From Putin’s Bluff to Putin’s Invasion

The following is the passage in the post that triggered a discussion and debate that resulted in more than 1000 views and 144 comments:

“Putin knows that Russia cannot survive a war with the United States with the backing and support of NATO.

The ultimatum should read something like this:

Invade Ukraine and we will wipe Russia off the face of the earth. And then, come after YOU!”

Putin’s Bluff

Putin’s basic claim — that there is no historical Ukrainian nation worthy of present-day sovereignty — is demonstrably false

In reality, these countries have longstanding ethnonational identities distinct from Russia. But Putin does not accept this, treating the former Soviet republics — and, above all, Ukraine — as parts of Russia stolen from the motherland as a result of communist machinations.

He believes that Ukraine is an illegitimate country that exists on land that’s historically and rightfully Russian: “Ukraine actually never had stable traditions of real statehood,” as he puts it.

Simply reducing Russia’s motivation to one clear grievance — fear that Ukraine may join NATO or a simple aggressive desire to seize Ukrainian land — is a mistake.

Putin cannot see post-Soviet Ukraine as a real country; in his view, it has no real history nor national tradition to unite it. Instead, he sees it as a playground for oligarchs who deploy anti-Russian demagoguery as a smokescreen for their corruption. “

It is simply incorrect to say that Ukraine has no independent national identity separate from Russia. Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, was built centuries before Moscow. At the end of World War I, Ukraine declared independence from Russia; it was put back under Soviet rule by force.

It is not merely manipulation by elites that led people in former Soviet republics, from Estonia to Ukraine to Georgia, to attempt to exit Moscow’s orbit in the 1990s — it was real anger with Soviet repression and colonialism. And it’s Putin’s behavior, not some kind of elite Ukrainian manipulation, that has driven up support among Ukrainians for a tighter link with the West.

Stephen Sestanovich, a former US diplomat who worked on Russia issues, argued that “Putin’s focus is less the European security order and more a kind of obsession with Ukraine as an illegitimate state that makes it almost impossible to imagine serious negotiations.” He agreed that Putin may not escalate much further in Ukraine, but that’s because the West had called his bluff( There’s that word again.)  by refusing to grant any major security concessions

Kadri Liik, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, claimed that Putin’s revanchist nationalism was at odds with the Russian public.

“A real large-scale war for Ukraine would be hugely unpopular,” she said. It “would be the beginning of the end of Putin’s rule, and I think he might know that.”

There is no straight line from Putin’s bluff to Putin’s invasion or to any one particular course of action.

The basic difficulty in analyzing the all-out invasion of Ukraine — that Putin’s bluff and his preparation for an invasion looked extremely similar — remains in place even after his deployment of invasion forces to Ukraine has begun in earnest.

The reconciliation of Putin’s articulation of the Russian history of victimhood and grievance and his autocratic leadership of the world’s foremost kleptocracy can occur only in the greedy thuggishness and sick delusional  criminal mind of an individual like Vladimir Putin.

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