WASHINGTON – When it comes to assessing the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is a big geopolitical divide. You United Statesalong with its usual foreign policy ally, the United Kingdomwarned that Russian troops gathered on the border of Ukraine suggest that Moscow could start a major conflict on European soil. But even with that risk, some nearby European countries remain skeptical.
Germany has been particularly resistant to prevailing thinking in Washington and London. So far, Berlin ruled out the supply of weapons for the defense of Ukraine. the planes of British Royal Air Force they even avoided German airspace when they went to deliver anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, taking a longer route over the North Sea and the Denmark.
There are many reasons for the split, but a fundamental difference is in terms of opinions regarding the Russian president and his intentions, according to Liana FixRussia specialist Körber Foundation from Berlin. Many in Europe think that Vladimir Putin he’s bluffing, she said.
“In Europe, the perception is that the Russia is intensifying the military threat to win concessions,” Liana, currently participating in a Washington research project in the German Marshall Fund. “While here the perception seems to be that military escalation is perhaps the most likely path forward.”
The stark difference was evident in the comments of the head of the Navy of the Germany on Friday, who asked a panel of think tanks in New Delhi whether they thought Russia was interested in having a “small, tiny swath of Ukrainian soil” under its control. “No, that’s nonsense,” said the vice admiral. Kay-Achim Schönbachbefore adding that “Putin is probably putting pressure on us because he can do this.”
Western countries must respond by giving the Russian leader the respect he craves – and deserves – the German navy leader continued. Schönbach resigned on Saturday after international protests.
Opinions like these are not the exception you might think. There are many officials and experts who believe that Russia is not seeking conflict and that its military build-up is a ploy to force concessions from the West. However, there is disagreement as to whether their demands, which include an end to the eastern expansion of the military alliance of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)must be met.
Historian and military strategist Edward Luttwak wrote in twitter last week that Putin was “bluffing” about Ukraine, as invading the country would start a war that the country “cannot afford to fight”.
“Invading the largest country in Europe with less than 200,000 troops would not end the crisis in a victorious way for Russia,” Luttwak wrote, adding that even if no European country sends troops, “they will send weapons.”
Russia has already surprised everyone and started major international attacks previously with Putin – in Chechnya in 1999at Georgia in 2008at Syria in 2015 and even not so covertly in breakaway regions of Ukraine since 2014 – and still frequently engages in lesser international acts. But a full-scale invasion of a huge country – which borders European Unionis well supplied with weapons from the West and has a largely hostile population – perhaps a very different proposition.
Russian officials speak of US ‘hysteria’ in Ukraine case
Russian officials took full advantage of this uncertainty, accusing the US and its allies of “hysteria” on Monday. Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said last week that Russia would not take any aggressive steps. “We will not attack or invade Ukraine,” he told Russian media. And some European officials seem to have doubts about the US and UK reports as well.
Speaking after the meeting with the US Secretary of State, Antony BlinkenIn Brussels, the European Union’s top foreign policy official said countries need to avoid a “nervous breakdown” in their reactions to the situation. “We know very well the degree of threats and the way in which we must react and, without a doubt, we must avoid alarmist reactions,” he said. Josep Borrell on Monday.
But others believe just the opposite: that it is the offers of diplomacy, not the threat of war, that are the real bluff. In a text for the website War on the Rocks on Monday, Michael Kofman argued that Russia’s demands simply could not be met by the US and its NATO allies.
“By publicizing its demands and refusing to break them down into possibilities that might lead to an agreement, Russia has made its diplomatic effort seem more performative than real,” wrote Kofman, director of the Russian studies program at the CNA think tank, also adding: “Maybe Moscow is just trying to see what it can achieve indirectly, but the political demands don’t align with the military side of the equation.”
In December, US officials said they were seeing signs that Russia was preparing for a military offensive against Ukraine involving up to 175 thousand soldiers. Since then, troops have been seen moving around the neighboring Belarus. The UK has warned of Russian plans to install a pro-Moscow government in Kiev. “While we cannot read President Putin’s mind, we are seeing the preparations they are making at the border,” said the White House press secretary, Jen Psakiat a press conference on Monday, 24.
Despite denying that it is planning any military action, Russia has made a series of unilateral demands that would prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and, in effect, limit the group’s forces to the borders of the 1997 military bloc, before its eastward expansion. . The country has worked out deals for the US and NATO, with Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov saying on Monday that the requirements were not a restaurant menu from which to choose. For many, the scope of these proposed agreements suggests a lack of seriousness.
“Few serious negotiations begin with one side writing, let alone publishing, an entire agreement,” he recently wrote. Michael McFaulformer US Ambassador to Moscow, for the post, also saying that Putin appeared not to be negotiating, but giving an ultimatum. “And ultimatums, as we know from history, are often pretexts for annexation or war.”
How Putin now intends to get out of the diplomatic tangle
Bluffs are there to be used. That could put Putin in the position of being the man who gambled all and walked away from the table with nothing. Is he really willing to let that happen?
“By backing off the military escalation, Putin would risk being accused of failing to achieve serious concessions on Ukraine or NATO. He would be seen as a man who talks a lot and threatens, but when faced with an unyielding response from the other side, he ends up backing off,” the British historian wrote. Timothy Ash to Atlantic Council this week.
Others also agree with the perspective. Fiona Hill, who previously served as a Russia expert at the US National Security Council of the former president Donald Trump, told much the same thing to Puck News, saying Putin believes he can get concessions from Biden, as he cares more about Ukraine than Trump does. “If we say he’s bluffing, he’s going to have to do something, because otherwise none of his threats are credible,” Fiona said.
Even the top US leader apparently believes this. “My hunch is that he will advance. He has to do something,” Biden said during a press conference last week. And the question of credibility arises from both sides.
“The President of the United States will not be blackmailed,” said the Democrat. Ro Khanna in an interview with CNN this weekend. “If he accepted that, every other country would start trying to blackmail the president.”
If an attack does happen, those who thought Putin was bluffing would be wrong. Historically, countries like Germany had hoped that better economic integration and dialogue with Russia would ensure peaceful relations. As Liana said: “This is a litmus test for Germany’s strategy towards Russia.”
* Journalist, writes about foreign affairs for the Washington Post