Why talk of war when no one knows if Russia would indeed spark one? The key players know the result: a cataclysmic event for Europe and for Russia. But a Russian invasion of Ukraine is certain, says the West led by the US which is merrily beating the drums of a hot-and-cold conflict that is more about the hysteria than actual fighting on the ground or in the air.
The West believes its strategy to prevent the crisis from getting out of control or escalating is by keeping the warning levels high. Shrill diplomacy, some may call it. So when US President Joe Biden stops, British PM Boris Johnson starts; then the baton is handed over by Kamala Harris who is struggling to redeem her vice-presidency. It might work if the other side buys it and backs out. But Russia is not ruling out anything.
It seems like war in Ukraine but it isn’t. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants the West to think that way, his deception keeping them on tenterhooks or in a state of heightened tension which they are passing on to the rest of the world that could face an energy crisis of some proportion if Russia decides to cut natural gas supplies.
Reports say 800,000 Russian troops are massed on the Ukrainian border. Others say some forces are pulling back after drills. The US and Europe, meanwhile, are weaponising warnings about a conflict that might Peter out. Moscow will invade Kyiv is the current line.
US President Joe Biden has threatened sanctions, that favourite economic weapon of choice that has long lost its meaning or potency. But the White House drones on nevertheless, saying there will indeed be a price to pay if Russia does invade Ukraine. Putin, however, has not explicitly said so, at least we don’t know, because he has maintained a stony silence that fits well with his character. Always suspicious. Forever stoic.
What we do know is that he is enjoying this battle of wits with the West. Each diplomatic skirmish is a learning opportunity. He is perfecting the art of keeping them guessing for some concessions that most experts are unsure about.
Truth is, they can’t read the Russian president’s mind and, therefore, cannot predict his actions. Some commentators say Moscow is worried about Kyiv joining Nato, which may be partly true. Others say this standoff is complicated because of US deployment of missiles in Poland — an area of concern for the Kremlin that is again viewing Eastern Europe as arc of influence.
For Putin, this is reminiscent of the Cold War. He prefers a pall of silence as the West does the talking while he moves the pieces on the continent. What’s not working in his favour is that Europe is united in its response. A war could be the beginning of the end of modern civilisation.
Putin knows this, yet wants to see how far he can go, and that mission has been accomplished. For Europe and the US, crying war might just prevent a conflict…unless the Russian president has other ideas. We don’t know. And he’s not telling.
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