“Instead of paving Russia’s path to greatness, invading Ukraine would ensure Mr. Putin’s infamy by leaving his country diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance,” wrote former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for the New York Times today.
“Mr. Putin’s actions have triggered massive sanctions, with more to come if he launches a full-scale assault and attempts to seize the entire country. These would devastate not just his country’s economy but also his tight circle of corrupt cronies — who in turn could challenge his leadership,” concludes Albright before adding, ominously: “What is sure to be a bloody and catastrophic war will drain Russian resources and cost Russian lives — while creating an urgent incentive for Europe to slash its dangerous reliance on Russian energy.”
She is right, of course, as are others who have essentially concluded the same thing. Being right still leaves one major question unanswered:
Why doesn’t Putin care?
All this head-shaking and hand-wringing in the West is ignoring the elephant in the room, the biggest problem of all: The Western alliance of nations cannot impose any additional consequences on Vladimir Putin’s Russia than those it has already threatened.
All these reactions to Russian military “peacekeeping” forces moving into Ukraine this week, as President Biden predicted they would, have already been carefully considered by Putin and his government, “cronies” included.
From economic sanctions to Germany’s predictable halting of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, none of these can be a surprise to President Putin.
For good or ill, the U.S. in general, and the Biden Administration in particular, has demonstrated its unwillingness to engage in any foreign wars.
Without any additional punishments to impose, short of a military response, Western nations led by the U.S. haven’t got an ace in the hole. They have no leverage over Vladimir Putin.
Not that Western nations ever had much leverage.
Putin’s government has been in the slow process of “invading” Ukraine since at least 2014. His administration has been implicated in the poisoning of political dissidents and troublesome Russia expatriates all around the world.
Russia has also been growing closure to the Chinese Communist Party.
At the height of the Cold War, it was generally accepted wisdom that Russia feared China more than anyone else. At any given time, there were more USSR military resources pointed at China than at countries in the West.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the hard death of communism in Russia, much has changed. Vladimir Putin, formerly of the KGB, has made the most of those changes.
One of the seismic shifts, and a potentially disturbing one, has been the thawing of relations between China and Russia since the Cold War. The two former geopolitical opponents now frequently find their priorities aligned globally against the U.S. and its allies.
There are plenty of world authorities on foreign policy, Albright included by her own admission, who believe Putin intends to restore Russia to its former USSR glory, perhaps without the communism.
Putin suspects his “minor incursion” into Ukraine this week with Russian “peacekeeping” troops, as President Joe Biden suggested might happen way back on January 19, won’t be met with anything beyond economic sanctions and cold-shouldering on the world stage.
That is to say, the action will not be met with anything beyond marginally more economic sanctions and cold-shouldering on the world stage than Russia already endures.
After he completes this gambit, Putin will know for sure.
Under the flimsiest premise, the Russian military is moving into Ukraine. Misleading the world press has given way to blatant misdirection and obvious, nose-thumbing duplicity. The entire world community can observe Vladimir Putin’s government saying one thing in public, while doing quite another in full view of satellite photography in “private”.
Worse, and even more unavoidable, are all the people with cell phones running around the Russian/Ukraine border region in question taking photos and videos in a kind of journeyman’s spy network. All of it, splashed from social media to the New York Times and beyond.
Putin isn’t stupid; he is by all accounts coldly calculating.
This is a test. Putin is testing the West to see if what he is about to do will trigger military action against Russia. He doesn’t want there to be any doubt about what he has done and intends to do.
That’s the reason Putin is being so obvious, egregious and in-your-face about it. That way, there won’t be any chance world leaders can excuse their failure to use military deterrence by pretending to believe his excuses.
Coming right out and saying, “The Ukraine belongs to Russia and we’re taking it back,” wouldn’t quite accomplish the same thing.
Since the only way to pass Putin’s “test” would be for Western powers to send troops into Ukraine to reinforce the country’s defenses, he has everyone right where he wants them.
Ukraine most of all.
“No help is coming,” is the message from Western military commanders and world leaders alike. The U.S. and its allies have grown weary of forever wars, of wars over borders and sovereignty. What’s more, world leaders may at last be willing to read the writing on the wall:
Interventionism abroad has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
The U.S. isn’t able to solve the problems of any given nation better than that nation’s own people and government. Sometimes attempts by occupying nations to help countries torn by war and oppression end up doing much more harm than good in the long run.
Look to the humanitarian crisis of violence and starvation currently unfolding in Afghanistan for proof, if you can bear it.
The Ukraine, sad to say, may be better off without U.S. military “help”, especially if that help pushes the region, and the world, further into war.
Considering the close relationship between China’s Xi Jinping and Putin, Russia’s actions may even be the precursor to a wider scale “realignment” that might see the Chinese Communist Party forcibly annexing Taiwan in the coming year.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is another close ally of Russia. Erdoğan could even now be eyeing neighboring Greece, betting that the U.S. won’t get involved in another Iraq-invades-Kuwait situation. Foreign policy experts in the region have been nervously noting the increasingly martial tone of the Erdoğan Administration and the Turkish government.
Nothing happens in a vacuum; every domino in global politics hits another going down. Nothing happens in secret anymore, either.
Whatever happens in the Ukraine, whatever happens next between China and Taiwan, or Turkey and Greece, the invasion will be televised.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)