Vladimir Putin has been repeatedly warned that an invasion of Ukraine would have dire consequences. Yes it would...for Ukraine. Putin could care less. He is taking back what he feels was taken from him...
When Russian troops and tanks crossed the border with Ukraine in 2014, Western leaders put out a public relations brushfire: They warned that any Russian intervention would be unacceptable and that Vladimir Putin would pay dearly for an invasion.
The Kremlin's reply looks to have come in 2022 with a likely blunt force full-scale invasion on Ukrainian soil. For months now (and likely longer), Russia has been reinforcing its 'small' military presence on the Ukrainian border in to a massive one in it's bid to put the local population under effective occupation control.
Now there are reports of what appear to be even larger deployments along the border of Ukraine and Belarus. Russia is reportedly sending heavy weapons and battle tanks to put itself in position for a likely strike on Kiev.
By now, we know that statements that Putin made during the 2015 Minsk II talks with Ukraine and Belarus leaders were just empty promises. The Kremlin's war games exercises put its troops and weaponry on full alert and ready to go at a moments notice.
Separating Fact from Fiction about Russia
The United States and the European Union have sharply condemned Russia's actions as usual. The White House has put heavy pressure on Mr. Putin to step back, warning that any invasion in to Ukraine might lead Congress to rescind the trade deals it recently approved and other 'heavy' sanctions.
Russia's defense minister has repeatedly suggested that there was no need for an invasion of Ukraine because Russian troops were already there, reinforcing their positions within Crimea.
Well, uh...they did.
After more than two years of watching Putin's slow-motion invasion of Ukraine on steroids, Western leaders are no closer today to somehow halting Russian aggression.
Today, Crimea is part of Russia while separatists are doing their best in the Donbass region of Ukraine to put a wedge between the local population and their own government.
Putin Intends to Finish What He Started
Russia already has 100,000 plus soldiers along the border, so why is Kiev so vulnerable to a Crimea-style annexation?
The answer lies in the power and weakness of militias. The troops who invaded Crimea — wearing unmarked military uniforms — were indeed Russian soldiers; but they also at times put on civilian garb, which helped them blend into the population and prevented any one person or unit from giving away their true identity or location.
This allowed for plausible deniability, something that Mr. Putin relishes because it gives him an advantage over his rivals - he can better avoid responsibility while at the same time creating doubt about what exactly happened. "It's like wrestling in mud. The one who takes the other down is covered with mud too."
Putin has now put his troops on combat alert and ordered them to conduct exercises near Ukraine's borders. When this deployment started, Russian military commanders had put tight restrictions on what their soldiers may do when they are not yet fully deployed in Ukrainian territory. Now it appears they don't care how it looks.
"We are not waging any kind of warfare," said Konstantin Sivkov, director of the Geostrategic Foundation for Advancing Strategic Nuclear Forces, a nationalist think tank that promotes the interests of Russia's military forces. "Putin does not want that at all."
What Mr. Sivkov means is that the Kremlin has put a stop to the "provocative" activities, like careless chatter or even too much drinking, which soldiers along Russia's borders used to enjoy.
Commanders had put a tight lid on any signs of insubordination among both regular and conscripted troops for fear that they might give away Moscow's secret deployments in eastern Ukraine.
Putin is Not Scared by NATO
Putin appears confident that the West will not put up much resistance. With Russian forces already arrayed at Ukraine's border, he knows he can unleash them quickly.
In Crimea, it only took about four weeks from the time Parliament granted him authority to use force until his troops invaded, giving NATO little to no time to react. This allowed him to put his soldiers in place just as the Olympic Games were ending.
In 2015, Russia could have put its troops into eastern Ukraine under the guise of a "peacekeeping" operation. Such a move would've allowed Moscow to keep all its cards close to its vest, disguising its intentions and even location of deployments from Western intelligence services.
If NATO had tried to respond militarily, Mr. Putin could have put his forces on combat alert and claim that they were only conducting exercises or training missions along their borders with Ukraine.
Now it doesn't matter.
In this context, southeastern Ukraine is already an occupied country. All it needs now is for Moscow's agents to put their "little green men" into official positions of power, just as they did in Crimea.
From the looks on it, that is exactly what Mr. Putin has in mind . He wants to put his people in place so he can quickly deploy them when he decides to invade Ukraine.
With the West's hands tied and having no balls, Mr. Putin knows he can act with impunity and go ahead with whatever mischief...aka a full-scale invasion if he chooses with little consequences.
The Reality of a War Between Russia and Ukraine
Despite Russia's best attempts to invade Ukraine and take over the country quickly, a full conflict would be ugly.
The Ukrainians have some Russians, especially in the east, who support Moscow's claim to a Russia/Ukraine.
But Russian support would begin to fade if Russian authority was imposed on Ukraine at gunpoint.
The Russians do not want war, and the Ukrainian Russians are even more strongly opposed to it.
But Putin is another story...when he feels his country has been stolen from him.
[Image Credit: Valery Tenevoy (used with permission)]