TO ANALYSE: On Christmas 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Mikhail Gorbachev, its last ruler, said that while the future was uncertain, at least “we have … abandoned the practice of interfering in the internal affairs of others and using troops outside the country. “.
Thirty years later, Russia, heir to the former Soviet Union, is again interfering abroad. In Vladimir Poutine, it is headed by a man who overwhelmingly regrets the dissolution of the USSR. Putin is particularly angry with the way two Slavic states, Ukraine and Belarus, have escaped Moscow’s control.
He recently reaffirmed a great influence in Belarus, after his rigged election bully turned to him for help. And it is massing troops on the Ukrainian border – more than 70,000 of them, with supply lines, field hospitals and the prospect of reinforcements.
The American secret services fear that he may soon invade Ukraine. What to do to dissuade him?
* Putin in the West: “It is not us who threaten anyone”
* Putin blames the West for tensions and demands security guarantees
* Russia will not invade Ukraine
* Biden, Putin remain divided after talks over tensions in Ukraine
The Ukrainian armed forces, while better than they were when Putin started biting pieces of their country in 2014, are not strong enough to stop a Russian invasion. There is also no chance that NATO countries will intervene militarily to defend Ukraine. They don’t want, and shouldn’t, want war with a nuclear-weaponized Russia. However, there are ways to increase the costs of an invasion for Putin.
Some are economical. Joe Biden, the US President, spoke with Putin on December 7. Biden said he threatened tough economic sanctions if Russia attacked Ukraine again. (He has already annexed Crimea and helped pro-Russian rebels carve out an enclave in Donbass in eastern Ukraine.) There is talk of cutting Russia off from a rapid international payment system.
It would hurt Russia, but it’s a bad idea as it would disrupt other economies and trigger a rush of autocratic regimes to find non-Western alternatives. The same deterrence could be achieved, with less collateral damage, by threatening to blacklist Russian financial institutions individually.
Meanwhile, America should present a united front with its European allies. For starters, Germany is unlikely to approve Nord Stream 2, the newly constructed Russian gas pipeline that bypasses Ukraine.
A second deterrent is military. Although Russia can easily invade Ukraine, occupying a country for the long term is another matter, as America found in Iraq.
Ukraine must make itself indigestible. The West should provide it with more financial aid and defensive weapons to help it become one. Putin’s actions since 2014 have ensured that the vast majority of Ukrainians, even most of those of Russian descent, would resist Russian control of their country.
At the same time, Western diplomats should look for ways to defuse the impending conflict. This is tricky, because so many of Putin’s demands are neither reasonable nor sincere. He says NATO poses a threat to Russia. It is not.
He makes this claim because a functional and democratic Ukraine on its border discredits its authoritarian system, and because his discourse on defending Russia against imaginary external enemies is a good way to mobilize support. In a recent poll, only 4% of Russians said tensions in eastern Ukraine were Russia’s fault, while half blamed America and NATO.
Biden is right to speak to Putin and should continue to do so. He should try to find some face-saving ways for Putin to back down. Since Putin controls the way his actions are portrayed on Russian television, it shouldn’t be impossible. Biden could again clarify that Ukraine is not about to join NATO, for example, although he should not be giving Russia a formal veto.
Putin wants America to force Ukraine to implement his vision of the Minsk Accords, a peace deal imposed on Ukraine at gunpoint after Russian forces routed the Ukrainians there. is seven years old.
He hopes to create a federal state in Ukraine, with Russia pulling the strings east, controlling part of the border and having a big say in foreign policy.
Ukraine resisted this by fencing off the Donbass, making no effort to reclaim its lost territory and forging a unitary, decentralized state that, in effect, excludes it. After many casualties and the displacement of 1.5 million people, the reintegration of Donbass in Ukraine is now more or less impossible, and many Ukrainians no longer want it, even if they would not say it out loud.
There is no single solution to this mess, so the best strategy is to keep talking, on two conditions. First, the Ukrainian government must be present. Putin should not be encouraged to treat him like a puppet of the West, because he is not.
Second, the goal should be to make even a minor war unattractive for Putin. He can calculate that he has more to gain and less to lose by threatening Ukraine, rather than invading it. But he’s adept at finding pretexts for smaller acts of aggression, which he brazenly denies committing even as they unfold on the world’s TV screens. As long as Putin is in charge, Russia will remain a danger to its neighbors.
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