Ukraine: Advantage Putin? Advantage NATO?

Expert opinion on the standoff differs sharply.

Adam Schultz/The White House

Writing in the op-ed pages of the NYT, seasoned Russia hand Fiona Hill declares “Putin Has the U.S. Right Where He Wants It.”

The West’s muted reactions to both the 2008 and 2014 invasions emboldened Mr. Putin.

This time, Mr. Putin’s aim is bigger than closing NATO’s “open door” to Ukraine and taking more territory — he wants to evict the United States from Europe. As he might put it: “Goodbye, America. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

[…]

Ukraine is both Russia’s target and a source of leverage against the United States. Over the last several months Mr. Putin has bogged the Biden administration down in endless tactical games that put the United States on the defensive. Russia moves forces to Ukraine’s borders, launches war games and ramps up the visceral commentary. In recent official documents, it demanded ironclad guarantees that Ukraine (and other former republics of the U.S.S.R.) will never become a member of NATO, that NATO pull back from positions taken after 1997, and also that America withdraw its own forces and weapons, including its nuclear missiles. Russian representatives assert that Moscow doesn’t “need peace at any cost” in Europe. Some Russian politicians even suggest the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against NATO targets to make sure that we know they are serious, and that we should meet Moscow’s demands.

[…]

Mr. Putin is a master of coercive inducement. He manufactures a crisis in such a way that he can win no matter what anyone else does. Threats and promises are essentially one and the same. Mr. Putin can invade Ukraine yet again, or he can leave things where they are and just consolidate the territory Russia effectively controls in Crimea and Donbas. He can stir up trouble in Japan and send hypersonic missiles to Cuba and Venezuela, or not, if things go his way in Europe.

Mr. Putin plays a longer, strategic game and knows how to prevail in the tactical scrum. He has the United States right where he wants it. His posturing and threats have set the agenda in European security debates, and have drawn our full attention. Unlike President Biden, Mr. Putin doesn’t have to worry about midterm elections or pushback from his own party or the opposition. Mr. Putin has no concerns about bad press or poor poll ratings. He isn’t part of a political party and he has crushed the Russian opposition. The Kremlin has largely silenced the local, independent press. Mr. Putin is up for re-election in 2024, but his only viable opponent, Aleksei Navalny, is locked in a penal colony outside of Moscow.

So Mr. Putin can act as he chooses, when he chooses. Barring ill health, the United States will have to contend with him for years to come. Right now, all signs indicate that Mr. Putin will lock the United States into an endless tactical game, take more chunks out of Ukraine and exploit all the frictions and fractures in NATO and the European Union. Getting out of the current crisis requires acting, not reacting. The United States needs to shape the diplomatic response and engage Russia on the West’s terms, not just Moscow’s.

To be sure, Russia does have some legitimate security concerns, and European security arrangements could certainly do with fresh thinking and refurbishment after 30 years. There is plenty for Washington and Moscow to discuss on the conventional and nuclear forces as well as in the cyber domain and on other fronts. But a further Russian invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s dismemberment and neutralization cannot be an issue for U.S.-Russian negotiation nor a line item in European security. Ultimately, the United States needs to show Mr. Putin that he will face global resistance and Mr. Putin’s aggression will put Russia’s political and economic relationships at risk far beyond Europe.

Contrary to Mr. Putin’s premise in 2008 that Ukraine is “not a real country,” Ukraine has been a full-fledged member of the United Nations since 1991. Another Russian assault would challenge the entire U.N. system and imperil the arrangements that have guaranteed member states’ sovereignty since World War II — akin to the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990, but on an even bigger scale. The United States and its allies, and Ukraine itself, should take this issue to the United Nations and put it before the General Assembly as well as the Security Council. Even if Russia blocks a resolution, the future of Ukraine merits a global response. The United States should also raise concerns in other regional institutions. Why is Russia trying to take its disputes in Europe to Asia and the Western Hemisphere? What does Ukraine have to do with Japan, or Cuba and Venezuela?

Mr. Biden has promised that Russia “will pay a heavy price” if any Russian troops cross Ukraine’s borders. If Mr. Putin invades Ukraine with no punitive action from the West and the rest of the international community, beyond financial sanctions, then he will have set a precedent for future action by other countries. Mr. Putin has already factored additional U.S. financial sanctions into his calculations. But he assumes that some NATO allies will be reluctant to follow suit on these sanctions and other countries will look the other way. U.N. censure, widespread and vocal international opposition, and action by countries outside Europe to pull back on their relations with Russia might give him pause. Forging a united front with its European allies and rallying broader support should be America’s longer game. Otherwise this saga could indeed mark the beginning of the end of America’s military presence in Europe.

Meanwhile, foreign policy impresario David Rothkopf argues in The Daily Beast that “Putin’s Making NATO Stronger, Whether He Starts a War in Ukraine or Not.”

Vladimir Putin is in the midst of a colossal blunder—a miscalculation that will haunt the rest of his presidency.

Regardless of what happens next between Russia and Ukraine, Putin has given the NATO alliance a renewed sense of purpose. He might have even strengthened it. At the same time, he has helped to restore the U.S.’ leadership role, which he has long sought to weaken.

Don’t get me wrong. While NATO will almost certainly emerge stronger in the event Russia engages in a cold-blooded assault on a neighbor, the people of Ukraine would be certain to suffer and that is not to be minimized. Their government is at grave risk and a protracted struggle for control of Ukrainian territory will come at a high cost.

And whatever the outcome of Putin’s current gambit, he will certainly call it a success, much as he has already sought to precede it with a tsunami of lies.

The mood among senior members of the Biden foreign policy and national security teams is, at the moment, grim but purposeful. U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families have been ordered to leave Ukraine. NATO is actively repositioning to deter and contain any Russian threat. The consensus among my sources is that it is more likely than not that Russian troops will, in the next few weeks, invade Ukraine in force, augmenting their incursion into that country that began in 2014.

[…]

A variety of scenarios are being considered by U.S. analysts. These range from Russia thinking better of action at the last minute, to more surgical attacks by Russia in order to claim specific pieces of Eastern Ukraine (such as the land bridge to Crimea), to a massive assault that could involve Russian elements entering the country from the south, east, and north. A lightning strike from Belarus to Kyiv is considered one possibility, with the intent of displacing the current Ukrainian government and replacing it with one more palatable to Moscow. While Russia denies this is their plan, U.S. officials believe one likely objective of a Russian move against Ukraine would be to force the Ukrainian government into a series of concessions ranging from promising not to join NATO to ceding greater autonomy to regions closer to Russia. This would have the effect of weakening central control of Ukraine and making it easier for Russia to pull the strings in those neighboring zones.

