Kelly McParland: Why would Putin invade Ukraine when he's already won?
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Canada, Britain discussing Russia sanctions if it invades…
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Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has maintained he has “no intention” of sending his massed troops across the border. Few believe his assertion — intentions being easily changed — but perhaps they should. He’s already succeeded in once again humiliating his Western counterparts and winning just about everything he wanted, so why bother invading?
Provided by National Post Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, on Feb. 4, 2022.
The storyline on the crisis since November, when satellite photos spotted
Russia’s troop buildup, has been that Putin is using the military to back his demand for concessions from Western powers in the NATO alliance. If NATO, and especially the U.S., don’t comply, and proceed with their threat of increased sanctions, Putin will retaliate by shutting off Europe’s heating supply. Let the southern bast–ds freeze in the dark, to borrow a Western Canadian expression.
But we’re into February and winter doesn’t last forever, though admittedly it does tend to linger longer in Moscow than Berlin. The invasion hasn’t happened, the sanctions haven’t been imposed, and in a few more weeks the turmoil Putin could cause by closing the gas spigot would be materially lessened by the advent of warmer weather. Moscow’s leverage won’t end, of course, but if your plan is to impose pain, surely you want to time it to maximize the impact.
Putin’s failure to do so lends support to an alternative interpretation of the confrontation that has attracted little attention amid all the bellicosity and chest-thumping. There have been repeated complaints, not least from Ukraine’s government, that the frenzy gripping Western capitals once again underestimated Putin and was making the situation worse rather than better.
“Do not believe the apocalyptic predictions,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded just
this Sunday, insisting Ukraine understands what Moscow is up to and “is ready for any development.”
His remarks echoed a January complaint
from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the level of rhetoric emanating from Washington. “They keep supporting this theme, this topic,’’ he said after another outburst of alarm about Russia’s intentions. “And they make it as acute and burning as possible. In my opinion, this is a mistake.”
It would seem self-evident that Ukrainians, with centuries of experience in conflicts with Russia and decades as part of the Soviet Union, have a better grasp of its character than authorities in Washington, London or other capitals lacking the depth and intensity of its relationship. It may strike the Pentagon that positioning 100,000 troops — now reportedly up to 130,000 — on the edge of a country already engulfed in a proxy war could mean only one thing. But if the world has learned anything from Putin’s two decades in power, it’s that he is far more adept and deceptive a figure than the one former president George W. Bush discerned
when he looked into Putin’s eyes and thought he saw his “soul.” Video: Bernard-Henri Levy: Putin's presence on Ukraine border an 'incredible' act of war (FOX News)
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Bernard-Henri Levy: Putin's presence on Ukraine border an 'incredible' act of war
Regimes in Russia and China have had great success in outwitting the West since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet empire convinced democratic powers their worries on that front were over. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping got together last week to celebrate their successes, releasing an extraordinary 5,300-word statement
in which they boasted of their “long-standing traditions of democracy” and forecast a “redistribution of power in the world.”
“The new inter-State relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliance of the Cold War era,” they assert. “Friendship between the two States has no limits. There are no ‘forbidden’ areas of co-operation.”
Rhetoric is easy and hubris is dangerous, but there’s little question that Western governments have long underestimated the threat those two countries represent, and have been irresponsibly slow in responding. As it is, Putin has achieved much of what he hoped to gain by sending his troops to intimidate Kyiv. Moscow is once again being taken seriously as a world power, one not to be discounted or ignored. Ukraine has been put on notice that Russia will not tolerate serious attempts to align itself more closely with NATO or European powers, and while NATO may dismiss demands it pledge never to offer membership to Ukraine, it’s not likely to do so now or in any part of the future in which Putin remains a figure to reckon with.
Germany’s status as Europe’s dominant country has been hurt by increased awareness of the extent it has linked its economy to Russian whims. Its humbling will only be increased should it conclude that Moscow’s temporary benevolence in keeping the gas flowing justifies approval of Nord Stream 2, a second pipeline
that has already been completed and which would seriously deepen its dependence. In sending troops to Belarus and Kazakhstan, Putin has made clear that Moscow still sees them
as satellites within a Russian sphere of influence — the joint statement with China uses the term “common adjacent regions” — even if Washington rejects the notion as a Cold War relic. He’s also demonstrated there are still plenty of despots out there happy to have Moscow help keep them in power.
If nothing else, the Ukraine crisis has made it impossible for NATO and its members to continue misjudging the threat. The Wall Street Journal reports
that a flood of weaponry has been pouring into Ukraine from the U.S., U.K., Poland, Turkey and other powers. Washington has also sent troops to Poland, Romania and Germany, with more on the way. (Canada continues to do its best to minimize its global stature; Ottawa’s contribution consists of a training mission, some defensive equipment and the equivalent of a Hallmark card offering its best wishes).
Kyiv has expressed appreciation for the arms, but anyone paying attention should understand that neither Moscow nor Beijing has had to fire a shot to gain so much ground on Western security, and that preventing them from accumulating more will require far more vigilance, initiative and leadership than has been shown to date.