If forced to guess, my bet is Putin doesn’t invade Ukraine (see last bit below). But I have no real idea what Putin’s plans are for Ukraine. The US doesn’t either. But the back-and-forth of the past few days confirms the US’s game. It is, I think, well played.
- If Putin wants to invade, he’s going to. We aren’t going to send in troops. But we are going to make it hurt economically. The Pentagon is also clearly salivating at the prospect of bleeding an occupying Russian army while trying out all its new toys.
- If Putin doesn’t want to invade, we are not going to let him off easy. We are going to keep shouting “invasion” until he climbs down publicly, loudly, and un-equivocally. There will be no face saving exit. We’ll keep shouting invasion until we can show clear “then vs now” satellite pictures of abandoned forward bases on TV. Pictures which will find their way into Russia…
- Note “we” announced “his” invasion date for when the Olympics are going on (never actually likely) rather than next week. If he invades next week or after, he already risks looking like a lame-o loser. The goal has always been to make him look off balance.
The strategy is either
- “no gains from bullying brinksmanship.” Which is how you deal with a bully. Well played.
- …or “no gains from starting a war, but also no global war” which was always how were going to respond to an actual invasion.
In the meantime we’ve already won a lot.
- Ukraine is going to that much less interested in “friendship” with Russia.
- Europe is forced to confront their dangerous energy dependency on Russia. That will come in handy if/when tensions with China heat up (where Europe has also put immediate commercial interests over self-interest).
- Putin looks unstable and dangerous. Russia ends up increasingly isolated on their own continent. Which eventually might just flow through to your average Russian deciding (post Putin) that “joining” Europe is a better idea vs attacking it. Which might also come in handy when the China conflict heats up.
Why I’d guess Putin is bluffing. This is just a guess but… Point in bold below is particularly convincing to me.
1). In a negotiating dynamic, the party making the most specific demands has the most at stake (and the weak hand). The party who is willing to walk away has the strong hand. The US has already “walked away.”
- Putin has made increasingly specific demands centered on an assurance Ukraine won’t join NATO. He has also insisted on bilateral talks with the US (bypassing Europe). He wants that “no NATO” commitment to come from the US directly. He is threatening to invade Ukraine if the US doesn’t do what he says.
- The US has replied with “Be my guest. Go ahead and invade Ukraine. We won’t do talks and we won’t give you those concessions whether you invade or don’t. I’ll just keep putting out the grim warnings so you have no face saving exit and wait for your next move.” The US has walked away from the table leaving it up to Putin to follow through (or not) on his threat.
2). Putin loses in most (or all?) invasion scenarios.
- Even the Germans will have to re-think the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and their overall energy strategy. The US will end up selling a lot more LNG to Europe as a result (another reason The US is OK with him invading).
- A “big” invasion will leave him occupying a lot of territory with the US gleefully shipping in anti-tank missiles and sniper rifles to the resistance. Any puppet regime he installs will collapse the day the troops go home. And the troops will be increasingly miserable with occupation duties as they rotate home.
- A “small” invasion that strips off Russia-friendly territory in Western Ukraine sounds more palatable. But that leaves a smaller Ukraine concentrated in the Eastern regions where they like the Russians the least. The first chance they get, that smaller Euro-centric Ukraine is going to apply to join NATO. And NATO will find it very hard to say no after that “Russian invasion” thing. Meaning that Putin’s “invasion to push back NATO” will actually end up moving NATO that much closer to Moscow. And Putin doesn’t want to go to war with NATO. Even if Ukraine doesn’t join NATO,. it will “join” Europe culturally and economically. Putin’s economic/cultural/military border moves East towards Moscow, not West away from it.
- There are all sorts of terrible. tragic industrial accidents that might befall Russia’s shiny new Nord Stream 2 pipeline running under the Baltic. Who will ever really know where those frogmen and submersibles came from? Brave Ukrainian freedom fighters? The US can do “little Green Men” too….
- Putin ends up looking like a class A jerk. Even the most cash-register driven Europeans will figure out they can’t rely on him.
PS – A lot of Ukrainians really don’t like the Russians. With a few million good reasons – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor.