“Kremlin master Vladimir Putin can’t be crazy! He’s not going to go too far and set everything on fire – Or will he?”
Hope in Putin’s sanity is the cornerstone of Western policy towards Russia – or rather, the fig leaf, obscuring the absence of any policy.
There are several motives and aims (including domestic ones) behind Putin’s current saber-rattling above Ukraine’s head, but the main ones are absolutely clear: intimidation and blackmail — not of Kyiv, which the Kremlin doesn’t see as the main subject in the process, but of Paris and Berlin.
Both are being pressured to force Kyiv to do what the Kremlin has wanted for Donbas since 2014: unconditionally legalize and accept the occupied parts into Ukraine’s political body. It’s the Kremlin’s main way of destroying Ukraine as a state.
If Paris and Berlin fail to force Kyiv, then what?
The Kremlin is short of military strength to launch a full-scale invasion and takeover — at least, quickly, and without suffering major losses. However, air campaigns, missile strikes, and even some local land offensives are entirely possible. As is the annexation of the occupied parts of Donbas, or sending ‘peace-keeping’ forces there and recognizing them as ‘states.’
Why is this possible?
Again, we are coming to the mother of all problems: the absence of unanimous and proactive – not only reactive – Western policy to exhaust and immobilize the Russian dictatorship by means of complex and persistent sanctions. These should target not only the main representatives of the ruling kleptocracy and their money, stolen in Russia and laundered in the West, but also the main sectors of the economy, which are owned and controlled by them.
But underpinning such efforts must be an understanding that the current Russian dictatorship is essentially closed to any kind of negotiations and dialogue. It’s fundamentally incapable of any transformations by itself and will only sink deeper into autocracy and violence.
Of course, there is almost no possibility of such a policy in the foreseeable future. This makes new escalations even larger than the current ones feel inevitable.