Moscow is using the crisis in Ukraine to secure leverage. Here’s what the West needs to do to counter it.

Ukraine is once again nervously anticipating a big war with Russia.

It’s the second time in the year 2021 that we, in Kiev, have this doomsday feeling as nearly 100,000 Russian troops surround the country. It’s all over the news now. The Kremlin’s warlike rhetoric, the satellite pictures, the maps predicting key attack directions. 

The streets of Ukraine’s capital are calm and busy as usual. But some of us here have already googled “how to get a wartime emergency backpack ready”. 

But this time around — if we put emotions aside — no, a grand invasion is unlikely in the form we expect. 

We shouldn’t forget that Ukraine is a country of 41 million, the size of France. And it has a flawed, though very motivated military. Its civilian population has also proved its ability to form volunteer paramilitaries that fight desperately, wearing nothing but old sneakers and hunting gear. 

Invading, defeating, and swiftly occupying Ukraine for the sake of forcing its political leadership into a political deal would require a massive, multilayered military action equal to the scale of the Iraq War of 2003 or even greater. 

No matter what, Russia is currently not fully capable of achieving such a goal, either economically or politically. And we’re not even talking about all the billions belonging to the Russian elite inner circle in the West that can be easily extorted, or the sanctions that could shutter the Russian economy and make the occupation even more costly. 

The price just does not match the possible prize of conquering Ukraine, to put it simply. Our enemy is evil but not stupid, and it loves its money and its villas in Italy. 

We know this, and they know this.

What is happening in Eastern Europe right now is another giant intimidation campaign — and a pretty effective one at that, as we can see from the latest developments. 

As the previous crisis in April demonstrated, all the fear and all the tension involuntarily caught and spread by the media can become a very powerful tool for securing leverage. In many ways, the spear is, again, pointed at the West, not exactly Ukraine. 

So if it’s not actual war and occupation, what could the Kremlin want? 

Their wish list could be indefinitely long. But there’s one thing that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has voiced loud and clear. Moscow wants a deal with the West on Ukraine. 

On December 1, the Russian leader overtly demanded that NATO assume legal obligations regarding non-extension into Eastern Europe. This automatically means giving the red light to any Ukrainian hopes of joining the Alliance in the foreseeable future, while our country is desperately seeking membership to save itself from the Kremlin’s dark embrace. 

Putin doesn’t want the West to send any military instructors or sell Ukraine any weapons, or establish any sort of military infrastructure in Ukraine. 

He even reportedly issued complaints to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey because of the sale of Bayraktar TB2 attack drone systems to Kiev that had seen their combat debut in Donbas in late October. 

The Kremlin wants Ukraine to be its own, an untouchable part of its sphere of influence — and it is ready to go pretty far in this regard. But, of course, not too far. As powerful as it is, Moscow has to balance its goals and the price it is willing to pay.

But what the Kremlin has achieved with its in-your-face military movements near the Ukrainian border is a high-stakes conversation with US President Joe Biden, who is trying to stop his Russian counterpart from breaking all hell loose on Ukraine. 

In other words, for the first time in years, the Kremlin has managed to resume dialogue with the West regarding Russia’s “red lines” in Eastern Europe, particularly Ukraine, and its exclusive sphere of influence. 

By threatening war, and therefore a giant refugee crisis in the region, Putin welcomes the West to take the easiest route possible and make concessions for the sake of peace and business as usual — again. 

And let’s not forget that yet another sweet child of Moscow — the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project — is currently having a hard time being certified for full-fledged use in Europe as Germany welcomes a new government and a new chancellor. 

Let us admit that the threat of war is too tempting an instrument to avoid, especially when the time is right for Moscow. 

And besides, in many ways, the ongoing war scare in Europe serves the Russian regime well. It’s all about what the Russian audience is currently seeing on their TV screens. The motherland is in danger again, a great war is coming again, brace yourself and stay united behind the national leader. Meanwhile, the Russian economy is plummeting, and Putin is facing yet another presidential campaign in less than two years. 

This works well in Russia’s domestic context, reminiscent of the constant scares of the Cold War. The Russian regime relies heavily on this narrative, and it needs a war — but only on its TV screens. 

So, if the Kremlin keeps successfully overusing this instrument. What can be done in this situation? 

It comes as no surprise that Russia’s most painful spot is the fact that the whole of the Kremlin elite prefers to keep their money, their assets, and their families in the West while robbing their own sorrowful country. 

The prospect of saying goodbye to the Kremlin’s billions in the West is more than an effective tool of not only deterring a major war on Ukraine but also of making the Kremlin think twice before trying to please its ever-increasing ambitions.

Even though the Russian war on Ukraine has continued since 2014, so far we have not seen the West’s readiness to go that far. In many ways, this lack of resolve has led us where we are all now. 

But as fearful as it is, the new situation can be easily illustrated from anyone’s experience from the streets. A street thug is not going to be impressed by one’s desire “not to provoke,” or “to establish an even dialogue,” or “giving diplomacy a chance.” 

What stops a street thug from coming for your purse is the following: the clearly demonstrated ability to meet his assault with a good old punch in the face. 

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Source: TRT World