Will he or won’t he? That’s been the question for weeks as KGB-alumnus-turned-President-for-life Vladimir Putin plays coy over “invading” Ukraine. I phrase it that way as Russian troops have been in eastern Ukraine for years now and Russia is shelling the eastern part of the country this week.
Ukraine post-Cold-War finds itself playing much the role Finland did with the former Soviet Union. If you don’t want an all-out shooting war, you’re going to have to put up with certain indignities from your massive neighbor to east which is bristling with military might. Karelia is never coming back, nor is the Crimea.
(I know, I know. The Soviet Union did invade Finland in 1939 in the Winter War and the Finns did some generally badass stuff on skis and poisoned their wells and did far better than anyone expected so the Soviets had to sort of stop what they were doing before the Germans got too het up over their Swedish iron ore interests. Finland wound up losing 11 percent of its territory but remained independent.)
Russia continues to escalate tension and pretend to throttle it back in Ukraine. This week, Putin stated that the “military exercises” encircling Ukraine had ended, and troops would be demobilized. American and allied intelligence shows that not to be true. As of this writing on Thursday morning, Russia is filing a complaint with the U.N. that Ukraine is abusing the rights of pro-Russian separatists in Donbas, an eastern region.
This just in. The second-ranking U.S. diplomat in Moscow has been expelled. Stakes are being raised.
No one among the Western powers wants a shooting war with Russia. However, it’s clear that appeasement from the West is not on the table. Even Germany, who has much to lose via the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, is standing firm.
So where can Putin go from here? Europe is soundly rejecting him as a strongman. The U.S. will no longer give him the recognition he craves. The only major power remaining is China.
China is a bummer of a partner for Russia. Because Russia wants leverage. And all it really has are raw materials. China is far ahead of Russia economically, technologically, and on par with it militarily. China is just as willing to be ruthless as Russia; this takes away a key component at the negotiating table. With China, Russia will always be seen as a poor relation.
Whether Russia invades Ukraine or not, Putin’s influence in the West is irreparably diminished. A shooting war will be costly in resources and lives. Neither Russia nor Ukraine will come out of it for the better. And the West will condemn the action and possibly shoot back. Is it better to lose face and pull back?
The only sure thing over the current Ukraine conflict is that Putin’s star on the global stage is on the wane. And everything that Putin’s Russia does well—from cyberwarfare, to silencing ethnic minorities, to doping elite athletes, to rapid implementation of the latest military technology—China does better.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.