With the official response to Russia’s security demands having been delivered yesterday, the West is now forced to watch and wait. Russia holds the initiative at present and Moscow is aware of the advantage it holds. The United States, EU and NATO are restricted in what actions they can take now to influence the situation. Everything is dependent on Russia’s next move. Vladimir Putin has before him a wide variety of options to choose from.
On one end of the spectrum there is the option of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This is the most disquieting option of all those available to Putin. The prospect of an overt Russian military operation against Ukraine has captured the imagination and fears of the world. Yet an invasion may not be the most auspicious move for Russia to make at the moment. Although Ukraine’s military is in no condition to halt a combined arms thrust by the Russian military, and the chances of NATO intervening militarily on the side of Ukraine are low, bringing Ukraine back into the fold is not Russia’s primary objective. Putin’s ambitions go far beyond simply reacquiring one former piece of the USSR puzzle. The saber rattling and deliberate rise of tensions are parts of a greater strategy designed to redress and eventually roll back the ramifications of NATO’s eastward expansion. This will not occur overnight or through military action alone and Putin understands this.
Vladimir Putin and his advisers also realize the most expedient way for Russia to achieve its goals is by undermining NATO and exploiting a handful of key alliance vulnerabilities. Such as Germany and its reliance on Russia for natural gas. The benefits of Germany’s awkward position are already becoming evident with Berlin’s reluctance to openly support Ukraine on the same level of its NATO partners. Russia could attempt to exploit this growing rift by increasing the economic pressure on Germany. This is nothing short of blackmail, but it is an effective tool, nevertheless.
There are other effective options Russia could decide to utilize. Unfortunately, my time is short at the moment so I will discuss those on Saturday in Part II. For tomorrow, expect another Ukraine update and perhaps a quick look at the rest of the world.