Thursday, February 17, 2022

Trying To Make Sense Of The Confusion

 On the one hand Russian media is telling Russians that Russian troops will leave Belarus when exercises there end on Feb., 20, coinciding with the end of the Winter Olympics, and also sends out videos of troops supposedly being pulled back. OTOH, US officials declared based on reported satellite evidence that 7,000 more troops have gone to "the Ukrainian border" with a chance of Russia invading Ukraine very high, as US personnel are removed, and the US embassy is moved from Kyiv to L'viv in far western Ukraine.  I also  note that previously Russian media was blasting away about US troops in Ukraine and threats to Belarus and Russia.  US advisers were removed last weekend, and that coincided with the pivot to peaceful sounding media in Russia, although much of this is also tied to ongoing focus on the Winter Olympics, where the Russians have generally been doing very well. Can any sense be made of these apparent contradictions? Maybe

The video of Russian troops being withdrawn were shown crossing the bridge Putin has had built connecting Crimea with Russia proper, so not quite on the Ukrainian border and not in Belarus, but also emphasixing Russian intention to hang on to Crimea, with the newly built bridge connecting it to Russia peoper highlighted.

I do think that given how loudly it has been broadcast to the Russian people, Russian troops will largely be withdrawn from Belarus when the exercises end on Feb. 20.  They posed the greatest threat to Kyiv itself, if there were to be an invasion, with Kyiv not too far from the Balarusan border.  But while pulling back troops from Belarus may make Kyiv a bit more secure, it in fact does not remove the threat of a possible invasion .  There are about 159,000 Russian troops somewhere near the Ukrainian border supposedly, with where the new 7000 went not clear. But there are only about 35,000 Russian troops in Belarus for the exercises. So they could be withdrawn completely and there would still be well over 100,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, with the Russia-Ukraine border much longer than the Belarus-Ukraine one, even if the latter is nearer Kyiv.

David Ignatius has written that "it is unclear what Putin's endgame is," and I fully agree.  I do not know.  He has made many demands, while always stating he was not going to invade. Some of those demands always looked out of the question, such as pulling troops and weapons out of former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact members now in NATO.  But his ongoing demand about keeping Ukraine out of NATO remains on the table, and there remains the ongoing matter of the status of the separatist republics in Donbas. I do not know what he will accept to not engage in some sort of military action later with the troops still near Ukraine, even after he pulls out of Belarus, if he does.

Zelensky ran on having a referendum on joining NATO. But without resolution of the Donbas republics issue, he cannot have that in a serious way. And he has recently said that "joining NATO may be just a dream." But that may not satisfy Putin.

As for the republics themselves, the lower Duma has passed a bill recognizing them as independent states, and has urged Putin to do it, as he has in the past for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transniestria, although almost nobody else recognized any of those.  He has held back so far on recognizing Lunansk and Donetsk. But perhaps doing that and bolstering them more, with perhaps helping them increase their territories, along with other agreements on types and placements of various arms in eastern Europe.  But, again, I do not know what Putin really wants, or maybe we know what he wants, a resurrection of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. But that is not going to happen. So, we are back to how much of what he wants will he be willing to take if he can get it to really pull back, not just from the exercises in Belarus. To that, I do not know the answer.

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

i am sanguine about prospects for getting out of here without some level of 'warfare'.

too many allusions to munich.... more rheinland (there were no foreign weapons and the police were german in rheinland) or maybe germany "annexing" austria.

but in observing the russia dispositions, w/o obvious "concentration" and relatively small force with little observed fuel/beans build up; Lee's sep 1862 campaign in to maryland comes to mind. sharpsburg/antietem battle. diplomatic/political objectives!

there is no lincoln nor mcclellan opposing the russian plan. and russian forces likely cannot forage this late from last harvests. and mud season is a few weeks away!

russia goes in limited objective, attrite some of the offensive weapons recently sent to ukraine and get a larger deal from the eu...

i am thinking there will be an engagement. how close to serious depends on how close anyone want to get to nukes flying. russia whether putin is nuts or a crook is being closed in!

a red line may have been breached.

would biden trade berlin for kiev?

or we can let hillaries spying on trump take over the news cycle.

2slugbaits said...

