Checkmate. Putin cornered the West


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Tensions are now at their highest level since 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea and sent “little green men” to Ukraine’s Donbass region. A total land invasion of Ukraine is now a real possibility.

But let’s face it. Putin doesn’t care much about threats from the West, sitting as he does in the enviable position of being able to take the lead.

Europe is in the throes of an energy crisis with low reserves. And with Russia providing some 40% of gas imports from the European Union, the Kremlin has already shown its ability to quell the West’s toughest sanctions by limiting production and potentially triggering blackouts across the continent.

Putin’s final phase is USSR 2.0, almost 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its next actions come at a delicate geopolitical moment, with Western fears of an invasion of Ukraine, the colonization of Belarus, a European-wide energy crisis, the resignation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as negotiator chief of the EU and concerns about the messy foreign policy of US President Joe Biden. .

If you have any doubts about Putin’s plans to go back, just read his essay of more than 5,000 words on why Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are doomed without closer integration with Mother Russia. Or his bold demands on Friday for a veto over who joins the NATO alliance and limits on the stationing of troops and weapons in any country that joined the alliance after 1997.

Without firing a shot, Putin has managed to plunge the West into a collective panic – or at least into a position where he feels the need to appease the aging autocrat.

Over the past four months, and in particular between September 7 and December 5 according to Western intelligence sources cited by CNN, Putin has amassed tens of thousands of troops and heavy weapons 50 kilometers from the borders of the United States. Ukraine. US intelligence reports suggest an accumulation of up to 175,000 troops, enough to stage a swift and immediate incursion.
Another land grab would be added to the territory seized in 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Crimea and sent Russian-backed fighters to Ukraine’s heavily industrialized eastern Donbas region.

With so much force, Putin could aim for a land bridge between Russia proper and Crimea – an initiative that could be designed in part to free up water resources stranded by Ukraine in the North Crimean Canal, which once represented up to 85% of the peninsula’s water needs.

The Kremlin’s actions were not limited to Ukraine. Russia has engaged in a hybrid war with the West, including hacking one of the largest pipelines in the United States, spreading misinformation about coronavirus vaccines, interfere in the US elections, and neutralize opponents on foreign soil.

More recently, Putin has opened another front with the West by establishing a military alliance with the man often dubbed “Europe’s last dictator,” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Emboldened by Kremlin support, Lukashenko acted with impunity by imprisoning opponents, forcing a downing of a Ryanair plane with a political opponent on board and sending migrants to its border with EU neighbors.

Yet as late as Thursday, EU leaders reacted to Putin’s intimidating and intimidating tactics by trying to push him towards the negotiating table. This could be a sign that the bloc fears that even if it approves new tough sanctions on Russia in the event of an invasion, Putin could respond by curbing gas production.

Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist and security service expert, told me the country is already heavily sanctioned and targeted Russian companies have been effectively vaccinated with lucrative defense and intelligence contracts. .

Russia likely saw the impact of 2018 Western harshness sanctions against Iran and calculated that it can withstand punitive measures even if it means a suspension of the international payment system SWIFT.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Russia and China pledged this week to work jointly on a closed trading network that would reduce reliance on the international financial system and limit transactions in U.S. currencies.

Putin laments the collapse of the Soviet Union, says he was a moonlit taxi driver to survive the economic crisis

At home, Putin wields state power through fear and cohesion – primarily by banning civil society groups, imprisoning prominent opponents, and threatening Russian nationals who work for foreign embassies.

What are the tools that remain in the West’s diplomatic toolbox? Depressing little. But some options remain: ban Russians from travel, block those multi-million dollar real estate deals that have turned London and Miami into playgrounds for wealthy Russians – or even order the immediate expulsion of Russian nationals from Western countries. In other words, whatever it takes unless there is a direct military conflict.

Obviously, the video chats with Biden and threats from European leaders to “serious consequences” will not deter Putin. With an invasion of Ukraine looming, the West must clarify the pain that awaits Putin if he decides to take his next step.

The appearance of lack of determination, whether in diplomacy, on the battlefield, or on the chessboard, is never a winning strategy.

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