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I almost feel sorry for Russian President Vladimir Putin. As talks over Ukraine fall flat, Putin is picking a fight he can’t win.
When President Joe Biden gave up Afghanistan, Putin saw a golden opportunity to play hardball with NATO over Ukraine. But NATO isn’t giving in to Putin’s outrageous demands for the alliance to kick out members like Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and others who joined after 1997.
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In theory, that leaves Putin one more move: war. But here are four reasons why the military balance doesn’t look good for a Russian move on Ukraine.
1.Taking Crimea in 2014 and starting a war in the Donbass didn’t work. If Putin’s plan was to draw Ukraine back toward Russia, he failed. Ukraine is looking westward more than ever. The fighting in the separatist eastern sector of Ukraine has claimed nearly 14,000 lives. Ukraine under President Zelensky is determined to preserve its 30 years of independence.
2. Russia does not have control of the airspace over Ukraine and the Black Sea. If you’re planning a ground invasion, that’s a big deal. Russia’s 100,000 forces are spread around Ukraine on three sides and under watch by NATO planes like amoebas in a petri dish. No doubt Putin would like to start with a massive cyberattack on Ukraine as he did to Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008. Times have changed. NATO will see it coming.
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3. NATO’s supreme allied commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, has said Ukraine could kick out Russian forces. NATO military strategy since 2019 has beefed up forces in the Baltics and the Black Sea so that NATO is “very, very vigilant” with a multinational command structure and assistance teams ready to rotate into Ukraine, Wolters told the Senate last year. Wolters said Ukraine’s military could repel the Russians “over time.’’ It wouldn’t be easy, but Putin does not hold the winning hand.
The only thing Putin has done right was to grow Russia’s economy at 7% per year from 1999 to 2008. Push Ukraine, and Russia will end up a pariah, stuck with China and Belarus as its only major trading partners.
4. Putin could end up making NATO bigger and stronger. One move on Ukraine, and Sweden and Finland (which shares an 800-mile border with Russia) will join NATO overnight. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says he’s ready to welcome the Nordic military powerhouses. Putin will be staring at a bristling NATO from the Black Sea to the Arctic Circle.
Bottom line: a Russian military move into Ukraine is a very bad idea.
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“It’s really a very stark choice,” stated U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday night.
Yes, I almost feel sorry for Putin. He’s gone way out on a limb and the chainsaw is roaring.
Don’t forget the financial abyss awaits. Any further invasion of Ukraine will bring down a new round of Iron Curtain of sanctions.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the press on Nov. 26, 2021, ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
Moving on Ukraine will hurt Russia badly. The only thing Putin has done right was to grow Russia’s economy at 7% per year from 1999 to 2008. Push Ukraine, and Russia will end up a pariah, stuck with China and Belarus as its only major trading partners. Russia’s tiny, low-growth economy can’t take it.
The Atlantic Council found post-Crimea sanctions since 2014 have already cost Russia up to 1.5 percentage points of economic growth per year. Sure, Europe will have to reroute some energy supplies. But the economic pain will snap back on Russia, too, since Europe buys over half of Russia’s petroleum export products. Of course, Putin can forget his dreams of high-tech investment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking at an extended meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board in Moscow on Dec. 21, 2021. (Sergey Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Everyone knows Russians are tough. Putin’s parents lived through the siege of Leningrad from 1941-1944, tragically losing a young son to disease, years before Putin was born.
Now Putin’s on course to make Russia a vassal state of China. All because of his personal paranoia about NATO and missile defense.
Russia is a historic nation and cultural icon, stuck once again with a delusional leader. Let’s hope NATO hangs tough and Putin backs off on Ukraine.
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Rebecca Grant is a national security analyst based in Washington, D.C. She earned her Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics at age 25 then worked for RAND and on the staff of the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Since founding IRIS Independent Research, she has specialized in research for government and aerospace industry clients ranging from analysis of military campaigns to projects on major technology acqusition such as the B-21 bomber. Follow her on Twitter at @rebeccagrantdc