President Putin is a rational actor. Without that premise, no one can figure out what he will do next.
President Putin's exploits in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014 demonstrated that he is astute, methodical, and precise in his execution.
President Putin attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics and cozied up to President Xi Jinping. Like Hitler had Stalin, President Putin has Xi. Respectful to his friend, he waited for the Beijing Olympics to end before launching the invasion.
After recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, President Putin launched a so-called peacekeeping mission that morphed into a blitzkrieg in 24 hours. He entered the Donbass region, citing ethnic solidarity, similar to the Third Reich's occupation of German-populated Czechoslovakia.
What Does President Putin Want?
The 30th anniversary of the Soviet Union's dissolution, December 26, 2021, was a watershed moment that sparked nostalgia for the Soviet Union and a desire to restore Russia's greatness.
America's influence in Europe has grown stronger since the fall of the Soviet Union, with the addition of three former Soviet states to NATO. As NATO's footprint in Europe has grown, President Putin believes that the new European equilibrium must recognize Russia as a significant power.
Recently, Vice Adm. Kay-Achim Schönbach, the former German navy chief, speaking at a function in India, candidly stated his thoughts on the matter. He said it was unlikely that the Russian leader wanted Ukraine for the land alone, and that, "President Putin is probably putting pressure because he can do it and he splits EU opinion." Schönbach also said, "He (Putin) wants high-level respect, and my God giving some respect is low cost, even no cost. If I was asked, it is easy to give him the respect he really demands and probably also deserves. Russia is an old country. Russia is an important country. Even we India, Germany, need Russia. We need Russia against China."
President Putin figured that there might never have been a more propitious time than now to achieve his dream and settle scores for the following five reasons.
- First, the Afghan debacle spoke volumes about the state of American foreign policy and confirmed that the United States is in its weakest position in the 21st century. The American military is significantly weakened as a result of wokeness, vax mandates, and shrinking defense budgets. Russia has hypersonic capabilities, which the U.S. does not. The U.S. does not have the will to get into an armed conflict in Ukraine and Europe. And, Europe is pacifist by nature.
- Second, the Biden administration intended to shift its focus to China as the main U.S. adversary and, while doing so, needed to establish some "rules of the road" and predictability in the relationship with Russia. President Putin saw this as a window of opportunity to ascertain Russian power in Europe.
- Third, Europe gets nearly 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia. Russian gas is critical to European heating homes in the winter months.
- Fourth, Russia is flush with money, with oil selling close to $100 a barrel. The nation has amassed over $600 billion in foreign currency and gold reserves.
- Fifth, domestically, he enjoys over 69% approval.
Though the current conflict is framed in terms of Ukraine and Russia, the real fight is between the United States and Russia.
Even though Ukraine's interest in joining NATO or Ukraine becoming a threat to Russia is sufficient pretext to mount a security concern, in reality, Russia has some frustration following the lack of settlement of the Donbas issue as promised in the Minsk Accords and an agreement to keep NATO out of Ukraine. Rubbing salt into the wound, team Biden encouraged the Ukrainians to resist a Donbas settlement and promoted the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO in the future.
President Putin knows that the NATO charter prohibits any occupied country from joining NATO. Crimea, a part of Ukraine, is occupied by Russia, and hence it is ruled out. Ukraine joining NATO is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.
President Putin is winning in Ukraine. Only he can end the war; it will be on his terms. And to top it all, he is so much in control that he knows the end game.
Assuming President Putin will stop in Ukraine, the first option is regime change. President Putin has called President Volodymyr Zelensky a band of drug addicts and neo-Nazis who should be removed. He may dethrone President Zelensky and install a puppet regime. Ukraine will be a satellite like Belarus, and this option is consistent with his restoring old glory.
The second option is a Ukraine without NATO aspirations by forcing President Zelensky to abandon such hopes.
The third option, less likely, is the occupation of Ukraine. President Putin knows that managing a direct occupation is not easy, leading to more pushback from Ukrainians and further isolation in the international community.
The fourth option, least likely, is dividing Ukraine similar to Germany. A democratic, prospering Western Ukraine leaning West is likely a problem for Russia and Eastern Ukraine.
NATO has 30 independent member countries, with the three Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, joining in 2004. As President Putin pursues his ambition, would he try to bring these three countries back into his sphere of influence?
If Russia comes up with an excuse to attack NATO installations in Eastern Europe, it could trigger a global conflict. That's the much-dreaded outcome.
West's bluster about sanctions has not been matched by its actions so far. When it happens, it encourages. For example, the West's first tranche of sanctions was laughable. President Putin, undeterred, launched his blitzkrieg into Ukraine.
Sanctions only go so far. Look at North Korea, Iraq, and Iran.
Sanctions must hurt. Otherwise, the next move of an emboldened President Putin may be to take the three Baltic countries to trigger a global war.
Related tippinsights Editorials:
SWIFT: Europe Can't Have Its Cake And Eat It Too
It’s Time To Walk The Talk To Defend Ukraine
Anti-Fossil Madness Funds Putin's Ukraine Aggression
Putin’s Nonsense Peacekeeping Mission
Nord Stream: A Lesson In Energy Dependence
Cracks Among Ukraine's Allies
Countering Putin’s Brinksmanship
Thirty Years Since The Collapse Of The Soviet Union
Who Will Prevail- Russia Or NATO?
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