The Russians are trying to speak with the USA and NATO in the language of ultimatums and insults. Moreover, in public! This approach works in dealing with a weak opponent. But is the USA today weaker than the Russian Federation? In military terms, the States is certainly stronger. In the political – given the domestic political factor and China – maybe even weaker. Democracies are always more limited in their choice of tools to respond to threats than dictatorships and autocracies.
The problem with this situation for Ukraine is that politicians give orders to the military. The States, like NATO, are really not interested in a large-scale conflict in Europe today - in this case, this is its weakness. And Moscow understands this.
But does Putin feel strong enough that his language of blackmail and ultimatums is a real threat, and not a bluff? To what extent is a full-scale war with Ukraine really beneficial for him? Especially given the list of those sanctions already announced by Washington that will bring down the Russian economy in the event of aggression against Ukraine?
What does Putin already have today that allows him to speak the language of insults and ultimatums with the world military and economic leader? Hypersonic missiles? But given the combined number of the USA-NATO nuclear warheads and the fact that Washington, according to the same Putin, is already completing the development of its own hypersonic weapons, - this is clearly not the trump card with which a technological dwarf can topple a technological giant…
Of course, the events in Kazakhstan are very useful for Putin. The de facto occupation of this country and its return to the control of the Kremlin by establishing a leader who is now completely dependent on Moscow in power is a serious leap in the implementation of Putin's main goal (in his understanding, even mission) – the restoration of the Russian Empire. If we add the same puppetry of the pro-Russian regime in Belarus to this, then this is already an obvious trend. At this stage, it certainly inspires the Russian Hitler to new blitzkriegs. But… Neither the Belarusian nor the Kazakh "Anschluss" were in the nature of a direct military invasion. Probably, having worked in Germany for many years, Putin nevertheless learned some lessons from Nuremberg…
It is one thing when for the sake of self-preservation, the treacherous authorities of the country asked you to enter it, and another – when you openly violate all international norms, and even be warned about the critical consequences of this for you…
In short, if Putin was not afraid of the States, he would simply do what he threatens with today – openly attacked Ukraine. But he did not attack, he made the threat of attack a bargaining chip. So he does not want to attack! He seems to be shouting to the West: do not let me attack Ukraine! Create conditions for me, so that I cannot do this!
Moreover, most likely, both Putin himself and the collective West understand that the open and direct aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine against the background of the sanctions collapse of its economy will lead to a critical destabilization of the internal political situation in Russia itself. Nuclear Russia – and this factor is also, in our case, the "weakness" of the West.
In a word, as of today, Putin, in fact, is not interested in an open large-scale war with Ukraine. The West, in turn, is not interested in real fulfillment of Russia's ultimatum demands, but undermining "stability" in the Russian Federation is also scary. Both sides of the confrontation are determined to maintain the status quo at least tactically, which will allow Moscow to get some small concessions from Washington and pass them off as a "global victory", while the West consoles itself with the fact that it has allegedly saved Europe from war.
Incidentally, by fueling tensions around the talks with Kremlin's direct insults on NATO, Moscow is creating the preconditions for any, even a minor, concession by the West (for example, the return of the USA to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) to look like a global victory achieved thanks precisely to threats to the position of strength of the Russian Federation.
But what is in the final analysis?
Unfortunately, Putin receives real (albeit insignificant) concessions from the USA and NATO and thereby secures the status of a world superpower, - a subject equal to the USA, NATO and China.
Also, he receives an increase in his power in Russia and consolidates his dominance in the post-Soviet space.
Of course, Ukraine's position, including at the Minsk talks, is becoming weaker as a result. The threat of a large-scale attack from Russia will become permanent and even more real, because it has proven its effectiveness as a tool of geopolitics, plus the military infrastructure for its implementation will already be ready. Any of our actions in the foreign and domestic policy of Ukraine after that will be done with an eye on Moscow. And the West will even force us to do so.
At the same time, Putin does not abandon his main goal (mission) - the subjugation of Ukraine and its return under his control. But now he will be able to prepare the same scenario in Ukraine that was tested and implemented by Moscow in Crimea and Donbas in 2014, in Belarus in 2020 in Belarus and in Kazakhstan in 2022 – occupation at the request of the occupied countries, in more comfortable conditions. And not directly, but under the guise of peacekeepers or "polite little men". In this context, by the way, it is worth recalling Viktor Yanukovych's recent lawsuit to declare his removal from the post of President of Ukraine illegal. Once he already turned to Putin with a request to send in troops…
The West, on the other hand, gets rid of the PUTATIVE threat of war in the center of Europe, even greater dependence on Russia for energy sources (thanks to Nord Stream 2, which Moscow will make the main condition for the agreements), a decrease in its influence in the post-Soviet space and a "feeling of deep satisfaction", of course. In other words – NOTHING!
That is, according to the Kremlin's plan, the occupation of Ukraine will not begin from the Russian borders! Just like in Belarus and Kazakhstan, it will start from within Ukraine! And the West will not be able to prevent this in any way, if it does not start systematically weakening Putin already now, and not pleasing his Napoleon complex. This is needed to be done now, really and progressively punishing Moscow for non-compliance with the Minsk agreements...
On the one hand, the West's tactics of reducing the escalation through negotiations is correct and allows buying some time. On the other hand, if Washington and Brussels allow even for a minute that Putin will comply with the agreements reached at these negotiations and actually abandon the decision he has already made to subjugate Ukraine to himself, then not the covid pandemic, but insanity is raging in the world.
That is, both the West and Kyiv should already now be thinking (and working on it!) not about momentary, tactical confrontation with Russia, but about the existential hostility of Putinism to the established international order, liberalism, democracy and Ukraine. Otherwise, inspired by the effectiveness of power diplomacy, Putin will eventually implement all the fears of the West only on an exaggerated scale.
Serhiy Harmash, OstroV