Officials with whom I spoke in the past few days have indicated that they believe the larger-scale scenarios are likelier to transpire than more limited Russian missions. In addition, they say the Russians are capable of rapidly mobilizing substantially more than the forces immediately on Ukraine’s border.

The expectation is that Russia would seek to enter, strike hard, destroy as much of the Ukrainian military as possible, and exact the concessions they seek as soon as possible rather than entering into a protracted conflict. They have had experience with such conflicts—in Afghanistan—and it is believed they do not wish to repeat those mistakes.

Not only would the people of Ukraine fight fiercely, but one of the key differences between this instance and past Russian adventures in their near abroad is that the Western allies have agreed to and already started to supply Ukraine with lethal aid. Alliance aircraft and ships have been moved into Eastern Europe while, at the same time, NATO allies are in advanced discussions about the deployment of more alliance troops and resources closer to Russia and Ukraine. In addition, the EU is preparing a substantial economic package for Ukraine.

[…]

Many top members of the Biden team served in the Obama administration during the 2014 Russian invasion and its aftermath. They do not want to repeat the mistakes of hand-wringing, anguished internal debates that came back then—debates which had been characterized as being about whether or not we should send the Ukrainians “blankets or MREs (meals, ready-to-eat).”

The Biden team has also apparently taken to heart criticism of its withdrawal from Afghanistan by not only preparing for every eventuality and communicating carefully with allies but also conducting a well-orchestrated public diplomacy plan that ensures their efforts have been visible to the public.

[…]

Putin has reminded the world, and especially Europeans, of the threat he poses. He has mobilized NATO into strong action, with America in the lead. NATO may even emerge larger, with Sweden and Finland publicly contemplating membership.

In other words, at the end of all this, NATO and the West will be stronger, Putin will be more of a pariah, and Russia will emerge weakened and even further diminished.

I lean toward Rothkopf here in that, for the first time in a long time, NATO seems to be more-or-less on the same page here. The allies in what former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld dubbed New Europe have long seen Russia as a threat to their security but key allies in New Europe, especially Germany and France, have been leery of confrontation. The 2014 putsch that took Crimea was a wake-up call. Putin’s interference in multiple NATO country elections has heightened the sense of urgency.

I still maintain that Ukraine means more to Putin than it does to anyone in NATO. Despite the constant reaffirmation of 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration that Ukraine (and Georgia) will become NATO members, few are willing to go to war with Russia to preserve their independence. And, Hill’s declarations notwithstanding, the community of nations does not hang in the balance.

At the same time, we clearly stand ready and united to severely punish Russia. And, again, contra Hill I believe powerful economic sanctions targeted at Putin and his oligarchs are meaningful as both deterrent and punishment. Whether they will prove enough remains to be seen.

Regardless it is, I hope, a fantasy that the United States and NATO are prepared to face off with Russia militarily to preserve the territorial integrity of a non-ally. Indeed, the fact that, 14 years and two Russian invasions after Bucharest we still haven’t made good on the declaration is all the evidence we should need on that front.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, National Security, Russia
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    No matter the identity of the foreign adversary there will be editorials claiming that they are ten feet tall and geniuses to boot and all we can do is cower before them. That’s the job Fiona Hill has performed for us.

    Taking the same facts you can turn it 180. Russia is weak, with a failing economy, an incompetent reaction to Covid, a declining population, with NATO to the left, China to the right and ‘Stans in the middle and Putin is desperately trying to maintain a significance in the world that comes solely from aggression because threats are all the little man has.

    Putin is demanding that we make Ukraine’s decisions for them. The answer has to be, no. Ukraine will decide for Ukraine. To roll over on Ukraine is to roll over on all the former Soviet vassal states. We don’t need to go to war to make Putin and his cronies regret their aggression. We should see this as an opportunity. Putin wants his own Afghanistan? Okay, then. Won’t you walk into my parlor said the spider to the fly.

    10
  2. Kathy says:

    Here’s my stupid question for today: why wasn’t Russia invited to join NATO, or why didn’t it join if it was invited?

    In particular after 9/11, the alliance could have been repurposed to tackle international terrorism.

    I’m sure I’m way, way off.

    3
  3. Lounsbury says:

    I submit for reflexion, today from the Financial Times

    Ukraine crisis revives Nato debate in Finland and Sweden
    Politicians from across the spectrum in both Nordic countries insist on ‘freedom of choice’

    (https://www.ft.com/content/f30ab615-19ce-417d-8b35-abbf80e088fb)

    President Vladimir Putin has insisted during the crisis over Ukraine that Nato should stop its encroachment towards Russia’s borders. But his demand is having unintended consequences in Europe’s far north, reviving talk of whether Finland and Sweden should join the military alliance.

    As the world’s attention focuses on the Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s border, leaders from across the political spectrum in both Nordic countries have stressed that they have the option to apply for membership at any time.

    “The debate is vivid and unprecedented. A lot is going on. A lot depends on what happens next,” said Henri Vanhanen, foreign policy and EU adviser to the centre-right National Coalition party, Finland’s main opposition group and a proponent of Nato membership.

    Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers met Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on Monday, the latest in a series of diplomatic conversations that have included Finnish president Sauli Niinisto speaking to both his US and Russian counterparts in recent days.

    “Nato’s door remains open . . . Sweden and Finland are our closest partners,” Stoltenberg said after the meeting

    One should typically not expect much of this talk but at same time, Finns across political spectrum openly inclining to NATO is hardly a result one should think is a win for the Putin public view (although if the game is in fact to hype up a conflictual relationship to reinforce power, well maybe it is a win).

    1
  4. Lounsbury says:

    @Kathy: It is indeed a stupid question.
    See Poland, Baltics, etc.

    Inivtation to a club does not (as the EU has learned) spread magical relationship Pixie Dust to make everyone nice.

  5. JohnSF says:

    NATO is definitely not (and should not, and as a matter of practicality cannot) directly confront Russia militarily over Ukraine.

    However, most people continue to ignore the OTHER demands Russia has made, which Ms. Hill points to. And which which Russia afforded equal prominence in its draft treaty, which it continues to insist is a requirement:

    …that NATO pull back from positions taken after 1997, and also that America withdraw its own forces and weapons, including its nuclear missiles.

    It appears to go even further than Hill suggests.
    It would involve the ending of all “second country” deployments in the post 1997 zone i.e. the European battle-groups in the Baltics and Poland, and Multinational Division Southeast in Romania, and the joint naval operations out of Varna in Bulgaria.
    And the removal of the B61 “dual use” nuclear bombs from Kleine Brogel, Büchel, Aviano, Ghedi, Volkel and Incirlik.

    Related, but not in the draft, there have been repeated warnings re. Sweden or Finland joining NATO:

    “this would have serious military and political consequences”

    If Russia is serious about these demands, they may eventually force a confrontation NATO cannot avoid if it is to continue to function at all.
    For the US to concede to these demands, whether now, or in the future under another, more pliable, administration, would be terminal for NATO as an effective entity.

    2
  6. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Kathy:

    Here’s my stupid question for today: why wasn’t Russia invited to join NATO, or why didn’t it join if it was invited?

    In particular after 9/11, the alliance could have been repurposed to tackle international terrorism.

    Not stupid at all. It was a major subject of discussion through the 1990s. The bottom line was that Russia wanted to be the boss of everybody if they joined NATO, and the other countries were like “Nah.”

    Russia was the first country to offer help to the US after 9/11, but that didn’t work out either. I think that fighting terrorism as an objective has always been flawed.

    15
  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kathy:
    Russia is the belligerent drunk of nation states. The bear is an apt spirit animal for them: big, dangerous, shortsighted, incapable of acting cooperatively and frequently asleep in a cave. We keep hoping that Russia will become a normal country, but of course it never has and likely never will.

    Putin shouldn’t be obsessing over NATO which has zero aggressive designs on Russia, and no reason on God’s green earth to want anything from European Russia. Russia’s problem (well one, among many) is that they own vast amounts of natural resources in a part of their country with no population and no infrastructure, all nestled conveniently next to China which does have population and infrastructure. Putin should take a good, long look at population concentrations and road and rail system on his side of the Russo-Chinese border, and what China has just over the border.

    For now Putin is doing China’s bidding, so they get along, but China is no more capable of treating other nations as equals than Russia is, and sooner or later big swathes of Siberia will be Chinese.

    5
  8. Scott says:

    This time, Mr. Putin’s aim is bigger than closing NATO’s “open door” to Ukraine and taking more territory — he wants to evict the United States from Europe. As he might put it: “Goodbye, America. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

    Just want to correlate this with past attitudes toward NATO that Trump had and some of the current words spewing out of the mouth of Tucker Carlson (Tucker Carlson viewers calling me to say US should back Russia, Democrat says)
    and apparently, Michael Flynn (Michael Flynn—Once Indicted Over Russia Communication—Voices Support For Russia Ahead Of Potential Ukraine Invasion)

    Is it a coincidence or do I read too many spy novels?

    6
  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The West’s muted reactions to both the 2008 and 2014 invasions emboldened Mr. Putin.

    So it’s time to correct those muted reactions with an unmistakable show of strength.
    Sanctions MUST be targeted directly at Putin, or else they too are a muted reaction.
    Military MUST be on the table.
    Whatever happens we cannot give Putin even small pieces of Ukraine, and we cannot give him even small concessions. He must lose here, and go skulking back to Moscow, embarrassed and not emboldened, again. And Putin’s Republican sycophants here in the US must be shown what they’ve forgotten; that Democracy is stronger than authoritarianism..

  10. gVOR08 says:

    Back when the Cold War started there was a debate about whether Russians acted as they did because they were communists who wanted to spread international communism or because they were Russians. Looks like we’ve settled that.

    My totally uninformed opinion is Putin decided to test Biden. He thought he could make threats and get real gains for withdrawing the bluffing threats. Biden’s not playing. But Putin’s got his ass hung out with no easy way to back down and he may do something stupid.

    9
  11. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Any writer who thinks appealing to Americans’ sense of being humiliated by another country is some kind of winning argument has pretty much ruled themselves out of consideration as a serious thinker. This is an important issue that needs to be considered in the most objective manner possible. No points for Fiona.

    2
  12. JohnSF says:

    @Scott:
    There was a long held inclination on some paleo-con parts of the Republican right that once Communism was done, the US need have no quarrel with Russia.
    Indeed a few thought a Soviet-American alignment was possible if the USSR would only drop “internationalism”.
    (The late Jerry Pournelle occasionally had thoughts along those lines).

    Added to which, once the Cold War was over, a lot of Republicans were inclined to revive their barely latent distaste for European “welfare state”.
    A lot of “they can only afford it because we subsidise their defence” nonsense.
    Spongers at home, spongers abroad, oh my, everyone living it up on their dollar.

    Then you get the sheer rage over the EU standing up to the US on trade disputes, and above all over the Kyoto Protocol.
    How dare they! The INGRATES!

    It was around that time when the transatlantic connections of the Republican Right and the Tory/UKIP Brexiteers became a thing: the rise of the “Tufton Street Mob” in the the UK and the transatlantic connection Elliots/Kochs/Mercers Atlas Network

    I suspect this is where Trump, Flynn, Carlson etc picked up these ideas in the first place.
    Not direct from Russian sources.

    (But once you say anything like that publicly, it rapidly attracts the polite and smiling attentions of those ever so nice Russians that just happen by sheer coincidence to keep being around…)

    5
  13. drj says:

    @gVOR08:

    My totally uninformed opinion is Putin decided to test Biden.

    Why would this be about Biden?

    The underlying issue is that Russia has seen Ukraine gradually drift into the western sphere, which is bad because it’s not a real country and should, in any case, only serve to strengthen Mother Russia. What Ukrainians want is immaterial in that regard.

    The only reason that Putin is acting now is because his previous strategy to tie Ukraine to Russia by giving the Donbass puppet regimes a veto on Ukraine’s internal policies has failed. Which means it’s time for a different approach.

    This neither simple opportunism nor about Biden. Not everything revolves around the US.

    5
  14. Argon says:

    I suspect that climate change is about equal to ‘not being held captive to Russian natural gas preserves’ in motivating Europe’s adoption of renewable energy. It may not seem like it now but Putin is exacerbating his country’s ultimate marginalization and the depth of its fall. Crime and petrochemicals are not the basis for a sustainable economy in the long term.

    3
  15. drj says:

    @JohnSF:

    There was a long held inclination on some paleo-con parts of the Republican right that once Communism was done, the US need have no quarrel with Russia.

    I first encountered this through Tom Clancy (of all people). In his later novels, he just loved to have the US team up with the grateful and re-civilized Russians to kick some Chinese or Arab ass, keeping (not so subtly) the coloreds in their place.

    3
  16. JohnSF says:

    The economic consequences for Russia continue to mount:
    “JP Morgan has completely withdrawn from the Russian ruble. … citing unforeseeable risks…”

    BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher reports:
    US officials on sanctions plans:

    “Gradualism of the past is out: we’ll stop at the top of the escalation ladder and stay there”

    Also Usher: “US is seeking out other sources of LNG around the world that could be surged to Europe if Russia cuts its supply in a conflict”
    “Financial sanctions: Europe ready to get tough b/c banking sector stronger than in 2014 & b/c they know a conflict would impact Europe’s economy”

  17. CSK says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    Yep. According to The Guardian, the conversation between Lord Robertson, former Secretary General of NATO, and Putin went thus:
    Putin: “When are you going to invite us to join NATO?”
    Robertson: “Well, we don’t invite people to join NATO; they apply to join NATO.”
    Putin: “Well, we’re not standing in line with a lot of countries that don’t matter.”

    3
  18. JohnSF says:

    @Argon:
    The European problem here is that there has bee a lot of talk about “decarbonising” but much less done.
    Only the French have really stepped up: France has a CO2/capita of c.5 tonnes/yr; compared to USA 16, Japan 9.5, Germany 9, China 8, Russia 12.
    And that’s because 80% of electricity in France comes from nuclear stations.

    In Germany (and Belgium) Greens have pushed the shut-down of their nuclear plants, and accepted the expansion of lignite burning, arguably the most CO2 intensive power generation there is, and natural gas, from Russia, as the mainstays of both baseload and surge electricity generation.

    Due to intermittency (which has been going to be resolved real soon now and cheap for around thirty years) wind and solar can’t get it done.
    Especially in a north European winter with cold weather, short days, heavy cloud and light winds.

    Same in UK, but here due to Conservatives (and LibDems to be fair) being ideologically unwilling to sanction the state funded energy investment that is required.
    Electricity privatisation being an icon of Thatcherism.

    3
  19. mattbernius says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    I think that fighting terrorism as an objective has always been flawed.

    Bing, bing, bing. Or more cynically it’s a cipher–especially when we are discussing a military fight–that has been consistently twisted to provide (barely) plausible cover for various parties to enact their preexisting foreign military policy directions.

  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    If NATO concedes nothing the losers will be Ukraine, if Russia invades and Russia. Putin will have expended an ace and not gotten anything in return, except damaging the Russian economy because of sanctions. It is hard to see how Russia has us where he wants us. Unless NATO accedes to some of his demands.

  21. Stormy Dragon says:

    I’m reminded of an analysis (I believe on NPR) I heard several years ago that continues to aptly describe Putin’s behavior: Putin is really good at tactics, but terrible at strategy. So when he decides to do something he tends to go about it very effectively, but there is often no long term plan for why he wants to do it to begin with.

    3
  22. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Whatever happens we cannot give Putin even small pieces of Ukraine

    Russia has already had a gigantic chunk of Ukraine for going on 8 years now…

    Are you proposing we invade Crimea?

    1
  23. Raoul says:

    I’m curious if we were to recognize Russia’s claim over Crimea whether the chance for belligerence would decrease. After all Crimea is mostly Russian and was given to Ukraine as a prize. Anyways, if Russia invades Ukraine it will screw itself in so many ways that from realpolitik point of view we almost should encourage it.

  24. Dude Kembro says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Putin is demanding that we make Ukraine’s decisions for them. The answer has to be, no. Ukraine will decide for Ukraine.

    Thank you. I’m told American hegemonists trying to ‘bully’ Putin are living in the 1990s, but it’s those statements which suggest only American strategic interests matter — not the opinions of Ukraine and its neighbors. We have a security treaty with some of those neighbors.

    The US refused to get involved in a war over Crimea. Then it let Putin help install his obsequious orange puppet in the White House. Then the US elected a president who publicly gaffes that he views Russian incursion into Ukraine as potentially minor. This is not bullying.

    If the US gave Canada and Mexico the Putin treatment, and our neighbors drifted towards China as a result, we could not claim we’re being bullied by China. Ukraine is oriented towards the West not because of NATO bullying but because of Putin’s own aggression and failure to make Russia attractive.

    Biden can’t say, “Here, Vladimir, Ukraine is yours.” Ukraine isn’t ours to give. Recognizing as much is the opposite of living in the 1990s. The US is doing its duty to protect and respect the interests of our NATO allies. There’s been sober analysis acknowledging that. More pundits should get serious and stop reporting this conflict as just another football game.

    4
  25. MarkedMan says:

    I wonder how much of this has to do with domestic politics. Vlad is getting old, and as the ruler of a kleptocracy there must be younger, hungrier wolves waiting to take him down at the first sign of weakness. How much of his recent incursions are about shoring up support in the Russian Orthodox Church and the Military, i.e. the Glorious Russia crowd? If he loses their support he could see challenges from all sides.

    If the above plays a significant role then our ability to influence events is limited, and we will just have to react to whatever happens. Sanctions and so forth will discomfit the businessmen/mobsters that make up the monied elite, but they will have no effect on, or even encourage, the Glorious Russia crowd.

    2
  26. Gustopher says:

    Talk of “Advantage Putin? Advantage NATO?” implies that someone is going to win. I think there are opportunities for everyone to lose.

    The US is weak after Trump, and has one political party effectively pro-Putin and wanting to spite Biden on anything — that’s going to make it hard to keep pressure on for years. There’s always been talk about Trump wanting to withdraw from NATO, often coming from Trump himself. And we have Fox taking on the role of Russian Propaganda in the US.

    So, it seems like a good time to force things, from Russia’s perspective. Take Ukraine, get access to farmland, etc.

    Europe is likely to stand United, with or without the US. Heavy sanctions and a more aggressive military posture, and a quick shift to energy from anywhere else no matter how dirty. Good time to be a Slovakian coal miner.

    The result; weakened US, weakened but United Europe, weakened Russia dealing with sanctions, a potential low level insurgency in their new territory and less hard cash.

    Advantage China? Saudi Arabia?

    3
  27. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Again…we cannot repeat the muted responses of the past.

    2
  28. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    @Cheryl Rofer:
    @CSK:
    Recall a Russian envoy to NATO Rogozin statement on this:

    “We don’t consider it necessary to make any concessions in terms of our sovereignty…”
    “Great powers don’t join coalitions, they create coalitions. Russia considers itself a great power,”

    My read is that Russians find it very difficult to grasp the concept of an alliance of formal equals.
    Their default is that there is the master and his subordinates.
    A pattern often found in their domestic politics as well.

