Putin and Biden make high-stakes bet on Ukraine

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It’s a very bad idea – and bad for all concerned.

However, the drums of another war in Ukraine are sounding louder and louder, taking on a life of their own, in a very high-risk maneuver by both the Joe Biden administration and the Russian government. Or for both at the same time.

“I really don’t know where all this came from” is a phrase I’ve been hearing from Western officials over and over over the past few months.

Yes, Russia’s military is on the move and accumulating in perhaps greater numbers than in other years when similar moves took place.

Yes, a source familiar with the intelligence services told me that there are indications that the Russian side is not just theorizing about an invasion, but working towards it, should it be ordered to invade.

But some of their positions are tens of kilometers away from the Ukrainian border. And the reasons for Russia not wanting to occupy more of its neighbor’s territory are the same as in the past.

First of all, this would not be the invasion of Ukraine, but the reinvasion. Ukraine has already been invaded twice, even though the Russian government pretends that the “little green men” who took Crimea were not them, and says that the “concerned residents” who disarmed the Donbas region were just citizens who bought armored vehicles. personal transport at army surplus stores.

Part of Russia’s problem is that the moves are incomplete, carried out quickly and without a complete plan for the future. Renewed Russian action could end what was undone and bring long-term benefits to Moscow. But their incompleteness is also a daily reminder that such conflicts are fraught with unknown facts that get in the way of their plans.

real invasion

Russia’s critics and admirers alike agree when they see all the Kremlin’s actions as intentional and cunning. But this level of agreement is rare.

After invading the Crimean peninsula in 2014, Russia was left without a land corridor connecting it to the Russian homeland. Only in 2018 did the Russians complete a thin bridge across the Kerch Strait for supplies and utilities.

The invasion de facto of the disputed Donbas region ended in 2015, but Russia still sustains a chaotic and confused separatist movement there. The mountain of mercenaries and outlaws comes at a cost, with little benefit: Moscow is unlikely to be able to profit from the area, as Donbas is not the industrial hub it once was.

Claims that the Kremlin needs a land bridge to Crimea and definitive status to Donbas are often at the heart of the argument for a third invasion of Ukraine in eight years. But most military options would come at immense cost.

At the very least, Russian action could involve “normalizing” the country’s grip on the Donbas region, sending Russian troops to blockade control in the area, or even slightly widening its buffer zone against the rest of Ukraine. There are potential benefits, but at the same time, the action would likely trigger costly sanctions and formalize the Russian government’s expensive position as a sponsor of the affected region.

Other analysts suggest that a narrow land corridor along the Sea of ​​Azov, passing through the city of Mariupol, would reduce the cost of maintaining energy and water supplies to Crimea. The conquest could easily be achieved through an amphibious landing on the coast of the Azov Sea. However, a thin strip of land running along the coast would be difficult to defend and would be less profitable as a trade supply route if it was constantly at risk of attack from Ukrainian forces.

The next option discussed in Ukraine’s war games would be a wider invasion. In this scenario, Russia could reach as far as the Dnieper River, conquering Kharkiv, Poltava and even getting very close to the capital Kiev.

However, this is where the theories get a little silly. I heard a respectable analyst speculate about the invasion of all Ukraine. All country. A country, by the way, a little bigger than France, from Luhansk in the east to Lviv in the west. It’s a journey that would take more than 16 hours if taken by one of Russia’s most modern tanks – and that’s with a full tank, at the highest speed, with no one in the way and without having to stop to refuel.

Risk of sanctions

The idea of ​​occupying a large swath of Ukraine may have seemed possible in 2014. But after seven years of war, Ukraine is noticeably short of nostalgia for its former Soviet neighbour.

An occupation would be bloody, cost many Russian lives, require hundreds of thousands of Russian military personnel, and would likely be an embarrassing reminder to the Kremlin, with its forces straining to the limit – forces that were decrepit just over a decade ago, before their rapid modernization.

The sanctions would also harm, or even destroy, the parts of the Russian economy that deal with Europe.

Even a small invasion is really a bad idea for Moscow.

Proponents of the likelihood of an invasion always remember that Putin is not a rational agent, but one subject to unpredictable radical movements. They note that, like an aging autocrat, without any checks or real checks and balances to worry about, he is free to decide anything, anytime.

The Kremlin chief’s decision-making has long been hazy on purpose. And, after 21 years in charge and nearly two years in a bubble of isolation because of Covid-19, with interactions significantly limited, Putin must be receiving information far from balanced.

That’s why the Biden administration’s decision to amplify the likelihood of an invasion is so risky.

sound the alarm

There are clear warning signs – and possibly even stronger undisclosed intelligence data – to support the possibility of an attack. Perhaps ensuring that your allies are aware and ready for this is better than staying silent and appearing unprepared.

But by sounding the alarm so loudly, the White House has given Putin a choice: act now, or else you will appear to have caved in to Western pressure.

Does anyone imagine that the Russian leader, who believes his country was resoundingly humiliated at the end of the Soviet Union, would take the second decision?

US and Russia have a history of meetings between their leaders; see photos

Forcing him to make that choice may not seem like the best option for the CIA chief and the former US ambassador to Moscow, Bill Burns, or for the other scholars of Russian politics in Biden’s White House. You have to hope that they know something more.

Did they calculate (or learn) that Putin cannot simply afford to invade Ukraine again? Or have they determined that the invasion is inevitable?

If there is any doubt, this US operation to raise awareness of risk could tip the scales and force Russia to do something it probably knows will end badly.

And so, now — given Russia’s unfeasible requests during talks with the US in Geneva and the apparent pause, if not the end, of those talks — Ukraine is stuck, facing a dire eight-week wait as the ice continues to build up. be tough enough to allow tanks to cross the Russian border. After that, mud will take over the path.

The long-term gain from these months of fevered speculation and panic may be seen to shudder NATO and Europe against the threat from Russia and prove to Moscow that the costs of any other venture would be unpleasant, or at least face a united front.

Perhaps the Biden administration simply wanted to show Russia that the US is back in Europe, reversing the coziness of the Trump years with the Russian government.

But Ukraine, which has already suffered the loss of more than 10,000 people in that war, has been at the center of a high-risk game of provocation in US-Russia relations. The people are once again paying attention to the situation, but they often feel incapable, as they are trapped by the decisions between Washington and Moscow.

Putin has the global attention and US commitment he may crave. But with the chips on the table, all the chips, this huge diplomatic gamble carries the risk of a major land war in Europe.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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