Updated January 11, 2022
The analysis in the article below, updated on December 31, 2021, appears to be confirmed by Russian statements following the bilateral U.S.-Russian meeting in Geneva on January 10, 2022.
Anton Troianovski, “Putin’s Next Move on Ukraine Is a Mystery. Just the Way He Likes It; The contradictory, sometimes menacing messages from the Kremlin have stumped Western officials and Russia experts, showing the Russian leader’s desire to keep his rivals on edge,” New York Times, January 11, 2022 (5:06 p.m.)
Updated December 31, 2021
1) Robyn Dixon and Paul Sonne, “Putin warns Biden of ‘complete rupture’ in relations if sanctions proceed; Russia’s president spoke in a 50-minute phone call with Biden amid U.S. fears that Moscow may once again invade Ukraine, Wahington Post, December 30, 2021 (updated at 7:32 p.m. EST);
2) David E. Sanger and Andrew E. Kramer, “Putin Warns Biden of ‘Complete Rupture’ of U.S.-Russia Relationship Over Ukraine; President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke with President Biden for 50 minutes about the escalating crisis with Ukraine, but his intentions remained unclear,” New York Times, December 30, 2021;
3) Andrew E. Kramer, “Russian Foreign Minister Levels New Warning on Ukraine; Sergey V. Lavrov accused the United States and its allies of stoking a conflict in the country’s east in comments that contrasted with a more positive tone coming from Moscow,” New York Times, December 31, 2021.
4) Christoph B. Schiltz, “‘Nichts wird über uns entschieden, ohne dass wir dabei sind’; Vor den Verhandlungen zwischen Washington und Moskau über die Ukraine zeigt der EU-Außenbeauftragte Josep Borrell wenig Verständnis für Putins Forderungen nach Sicherheitsgarantien. Die EU will bei den Gesprächen mit am Tisch sitzen und einen neuen Punkt auf die Tagesordnung heben,” Die Welt, den 29. Dezember 2021.
For a broad historical perspective, see,
5) Robert Tombs, “Like in 1914 or 1939, we may be sleepwalking towards a global war that nothing can stop; There are lessons from previous conflicts that could prevent another from starting, but they are not all reassuring ones,” The Telegraph, December 31, 2021 (8:00pm).
In his telephone conversation with President Joe Biden on Thursday, December 30, 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly expressed great urgency for action by the U.S. and NATO to accede to his demands for security arrangements that would prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO, and also limit NATO activities in eastern European countries.
The fact that he has made demands that he surely knows–unless he’s gone over the edge–are totally unacceptable to the U.S. and NATO, coupled with his urgent insistence that they be accepted immediately, suggests that he is leaning toward invading Ukraine.
The most logical move would be to seize the territory between the Russian-installed and supported puppet regimes in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces (the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas) and the Russian-occupied Crimea. This would help ensure an overland supply route to the Crimea and the Russian Black Sea fleet.
Russia could claim a quick victory in the South, which conceivably could help Putin climb down from his “all or nothing” approach in his urgent demands for Western concessions. Otherwise, the prospect would be for a long and drawn-out war in the Ukraine.
Putin threatened nuclear war in 2014, which caused Barack Obama to blink. The head of RT (Russian Television) has made similar threats in the past few weeks.
Putin is a dangerous man, who probably feels very confident he can win a showdown with Joe Biden.
Biden has made a huge mistake by taking the use of military force in response to a Russian invasion off the table. In doing so, he seems to have been speaking to a domestic audience.
Biden and the U.S. appear to be making another critical mistake, by assuming that all that is involved in Russia’s decision whether or not to invade Ukraine is a rational calculus of costs and benefits made by a unitary actor or a single rational mind, that of Putin. This is what is known among political scientists as “the Rational Actor Fallacy”. In the real world government actions are also determined by organizational routines and processes, and the interplay of bureaucratic forces and leaders in a continuous struggle for power and influence.
One final observation is of critical importance here. The U.S. and NATO and Ukraine enjoy a massive advantage in the realm of international law and U.N. Charter provisions governing the maintenance of international peace and securiy.
Biden should be raising Russia’s threatened aggression against Ukraine in the United Nations Security Council and in the General Assembly. The current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N lacks both the experience and the stature to lead such an effort. Biden should put together a strong team to assist her and to lead the effort.
A one-on-one negotiation with Russia (e.g., in Geneva) plays to Putin’s advantage. Biden should expand the negotiations into multilateral fora, as he has already begun to do with meetings scheduled in the NATO-Russia Council and in the OSCE (which is monitoring the ceasefire in the Donbas). These efforts should be expanded to include the United Nations, leveraging the fact that what Putin is doing violates the most fundamental norms of international law and the U.N. Charter.
The Trenchant Observer