as an opponent of the protest movement, and promoted a strong pro-Russian stance.

While trying to run for president in 2014, Tsarev was beaten up by a mob in Kyiv, causing him to drop out of the race. The Ukrainian authorities accused him of violating the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. He fled into exile.

In mid-February, the Financial Times quoted a Western intelligence official, mentioned US spies believe the Kremlin may try to install Tsarev as Ukraine’s new leader. Tsarev denied the report in subsequent interviews. He did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post.

The suggestion that Tsarev could take power was dismissed as laughable among many Ukrainians. In a 2014 interview with Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Tsarev admitted he was “the most hated man in Ukraine after Putin” but noted, “You see, people respect those who fall and then rise.”

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In January, the British government I showed Similar intelligence about another Russian plot to install a different Ukrainian politician, Yevhen Murray, was also widely dismissed as an unlikely leader by Ukrainians. Murrayev denied the allegations, describing them as absurd.

The United States in recent weeks looking at The United Nations has reliable information about Russia compiling lists of Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps” after the military occupation.

Ukrainian businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, who regards Putin as his daughter’s godfather and runs a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, is often seen as the obvious choice for a Kremlin-installed leader — or if not him, someone else from his party. Medvedchuk was under house arrest in Ukraine and faces charges of treason, but the Ukrainian Prosecutor General said on TV Interview That during the invasion, Medvedchuk probably fled.

Any of the leaders chosen by Russia would face unsympathetic populations in much of Ukraine.

On the phone 5-13 February survey Conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 58 percent of Ukrainians said they would take up arms or participate in civil resistance activities in response to the Russian invasion. in December survey By the same organization, 67 percent of those surveyed said they wanted Ukraine to join the European Union and 59 percent said they wanted the country to join NATO.

Herbst said Putin could try to overcome that resistance by using the same brutal force he used in Chechnya in the early 2000s, or doing something worse.

“For me, the important question is: Is Putin willing to go full barbaric on Ukraine or full Strangelove on nuclear materials? That is the first question,” Herbst said. And the second question will the military apparatus implement such instructions?

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