Ukraine – We’ve Set Putin’s Invasion Date For Him. Well Played?

The Ukraine situation is very odd.  The US and other allies have shared a tremendous amount of specific intelligence.  Leading up to setting a potential invasion date of Wednesday, February 16th (while the Olympics are still going on).

If this was a bar fight, we’ve just announced to the crowd that Big Noise Bob is going to hit Small Shy Sam in the face right about now.  Without asking Bob’s opinion on the matter.

So where does that leave Putin?

  1. He doesn’t throw the punch.  He looks like a schmuck.  He’s climbed down.
  2. He throws the punch.  He looks like a jerk.  And he’s in a bar fight.  Sam is smaller, but he’s not a wimp.  He invades during the Olympics, which really annoys his frenemy China.
  3. If Putin waits and invades later, he looks like an indecisive jerk.  We all know he is ready to invade this week.  So he’s either kowtowing to China or wishy washy.

I like the whole strategy.  There was no chance we were going to send troops into Ukraine.  So we made a virtue out of that reality.  We’ve done everything short of putting “invade here (at your own risk)” signs up on the Russia/Ukraine border.

We don’t know what Putin wants to do.  If he wants to throw that punch, we aren’t going to step into that bar fight.  But the world is going to know exactly who threw the first punch.

So if Putin’s goal was to throw his weight around and extract concessions, he’s already lost.  He’s won nothing and won’t.  That leaves invade at your own risk).

  1. Putin knows the risks of occupying Ukraine.  He also knows the Pentagon is dreaming of bleeding his army dry if he does it.
  2. After all this publicity, any regime installed by Putin would be illegitimate.  Likely to collapse after his troops go home.
  3. The bits of Eastern Ukraine he already occupies (Donbas) are its rust belt.  Less an asset than a liability.  Trying to carve out and annex more bits looks neat on a map, but…
  4. The US has also made some pretty loud noises that Putin’s precious Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany is at risk.  It runs under the Baltic and is thus highly vulnerable.  Without Nord Stream 2, Putin is stuck with his existing gas pipeline running through… Ukraine.

I have no idea what Putin wants.  Assuming no-one else does either, this was a good way to play it.

FUN FACT:  I just finished a book on the Mongol Horde that reined quite successfully (and mostly peacefully) over Russia/Ukraine for hundreds of years.  They fought a lot of wars, but ALWAYS tried to manufacture some pretext or insult that allowed them to claim self defense.  It was a culturally critical part of their decision process.  You can see this echo through Putin’s behavior and a general Russian sense of victim-hood.  You can also see how awkward the US strategy makes things.  It is going to be very hard to manufacture a genuine-seeming provocation in sunlight this bright.

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