    See there repeated desire to talk to the “organ grinder, not the monkeys”(as they see it): to do deals with their peer the United State over the head of the “little countries”.
    And it so pleases the Kremlin’s historic POV to be able to posture as looking down on France, UK and above all Germany as inferiors, if not clients.
    Also, a tendency to see international relations as zero-sum.

    One reason why they are likely to fall out with China sooner or later.
    Both tend to a rather “who-whom” view of political relationships.

    To be fair to the Russian its not just them: there is a repeated pattern of Tory Brexiters to assume that Germany, (or sometimes) France, must be “in charge” of things in Brussels.
    (sarc)After all those silly little countries like Belgium or Ireland or Greece can’t really be equals of the big boys, can they, old chap. (/sarc)

    1
  29. Jay L Gischer says:

    It seems to me that Putin has a policy, perhaps a habit, of maintaining ambiguity in public and semi-public statements and actions. This is a foundation of Information Warfare, which he is quite good at. This is what makes people say “He wins either way”. He has maintained ambiguity, and so he can do one of many options and claim “that was the plan all along”. I suspect that Trump used this idea during his administration, but perhaps less skillfully.

    I think I agree with the idea though, that he is not a great strategic thinker. Russia, and therefore him, are faced with the prospect of a decline, perhaps a strong decline, in fossil fuel usage, and a consequent sinking of their nation into even more irrelevance.

    (By the way, I’m not happy about this in the grand scheme. There are many Russian things I quite enjoy, not the least of which are the Russian emigres I know.)

    But his only plan is to fight this tooth and nail, and make lots of money in the meantime. I mean, I bet BP and Exxon Mobil have better plans for dealing with the shift in energy sourcing that’s coming down the road than he does.

    1
  30. CSK says:

    @JohnSF:
    That’s my read as well. The Rogozin statement says it all.

  31. JohnSF says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    Definitely this.
    If Putin had any concept of the long term interests of Russia, he would have used the buoyant oil revenues of the past decades to fund a transition away from an economy that is “extractive” in more senses than one.
    Rule of law, economic security, education, investment in infrastructure and long-term industrial development based on Russia’s excellent human and natural resources.

    Instead, it has been pissed away on military power and plundered by the kleptocracy.
    The stats on wealth distribution in Russia are shocking:
    Russia: top 1% of the population has 75% of wealth; 10% hold 87%!
    Russia really is the capitalist oligarchy.

    Compare USA:
    1% has 37%; 10% has 74%.
    UK:
    1% has 23%; 10% has c. 55%
    (Which is roughly a par with average of European states)

    This level of inequality undermines base levels of small business investment and consumer market potential.

    I know from personal connections one sizable corporation that had substantial holdings in Russia, and was planning on making significant investments, but since 2008 has steadily cashed out on the basis that the investments are not safe from arbitrary plunder, the domestic market is near stagnant, and prospects for trade integration with Europe poor.
    Anecdotal, but foreign investment in Russia was climbing steeply till 2008, and has plateaued since.

    1
  32. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Putin is demanding that we make Ukraine’s decisions for them. The answer has to be, no. Ukraine will decide for Ukraine.

    That I agree with. But the thing is Michael, that goes both ways.

    @Dude Kembro:

    Biden can’t say, “Here, Vladimir, Ukraine is yours.” Ukraine isn’t ours to give. Recognizing as much is the opposite of living in the 1990s.

    And Ukraine isn’t ours to defend either and the irony is the strategic reality that you don’t seem to understand. Russia will go to war to prevent Ukraine from becoming aligned with NATO, if necessary. Therefore the harder we push for that, the more likely war becomes. And a war in Ukraine would benefit no one, least of all Ukrainians.

    The historic and strategic reasons for this situation is something I can’t explain to you in a blog comment. But the strategic reality is that as long as it is official NATO policy to make Ukraine a part of the alliance and move Ukraine to be aligned politically, militarily and economically with western Europe at Russia’s expense, Russia will work to destabilize Ukraine to prevent that from happening and will go to war to stop it if they feel like they have no other choice.

    The tough talk that seeks to put Putin in his place and the notion that Putin and Russia will simply roll over as they have for the past 30 years if only we apply more pressure is a delusion that could result in catastrophe. That is what I mean when I say it’s not the 1990’s anymore. Those who act like this situation is the same as all the previous times when Russia relented and backed down are deluding themselves and gambling with other people’s lives.

    1
  33. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Andy:

    …official NATO policy to make Ukraine a part of the alliance and move Ukraine to be aligned politically, militarily and economically with western Europe…

    Actually moving toward the west is a choice for Ukraine, as is seeking to join NATO. Only after an application will NATO (or the EU for that matter), have a choice to make. NATO has been making it pretty clear that if Putin wants Ukraine, he can have it, but there will be consequences that are economic in nature. NATO and the west’s position is that Ukraine wants to be a democracy and join other democratic nations then that is up to them. So again, Ukraine decides.

    3
  34. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kathy:

    Because NATO is an organization founded and structured as an mutual defense pact against Soviet Russia. Putin’s comment was intended as a joke. The West reveled in the end of the Soviet Union, was doing everything it could to incorporate Russia into the Western economy, yet maintained the anti-Russia structure of NATO. Putin was gently chiding that. The gentle chiding has been replaced. He apparently had no big issue with NATO, as a Russian he is more than familiar with how bureaucracies come to serve and preserve themselves, until it became obvious NATO was contemplating expansion and publicly advocating and supporting a revolution within a nation on Russia’s border.

  35. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    The tough talk that seeks to put Putin in his place and the notion that Putin and Russia will simply roll over as they have for the past 30 years if only we apply more pressure is a delusion that could result in catastrophe.

    Well, again, we’re not talking about sending the Marines, are we, we’re just talking about punishing Russia if they launch this invasion of Czechoslovakia, er, sorry, Ukraine. Are you objecting to that?

    What if Sweden and Finland join NATO? Finland shares a border with Russia, if Putin threatens Helsinki are we going to shrug that off, too? IIRC Russia also imagines it has territorial rights to parts of Poland, and some Japanese islands and pretty much the entire arctic. At what point do you think we should object forcefully?

    What other powers have rights to invade and subjugate neighboring countries? Does India have the right as the big regional power to take Kashmir? Does China have a right to bully Vietnam? Would we have a right to invade Cuba? Are we supposed to disregard any nation’s borders if they happen to have caught the interest of a larger power?

