- As the battle of wills and might between Russia and the West over the fate of Ukraine unfolds, there is one key fact to bear in mind: Vladimir Putin has never lost a war.
- And that, military and Russian experts agree, may be the real point.
- Putin then wants to rewrite the security rules of the road between him and NATO.
The war of wills and might between Russia and the West over Ukraine’s fate plays out as reported by Newsweek.
The New Tsar
There is one key fact to bear in mind: Vladimir Putin has never lost a war.
His latest initiative in Ukraine is unlikely to be any different.
Despite months of military build-up along Ukraine’s borders and repeated warnings from the Biden administration that an incursion could happen at any time, the February 24 pre-dawn bombing campaign that kicked off Europe’s first land war in decades seemed to come as a surprise to many Ukrainians.
Analysts expect that, once Kyiv falls, the military aggression will give way to a political settlement that puts a Russia-friendly government in place.
Now, western diplomats and intelligence officials believe, Putin seeks to decapitate the Western-leaning leadership in Kyiv headed by Zelensky and replace it with a government that will be loyal to “the new Tsar,” as former Estonian President Toomas Ilves calls Putin.
That could happen, U.S. intelligence officials tell Newsweek, within days.
Ukraine itself appears to share at least part of that view.
In chilling televised remarks after the invasion had begun, Putin said, “whoever tries to interfere [in Ukraine] should know that Russia’s response will be immediate, and will lead to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history.”
Russia is now back in the limelight, a nation that is demonstrating, with a display of military might, that it remains a Great Power.
He believes Russia should at all times command respect from the rest of the world, “and when it doesn’t command respect, it should command fear,” as Lukyanov of Russia in Global Affairs puts it.
The West Responds
Within hours of the invasion, the United States and its allies responded by sharply ratcheting up economic sanctions but it’s unclear whether the moves will deter the Russian leader.
“This is going to impose severe costs on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time,” Biden said.
How effective the sanctions will be is unclear.
As Russia’s ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet days before the invasion began when the West ramped up threats of financial penalties in a futile effort to prevent military action, “Excuse my language, but we don’t give a shit about your sanctions.”
Beyond the ruthless campaign to put down Muslim rebels in Chechnya, he hived off the two sections of the former Soviet state of Georgia that he wanted to control in 2008.
And on the complex battlefield in Syria, where the U.S. and Russians risked conflict, former President Barack Obama funded opposition rebel groups, including some tied to Al Qaeda, then failed to enforce his own red line after President Basar Al Assad used poison gas on his enemies.
The Ultimate Goal
The Russian leader is fueled by rage and seeks revenge against the West for his homeland’s perceived mistreatment, says Peter Rough, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington.
In its stead came chaos at home, and, in Putin’s view, betrayal from abroad.
Boris Yeltsin, once the democratic hero who helped bring down the Soviet Union, had turned into a drunken mess as the first freely elected president of Russia; his inner circle was corrupt, enriching themselves as ordinary citizens struggled amidst the post-Soviet chaos.
On New Year’s Day, at the dawn of the new millennium, Yeltsin stepped down.
In it, he said, “Ukraine is not a separate country,” and that “Ukrainians and Russians were brethren, one and the same.”
“Everything,” Putin said, “turned out exactly the opposite.”
How does Putin seek revenge for this betrayal?
To the extent he can, he wants to piece together a new Russian Empire.
Putin is a nationalist first and foremost.
Ukraine, plainly, is central to this vision.
But it also includes the countries—former Soviet provinces—that are now effectively Russian client states (Belarus), as well as those Moscow, wishes to control yet again: the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia (the latter three are now members of NATO, for whom the alliance is obligated to fight in the event one of them is attacked.)
It is for that reason that Biden is moving more NATO troops and materiel into the Baltics.
More deployments are likely in the months ahead.
That was followed by Berlin’s deep reluctance to stop the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline linking Germany and Russia, despite pressure to do so from its own ambassador to the U.S., Emily Haber.
The allies also sanctioned Russia’s central bank.
The evidence was clear: Far from deepening fissures within the alliance, Putin’s Ukraine gambit has had the opposite effect.
The evident unity among the members of what Biden accurately called the most powerful military alliance in history, has only made the plight of Ukraine more poignant.
There was zero chance of that happening because Kyiv wasn’t in the club.
Over and over Biden has told the American people the U.S. will not fight on the ground in Ukraine.
He knows the public has no stomach for it.
If events play out as military analysts now expect, the conflict will end relatively quickly with a negotiated settlement that may cede some territory to Russia, the installation of a new Russia-friendly regime in Kyiv and a partial withdrawal of troops that allows Putin to avoid the quagmire the West so badly wants him sucked into.
With his words and more importantly his actions, Biden is frantically signalling to Putin: this far, but no further.
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