How to Lose Nations and Alienate People, by Vladimir Putin

When it comes to Ukraine, Russia is like an abusive ex-husband who will not let go

(Russian/Русский перевод) By Brian E. Frydenborg, February 25, 2022 (Twitter @bfry1981; LinkedInFacebook); excerpted and slightly adapted from his article The Utter Banality of Putin’s Kabuki Campaign in Ukraine published by Small Wars Journal the morning of February 21 and featured by SOF News on February 26see related articles excerpted and slightly adapted from that piece:

Also see March 8 follow-up Small Wars Journal piece The Beginning of the End of Putin? Why the Russian Army May (and Should) Revolt (featured on March 9 by Real Clear Defense, The National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) Democracy Digest, and SOF News) and related articles excerpted and slightly adapted from that piece:

AP Photo / Ian Langsdon

WASHINGTON and SILVER SPRING—Most Ukrainians are not falling for Putin’s playbook.

Instead, they are emphatically rejecting Putin’s bankrupt ethnonationalist chauvinism, with Putin’s and Russia’s standing among Ukrainians falling sharply in recent years.  There is a drop in enthusiasm for this program even among the ethnic Russians of Ukraine.  Ultimately, in the face of Putin’s boring bluster (and that of his stooge, the now-overthrown and disgraced former president Viktor Yanukovych), Ukrainians over the past decade have only moved more towards a Ukrainian and European identity after years of intense Kremlin hostility towards Ukraine.

Putin has few others to blame but himself for this with all his interfering in and treating Ukraine horribly for far too long: instead of years ago building on his then-higher support and higher levels of pro-Russian sentiment with good-faith, mutually beneficial policies that would prove Russia a true friend to Ukraine (as I argued he should years ago), it is war, corruption, and lies that have characterized Putin’s Ukraine policy and his foreign policy in general, carried out using a trifecta of government, oligarchs, and the Russian mafia that can be hard to separate into its component parts, so deep is the corruption.

When those efforts fail for Putin, he has not been shy in using his military or, it seems, in attempting assassination: Russia is a prime suspect in a poisoning attempt that almost succeeded in late 2004 against then-soon-to-be-President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, the hero of the Orange Revolution that prevented the corrupt Yanukovych from being corruptly imposed on Ukraine per Putin’s plan, at least until Yanukovych’s 2010 comeback at the direction of Trump’s future campaign manager, Paul Manafort; it was Yanukovych’s betrayal of the Ukrainian people to Putin—who still harbors him in Russia from Ukrainian prosecution and jail—that sparked the 2013-2014 (Euro)Maidan revolution that saw Yanukovych driven from power, precipitating the hostilities in Crimea and Ukraine’s east, the latter of which are still ongoing. 

In essence, Russia’s outstretched hand progressively offers corruption, submission, intimidation, and brute force, but nothing better.

All this is now only too painfully obvious to most Ukrainians, more and more of whom are turning away from Russia and toward the West, including the EU and NATO.  This shift is dramatically accelerated further by Putin also in that by illegally annexing Crimea and promoting a separatist war in Ukraine’s far east, he has essentially removed parts of two of the most ethnically Russian, pro-Russian parts of Ukraine out of the country’s political equation, helping Ukraine to move even more forcefully than it already was in a Ukrainian nationalist, anti-Russian, pro-Western/NATO direction.

This all may even be prompting a shift in thinking in non-NATO states like Sweden and Finland, both near (and the latter on the border of) Russia, about their non-membership.  A new invasion by Russia would, at the very least, increase their current security relationships with the Alliance, and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö even just said on Sunday that the thinking on this in Finland has already changed for some and that Russia invading Ukraine would further increase sentiment for joining NATO.

Putin’s standing in the world even before this crisis was at something of a nadir, and this will further damage his reputation and the Russia he is leading, especially in Eastern Europe where he hopes to gain, not lose influence.  In short, Putin’s murderous bullying has driven those he seeks to dominate into the arms of his enemies, counterproductive to Russian interests. 


Putin is certainly a crafty leader, but we must stop assuming that everything he does is some kind of genius move and part of a coherent master plan.  Yes, his cyberwarfare has been incredibly effective, but he is also perfectly capable of making bad decisions that set him and Russia back, as his actions toward Ukraine amply demonstrate.

Russia, that Abusive Ex Who Will Not Let Go

It should be no surprise that it turns out when Russia treats countries horribly, they do not want to enter in alliances with it and will, instead, eagerly break away from Russian domination when they can and just as eagerly join with NATO, as is their right as free and independent nations (the natural consequences of imperial collapse all throughout history, from which Russia is not immune).

Yet this concept seems unable to enter Putin’s understanding of the world such that he refuses to accept Ukraine became an independent country decades ago.  This makes him much like an abusive ex-husband who somehow feels entitled to control his fully-divorced-from-him, now-dating-someone-else ex-wife.  Here, that ex-wife is Ukraine and is dating the West, and Putin thinks that in showing up at his ex’s house, smashing things up, and slapping and hitting her, he will somehow reimpose his control.  Instead, having agency as a free woman, she will seek the protection of her far more powerful new boyfriend, seek engagement and marriage.  And yet, the new boyfriend will feel nervous about this crazy ex.  Here, Ukraine is hoping this new love interest and his family, who all treat her better than her ex, can perhaps just gang up and say “Bruh, she’s moved on.  You’re yesterday’s news.  You and her, it’s over.  Move on!” and to some degree, that is happening, but also to some degree, Russia is scaring this boyfriend away from getting more serious with Ukraine and entering into a more firm and meaningful commitment.

That is because, contrary to Russia’s claims, the West does not want confrontation, let alone war, with Russia.  NATO is a defensive alliance and in its entire history has never attacked Russia.  They are holding up on getting more serious with Ukraine precisely because of this crazy ex-boyfriend routine Putin is pulling. 

And if you are wondering why I am using this analogy, I am not trying to be funny or treat violence against women or spousal abuse lightly: Putin even earlier this month crassly addressed Ukraine as a woman in a relationship who should submit to her man (“Like it or don’t like it, it’s your duty, my beauty,” he said aloud).  And a stalker-abusive relationship that is long past divorce in which the abusive party has no authority over or right to demand anything from the victim is a very apt comparison to the situation at hand.

See all Brian’s Ukraine coverage here

© 2022 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome

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