Putin does not need to invade Ukraine to get what he wants. He’s already won.
For weeks running into months now, the Russian president has kept NATO countries on edge, all waiting to see what his next move will be, all ready to drop everything and whizz into diplomatic meetings like dogs waiting to be fed. This is precisely the spectre of importance that a leader like Putin craves and manifests the importance he promised to bring to Russia on the international stage. And if the price for achieving all that is sitting on the Ukrainian border with 170,000 troops at the ready, why not?
After all, let’s not forget that past aggressive ventures did not exactly result in all negative repercussions for Vladimir Putin. Because while Russia was penalised, to a certain extent, for Crimea, he also gained the traction he needed with achieving the Minsk agreements, which guaranteed autonomy for Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine.
Again, this he achieved without using a single shell. And now, upon showing a level of threat more significant than anything seen in half a century, his punishment is a Europe in deadlock, all eager to receive him into the European diplomatic family, as if to thank him for not engulfing Ukraine.
Until 10 weeks ago, NATO countries were entirely dismissive of demands to engage on matters concerning medium-range missile installations, for example. They are now willing to discuss them.
Until 10 weeks ago, NATO countries outright rejected demands that ex-soviet republics be disallowed from joining the alliance and that troops retreat to pre-1997 levels. This is still the case, but the US has now been pushed into presenting proposal after proposal, with Moscow simply sitting back and waiting for the offers to land on their table.
And all this ‘progress’ has been achieved without removing a single armoured vehicle from the border. So why would Putin start to retreat now? Clearly, the troop build-up has launched his country into the international spotlight, placed every world leader on his table, given him previously unconceivable concessions (as small as they may be), and created political tensions between its neighbouring European countries.
He has also proven something important. The ball has been in NATOs field for ages now, and it has barely moved. No western country wants to get involved in a military conflict with Russia, and NATO is definitely in no rush to let such a vulnerable country in. After all, why would they?
Ukraine’s membership in NATO would mean that the Western powers must intervene if an attack on Ukraine is launched. The infamous Article 5 would guarantee them protection. Without it, though, they aren’t obligated to do anything really, and whatever they do can be seen as a generous donation by a benevolent patron rather than a compulsory transaction forced by a legally binding treaty.
In fact, not much has been done in terms of military assistance beyond purely aesthetic. Surrounding countries have been reinforced, the equipment has been sent, but all is peanuts compared to a red sea of 130,000 troops. The allied nations are not prepared for armed conflict, which was not proven before Putin mounted this significant threat. Well, now it is. Even if all Russian units retreated by the morning, nothing would make Ukraine forget that after all the talk and smiles, a country like Germany sent but 5,000 helmets and a passive-aggressive tone loaded with potential sanctions – not too impressive.
Even when it comes to the US, naturally seen as the foremost defenders against a potential Russian offensive, we don’t see much willingness to respond. Shy of a full-scale invasion taking place, not much would tip the US into intervening, both with economic penalties and with a military response.
And when they threatened to cut Russia off from the global Swift banking system, Germany had to intervene because they still wanted to pay Russia for its gas supplies. And just in case you think they’re working on reducing their dependence on those gas supplies, they are not. In fact, Germany has shut down three nuclear power reactors, further increasing its demand for Russian gas.
So who really is winning? A Russian autocrat who’s once again taking what he wants just by sitting at Ukraine’s border, or a fracturing west that has once more found itself paralysed by internal conflict and begging the eastern mirage to step down?
All that Putin has found in his path up till now is sanctions. A threat of sanctions, at that. But Russia had faced sanctions when it annexed Crimea 8 years ago. It faced sanctions after the Salisbury poisonings 4 years ago, and its dodged boycott after petty boycott from the evermore theoretical western bloc.
Of course, many arguments could be put forward as to why Russia is not nearly as strong as it wants to make itself seem and that all this is simply a hollow effort by a country that finds itself crumbling in almost any other facet of its existence. But that doesn’t matter for now, and allied nations are at fault, at least in part.
Germany has spent decades making itself the economic centre of Europe and a political heavyweight without which the content cannot function. So, now that Germany has found itself compromised with the bribe of natural gas, even the very notion of a unified Europe is suffering blow after blow.
So who will stop Putin from gaining control of Ukraine? Most probably no one, but Putin himself. He currently holds the power of centre-stage, and whatever the next move is, we can be sure that it will be the most likely one to exploit the confused rabble to his west.
Written by: Gianluca Vella
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