There has been a great deal of discussion in the media lately about what the West will do if Russia launches an invasion of Ukraine. But, as has been pointed out on the podcast, Ukraine Without Hype (12/10/21), Russia has already invaded Ukraine.
The United States and the members of the G7 have threatened “massive consequences” if this current military and support structure build-up on the border with Ukraine turns into yet another full scale invasion by Russia, but what those consequences might be, has not been specified.
It is difficult to imagine Biden approving a military defense of Ukraine just after he orchestrated a disastrous unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan. Putin is well aware of this.
And, a number of commentators are arguing that invading Ukraine now would be much less costly and risky than waiting until some future date. Putin has made it crystal clear in an article published last summer that the Russian government considers Ukraine part of Russia, not an independent country.
The Russian kleptocratic autocracy is working overtime to ideologically legitimate an invasion of Ukraine. In Putin’s article (described on MSNBC as a “letter from an abusive spouse”) he clearly appeals to Russian nationalism, arguing that Ukraine as a separate entity is a fiction imposed on people who did not see themselves as Ukrainian. This “Ukrainization” by the leaders of modern Ukraine and their “external patrons,” is a “tragedy” and “forced assimilation” and is “comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against” Russia.
In an article published by the Atlantic Council, it is argued that in order to maintain the loyalty of elites and the population Putin has found it effective to engage in “small victorious wars.” These distract from the fact that the Russian economy has barely grown since 2014. Small wars are profitable and also whip up the nationalism of Russians.
The five-day war in Georgia in August of 2008, was a great popular success in Russia. For the first time ever Putin’s popularity figures reached 88%. Also popular was Putin’s seizure and annexation of Crimea. Once again Putin’s popularity rose.
Whatever the goal, actual invasion or mere threat, Putin already has some of what he wants, the West negotiating over the status of Ukraine in a way that would have been unthinkable in the past.