It's always possible that Putin's objectives have changed over time. Initially he may have had some wet dreams of a full-on invasion of Ukraine and replacing its leadership with a puppet government. But now he might be content just trying to make the US look like the boy who cried wolf, which could be useful if Putin decides to try a future invasion.

Anonymous said...

The bridge connecting Crimea to Russia 'proper'...nicely stated!

Anonymous said...

Putin is an "immediate opportunist"--follows his experience in judo (take the moment). Not sure there ever was a long-term plan under his watch, and he has lucked out with less than stellar Western leaders and high price of oil under his watch. To the extent there are any plans, they are: 1) Guard his wealth and that of loyal allies (who could turn on him), 2) keep the EU (not just NATO) away from Russia's borders. SO I suspect he himself, and those around him, don't know what to do.

One thing that seems to be clarifying: this was another immediate opportunistic move that has backfired. He is in a weak position at home (hence increasing authoritarianism, which is not enamoring him to his people and is a sign of weakness of his position and of his capacity to control the state). He can't retire to his wealth because he might suffer the same fate as his previous opponents (kompromat). He thought he could push Biden and the West, but now they are pushing back seriously for the first time under Putin's rule. A war, including taking land for the "land bridge," would be suicidal. The most he could do is recognize and absorb Donbass, but even this would hurt his position and image.

And the "US cried wolf too many times" won't work. This is a win-win strategy for Biden: either he is proven right (invasion) or he can crow that he made Putin back down (withdrawal). And I suspect Putin knows this. I'm betting that behind closed doors there is a lot of frustration that Biden has been playing this game of announcing possible Russian moves ahead of time to put the Kremlin on the back foot.

The best way out would be to step back and admit that there were miscalculations and misinformation, and throw someone from the inner circle under the bus to show he is sincere (which he is not). Blame someone else (the Trump maneuver). I doubt he will take this path--it would show he is not the strongman in charge, an image he has cultivated too much.

Russia needs "circulation of the elites" at this point, but I doubt that will happen any time soon.

Anonymous said...

One other thing. Taking Crimea and Donbass didn't lead to Ukraine falling apart--it reinforced Ukrainian national feeling. Putin did what Ukrainian leaders on their own failed to do since 1991: create the foundations for a post-Soviet Ukrainian nation.

Which leads to the next question: To what extent are his actions now actually speeding up Western aid to Ukraine, including NATO membership? Before this crisis, NATO did not want Ukraine in its ranks--too much of a headache. Maybe supplying some arms and advisors, but that's about it. Now we see that Putin et al, twice in around a year, have mobilized Russia's army against Ukraine. At some point NATO and the EU might decide, "Enough, let's let Ukraine into the club." Far fetched, I know, but I wonder if this will shift the calculus in Brussels. If the status quo is yearly tension with the Russian army moving forces towards the border, maybe the time has come to strengthen ties with Ukraine and change the calculus in Moscow.

Whether this is a wise move is a different story, and I'm not predicting this will happen. But might it?

Anonymous said...

peoples' gas, oil and electric bills are the problem. spent all evening listening to the 'bill payer'. she just said it again!

biden being tough on putin is wasted, diversion.

fix the usa.

and the world oil 'crisis' is sanctions on iran and venezuela, and opec don't trust the west to grow their economies (which seems to be a good bet) and won't throw out more crude until it is obvious the adults are in charge.

Anonymous said...

It's not either-or--either we get some security, or they (Ukrainians) get some security. That's far too selfish and too parochial (whether leftist or right-wing). said...

BTW, in Russia people much more worked up over the Olympic figure skating scandals and upsets involving the Russian skaters than any of this stuff involving Ukraine, which is basically old news, if getting a bit more hyped up now. It remains official Putin line that they are not invading, even as they are publicizing a lot of this false flag stuff out of the Donbas republics. But those republics are old news. Most Russians do not care about them and oppose fully invading Ukraine.

Anonymous said...

Clearly staged Security Council meeting, where participants looked unhappy.

Rambling and bizarre 50-minute speech that cannot be called close to historical reality., Russian troops going into the "contested regions."

Putin wants to put his own demons at ease. He is still the little street punk who bowed to the bullies and became a bully himself, who is opportunistic but unable to play political chess, trying to shore up his own sense of self-esteem. And everybody else is too scared to admit they backed a bad horse.

Anonymous said...


Care to make any comments about the EU and US sanctions against Russia? Forget Britain's, their patsies so far.