    3
  36. just nutha says:

    We weren’t talking about sending the Marines into Iraq either–until we started to. Either way, I got no kids (at all) so I’m in no danger of being the lucky recipient of a used only once American flag and the thanks of a grateful nation for my kid having volunteered to water the Tree of Liberty, so have at it, ladies and gentlemen. Draw whatever red lines, impose whatever economic warfare against populations, get whatever money’s worth from the military you want. It’s been 6 month since the last conflict–surely that’s long enough to wait.

    1
  37. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    But the thing is, Ukraine is already aligned against Russia.

    It is not going to become a member of NATO for the foreseeable future, so long as Russia occupies Donbas and Crimea.

    But if Russia want guarantees as to Ukrainian neutrality or weapons basing it needs to negotiate that with Ukraine, not refuse to talk to Kiev on the basis that they are rebellious serfs of an errant province of Russia, with no right to defy the rightful dominion of Moscow.
    Or to treat them as mere client of the US who can be bargained away.
    Putin’s negotiation stance is one aimed a an open humiliation of Ukraine and refusal to accept is sovereign equal status, rather than aimed at the best means of resolving a dispute.

    The US and the rest of NATO cannot cannot, and will not, make decisions for Ukraine, which is what Putin appears to want.

    The more the Russian autocracy both bullies and slights Ukraine, the more it stokes Ukrainian nationalism, and solidifies anti-Russian attitudes there.
    I referred before to the parallels with the British relationship with Ireland, and they really are quite striking.

    Until Russia is prepared to treat Ukraine as a legitimate state that is NOT subject to the unilateral assertions of hegemony by the Kremlin, it is unlikely to improve relations.
    Trying to whip Ukrainians into submission is no longer a game the Russians can easily win, regardless of the stance of the US or Europe.
    Russia can conquer Ukraine, just as Britain could conquer Ireland.
    But a Ukrainian equivalent of the IRA waging a campaign against the Russian state?

    It might be forgotten in the West, but it isn’t in Ukraine, that in the late 1940s the UPA resistance to Soviet rule inflicted mortality rates proportional to forces engaged exceeding that of units engaged in the Russian Afghan campaign.
    And then, the central and southern regions were largely passive.
    This time round, Russia has solidified nationalist sentiment in almost all Ukraine, including the Kievan centre and Russian speaking south.

    Putin should be wary of what he might call up.
    Russia may go to war for its assertion of imperial prerogative; Ukraine may in turn go to war for it’s freedom.

    1
  38. JohnSF says:

    @just nutha:
    NATO and the US are not going to war in Ukraine.
    It would be impossible to do so, with no lines of supply, support bases, transport nets, communications systems, air defence, air support, etc etc etc.

    There are red lines: the borders of NATO and the EU.
    Ukraine itself is outside them

    But if the Russians do attack Ukraine, is the West meant to to just shrug, say, “hey ho, sucks to be you”, and continue to deal economically with Russia as if nothing had happened?
    If a response of sanctions constitutes “economic warfare against populations” and therefore unacceptable, then what counter is to be made to naked imperial aggression?
    A stern telling off in the UN General Assembly, perhaps?
    Or maybe that’s too dangerously offensive to Russian sensibilities?

    2
  39. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Not to mention that nation having the sheer effrontery to revolt against a Russian supported regime.
    How dare the serfs defy their master!

    Until that happened, no one in Moscow gave two hoots about the Donbas and Ukraine.
    So long as Ukraine had a regime that showed proper “respect” to the autocrat, and didn’t dare act as it were not subject to the hegemony of Russia.

  40. MarkedMan says:

    @JohnSF:

    I know from personal connections one sizable corporation that had substantial holdings in Russia, and was planning on making significant investments, but since 2008 has steadily cashed out on the basis that the investments are not safe from arbitrary plunder, the domestic market is near stagnant, and prospects for trade integration with Europe poor.

    I can confirm this for another multibillion dollar company. Russia was just too corrupt and dangerous, and there were essentially no meaningful rules. In 2008 it was a focus point but by 2012 it wasn’t mentioned as anything except part of the aggregate.

  41. JohnSF says:

    JohnSF:
    …no one in Moscow gave two hoots about the Donbas and Ukraine.
    Should be:
    …no one in Moscow gave two hoots about the Donbas and Crimea.

    1
  42. Dude Kembro says:

    @Andy:

    And Ukraine isn’t ours to defend either

    Please point me to this paranoid alternate reality you and Putin are living in, with 100,000 US troops massed at the Ukrainian-Russian border, there after the US went to war with Russia over Crimea in some grand defense of Ukraine. Must be a very strange place.

    You continue to fail to understand that Ukraine shares borders with American allies, with whom we have multilateral security agreements and, thus, obligation, via treaty, to defend.

    As to it being US policy to make Ukraine part of NATO, that’s nice Russian propagangda but over here in realityland US policy is to allow Ukraine to decide whether or not to join NATO. If the US and NATO wanted Ukraine to be part of NATO, it would be. In fact, the US has no current or foreseeable interest in being required to spend blood and treasure on Ukraine. The people living in the 1990s are those pretending like the US is itching to be in a Ukrainian morass. Who? Where?

    I understand it’s difficult for Putin’s apologists to blame him for his own screwups. But let’s stop inventing phantom defenses and nonexistent strategies to pretend the reason Ukraine hates Russia and wants to be part of NATO’s security blanket is because of America and not Russia and its schizophrenic dictator.

    The question that matters to America is not whether Putin will roll over, but whether Ukraine will roll over. No. Whether Poland, Romania, Latvia, Slovakia, Lithuania, and Hungary — our NATO allies that border Ukraine — are going to roll over. No, no, no no, and no. Whether the US will or should shirk its duty to those allies. No and no.

    Our security treaty with Ukraine’s neighbors is what is going to dictate US policy. Not a sad Cold War tyrant itching for conflict to paper over the fact jetsetting Russian youth despise him and like Westerners. That’s realtalk. If it also sounds tough ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    2
  43. dazedandconfused says:

    The president of Ukraine and his defense minister publicly state invasion is NOT imminent.

    https://thehill.com/policy/international/591168-ukraine-says-russian-invasion-is-not-imminent-situation-is-under-control

    1
  44. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    What are your thoughts on the Monroe Doctrine?

  45. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: As to what to do, I have acres and acres of nuthin, but as to sanctions, what I have observed over and over is that the West imposes sanctions and the recalcitrant despot replies “I’ll show YOU! My people can starve for all I care!” If you’ve got sanctions that you think will hurt Putin enough to move his position, fly at it, but I’m not betting on you.

  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Dude Kembro: From where I am, in the middle of acres and acres of nuthin’, your scenario seems based the notion that The Ukraine is situated to hold its own against the Russian military with some tangible weapons and supplies aid from the West. It may be accurate, but it’s something I won’t place a bet on, again. Hill’s argument evolves from the belief that The Ukraine is no more likely to fend off Putin than Hungary was to fend off Stalin in 1956. If her world view is accurate, what’s the next step now?

  47. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Dude Kembro:
    Well said.

    On other Russia fronts:

    ABUJA, Nigeria—One of the Burkina Faso president’s final acts in office was refusing to sanction the use of Russian paramilitaries on his soil.

    The leader of this week’s successful military coup against him was the very man who tried to pressure him into accepting help from Moscow, sources in the former president’s camp told The Daily Beast.

    Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, a lieutenant colonel, was promoted last month to oversee security in the capital city of Ouagadougou. On two occasions he sought to persuade President Roch Kabore to engage Russia’s black ops outfit the Wagner Group, according to two officials who were part of the president’s communications team.

    Damiba was appointed as commander of Burkina Faso’s third military region in December, a unit responsible for security in the capital and in the east of the country, following an attack by Islamist militants that killed 49 military officers and four civilians. The incident sparked anti-government protests and calls for Kabore to step down.

    This month, Damiba held a meeting with the president and implored him to bring in the Wagner Group to bring the fighting under control. The notoriously secretive Russian paramilitary company was first identified in 2014 fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but it has since spread to Africa where it has been hired by struggling governments to help fight jihadists.

    “The president quickly rejected the idea and even reminded Damiba that European governments had just condemned the deployment of Russian mercenaries in Mali by its military leaders,” one of the officials told The Daily Beast. “Kabore didn’t want to run into any problems with the West for aligning with Russia.”

  48. DK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Afghanistan was not situated to hold its own against Russia in the 1980s nor against the US in the 1990s. An insurgency can still make Putin’s life and Putin’s Russia miserable, especially on top of more sanctions and open hostility with Europe and every nation Russia and Ukraine shares a border with. There’s a reason Putin isn’t in Ukraine already instead of trying to extract more concessions from NATO.

    The US has NATO obligations and a security treaty with Ukraine’s neighbors. That is the reality, and that is what is going to dictate the US “scenario.” Is anyone suggesting the US abandon NATO? No? Okay then.

    1
  49. Kathy says:

    Thanks to all who replied to my stupid question. Unfortunately work got really hectic (really, checking every few minutes if some government page now worked….)

    I first thought of it all the way back in the 90s, in Yeltsin’s day. Yeltsin was troubled by NATO’s expansion, as I recall. I wondered then why not admit Russia to NATO. Sure, the rationale for the alliance was to contain the USSR in Europe, but without the USSR, the mission could change. To what, well, that’s a good question. Must an alliance be against something?

    Alliances tend to be temporary, and to end when one member turns against another. The rebellions within the Delian League, if you want an old example. The German invasion of the USSR for something more recent. Still, Britain and France have kept up an alliance of sorts, though not a formal one, for well over a century.

  50. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    It would be impossible to do so, with no lines of supply, support bases, transport nets, communications systems, air defence, air support, etc etc etc.

    Amateurs talk tactics. Professionals talk logistics.

    Remember how long it took to move troops, supplies, weapons, and vast infrastructure to Saudi Arabia to invade Kuwait in 1991? About sic months, and this was without any interference en route. I can’t see Putin taking the first shot, but he must have submarines in the Atlantic. Show a few periscopes, and everyone will be on edge looking for torpedoes. Meaning they’ll slow down (to reduce noise), and take irregular zigzagging paths to screw up shooting solutions.

    1
  51. Dave Schuler says:

    A united NATO has little to fear from Russia as long as the conflict between the two does not become “kinetic” as they say. Russia remains heavily nuclear-armed and many, many wargames have demonstrated that any such conflict will go nuclear.

    But NATO is not united. As long as the Germans refuse to do anything that bears a cost for Germany, which is presently the case, no economic or diplomatic sanction imposed by the remaining NATO members will have much effect.

    3
  52. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    This came in past my bedtime in the Land of the Setting Sun 🙂
    Will reply in todays Open Forum if I have a chance.

    Short version:
    – started off out of reasonable anti-imperialist apprehension
    – was mostly eyerolled at for half a century
    – seemed justified again viz Mad Max in Mexico
    – caused Lord Salisbury to smile in public and fume in private
    – morphed into a mix-up of platitudes, conventional power politics, and blatant quasi-hegemonic arrogance
    – looked really tawdry in American bleatings over the League of Nations
    – is now well past its sell-by date

    And is of limited relevance to Russian behaviour.

  53. JohnSF says:

    @Dave Schuler:
    German Defense Secretary Christine Lambrecht:

    “We will deliver 5000 helmets to Ukraine also as a very clear signal, we stand by your side.”

    *eyeroll in Ukrainian*

    1
  54. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:
    Nevertheless the Monroe Doctrine was a demand that all other countries in the Western hemisphere not ally themselves with any European power.

    Putin seems to be doing something similar in reaction to talk about the expansion of NATO. IMO the positioning of military assets may be primarily designed to get NATO to the table to discuss the issue seriously. The Monroe Doctrine was facially silly considering the size of the US fleet and military at the time, but it does appear to have given the western nations and the Great Powers pause. It affected their thinking.

  55. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    The Monroe Doctrine in the Americas is one thing.
    “Essential strategic interests” in Europe quite another.
    Belgium. Alsace-Lorraine. Austria. Sudetenland. Danzig. Karelia. The Straits. The Hellespont. The Dardanelles. Ireland. Schleswig-Holstein. The Sound. Gibraltar. Malta. Bohemia. Flanders.
    The Quadrilateral. Silesia. East Prussia.
    etc. etc. etc. etc.

    Millions of dead.
    Millions subjugated by autocracies over centuries.

    If Putin is intent on returning Europe to such conditions of “might makes right” then enemies he will have.

    If he wants a neutral Ukraine, or military limitations, he could always try asking the Ukrainians, and considering they have a voice too, rather than demanding their submission.
    Because they might negotiate, but they won’t readily submit.

    Russia requires that Ukraine conform to its assertions of “strategic necessity”?
    Can Kiev demand that Russia checks with Ukraine before acting in eg Kazakhstan or Armenia?
    If not, why not?
    Because might makes right?
    Because the lesser state must submit to the hegemon?
    Russia is so movingly concerned about the possible discrimination against “Russian” ethnic minorities?
    How curious that such tender sensitivities are not extended to Chechens, or Tatars, or Ingush, or Georgians or …
    How curious that until Ukraine revolted against the rule of Russian aligned oligarchs, that Moscow was blithely unconcerned with the “plight” of Crimea or Donbas.

    Olexander Scherba:

    “What a strange feeling – to walk on the streets of this wonderful peaceful city & realize that tomorrow it can be over. Why? Because some delusional guy with imperial inferiority complex says we are his “zone of influence”?
    Surreal.”

  56. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:
    Yes, and few nations have been more invaded and suffered more than Russia. Hitler, Napoleon, the Tartars, Mongols, Huns…pretty much everybody who’s a somebody has invaded Russia at some point.

    Has Putin demanded Ukraine’s submission? I have seen nothing that says he has. In fact the Ukrainian government is pushing back on the narrative they are about to be invaded. They say the deployments Putin is making are mostly staged too far away at the moment and it would take several weeks to reposition for an invasion.

    The movements may have been designed to gain someone else’s attention while not unduly panicking the Ukrainians. If so this part of his plan has worked splendidly. No surprise in this, if Putin has learned anything during the Trump years it’s that western media, through their desire to frighten people so they don’t surf away during the commercial breaks, is easily manipulated. The question is what he hopes to accomplish with that attention.

  57. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    …few nations have been more invaded and suffered more than Russia

    Would you care for a list?
    Perhaps starting with a list of nations that do not even exist any more, because they were obliterated?

    Or perhaps a list of the nations that Russia has behaved dis-obligingly to from time to time?
    Some Poles might like a word on the relative invasion scale re. Russia; not to mention Turkmen, Chechens, Finns, Georgians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Moldavians etc etc

    Do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that Russia is a unique monster.
    But neither do they have some sort of claim to lord it over their neighbors due to some sort of assertion of unique suffering.
    The whole “Oh, us poor Russians, we are so persecuted” act is ludicrous.

    Many countries in Europe have behaved monstrously to neighbors or to minorities from time to time.
    Most have learnt the lesson that this is both unethical and counter-productive.

    I will say again: if Russia has a right to hegemonic authority over Ukraine, does Germany have such a right over Austria and Bohemia?
    Does Britain have such a right over Ireland?
    Does France over Belgium?

    Most European countries have accepted that it is best to have a reasonable relationship with neighbours on the basis of equality and self-determination.

    Russia is not entitled to asset a right to imperial dominion over its neighbours on the basis of Russian historic martyrdom, or the cultural-spiritual superiority of the “Third Rome”, or any other basis whatsoever.

  58. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:
    I suspect the issue is Ukraine not being a dedicated enemy and base to NATO, which is an organization which is founded with just one foe in mind, Russia.

    If Putin felt entitled to hegemony he would’ve invaded long ago. Why would he wait for Trump to be out of office if that was his intention?? I haven’t seen anything that indicates he’s asserting imperial domination of the place. When has he done so? Seems more likely the goal is to convince the Ukes they must not be abjectly hostile.

  59. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    He did invade “long ago”, or at least in 2014:
    The Crimea, and the Lukhansk/Donetsk areas of Donbas.
    And discovered, perhaps to his surprise, that Ukraine was prepared to fight.

    To go further would require a major military offensive, the sort of mobilisation being seen now.

    Between 2014 and the present he attempted to obtain his goal of a subordinated Ukraine by diplomatic means, offering a return of the Donbas oblasts in exchange for a “federal” reshaping of Ukraine.
    But one in which the existing Donbas “independent” rulers remained in place.

    Ukraine rejected this as transparent attempt to force the inclusion of Russian puppets on a formal basis, and achieve an effective a partition of Ukraine into regional sub-states, and the entrenchment of a Russian veto power within the Ukrainian political system.

    It was only after repeated Ukrainian rejection of such offers, and the failure of attempts to promote pro-Russian parties in Ukraine who might sign up to such a deal, that Putin decided on his present tactic, to escalate a military mobilisation to levels that indicated a credible threat of a major war.
    And to use this threat to leverage the US and NATO into making a capitulation forced upon Ukrainians over their heads, then enabling Russia to impose its terms on Ukraine.

    To anyone familiar with European history, it bears a very strong resemblance to the tactics of Germany at Munich, where Britain and France were driven to make a deal that was then presented as a fait accompli to the Czechs.

    Putin’s problem is that President Biden has no intention of re-enacting the role of Neville Chamberlain.
    The message remains: if Russia wants an agreement on Ukraine, it must negotiate with Ukraine.
    And that means that Russia needs to offer terms acceptable to the Ukrainians, and to stop trying to be “clever” about getting Kiev to sign up to being a Russian satellite state under the pretence of a peace deal.

    NATO is not going to be maneuvered into imposing the will of Moscow on Kiev, and the Ukraine is in no mind to accept such an imposed solution from either side.

    And if Putin wishes “to convince the Ukes they must not be abjectly hostile” he really is going the wrong way about it.

  60. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:
    A review of the Minsk agreements seems in order.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minsk_Protocol

    The Russians have a case here. Special status for the two oblasts was agreed to, and it could be said that when the elections didn’t go in a way Kyiv approved of, they attacked the oblasts again.

  61. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    It could be said, and indeed it is said, by Russia.
    Ukraine says different, and aver that Russia and its proxies in Donbas are the ones in breach.

    Russia in attempting to enforce its interpretation by bypassing Kiev and attempting to maneuver the US and NATO into negotiating Ukraine’s future for it and imposing a solution to Moscow’s taste: the tactic of Munich.
    As President Biden and the other NATO nations are not falling for this nonsense, the ball goes back to Russia.
    They can either back off, and then try negotiating with Ukraine as equals; or try to impose their will on Ukraine by conquest, with all the consequences that will bring.
    And they will be very bad consequences indeed, for both Ukraine and Russia.
    Putin’s choice.

    (The other option would be a unilateral Ukrainian capitulation; not going to happen.)

  62. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    They called it a fake election, perhaps it was, but there should be no surprise that a lot of Russian speaking folks in these eastern oblasts would prefer to be Russia.

    The fighters don’t appear to me to be all Russian mercenaries, not by a damn sight, anyway.

    Getting lost in the weeds here. When talking Russia it should be limited to realpolitik, it’s what they do. The real question is what Putin is up to? They have a great deal of experience in assassinations and playing long-games of intrigue in the dirty business of manipulating governments on their borders, there seems no particular reason Ukraine could not be so coerced. Strong possibility the reaction to the troop movements were expected, if not desired.