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I have to admit I Googled the plot of the 1997 movie “Wag the Dog” before I started writing this. It’s a dark comedy about a US president facing a sex scandal whose staff invented a completely fictitious war in the Balkans to gain media attention elsewhere. But sex scandals are not the style of the Biden administration.
Still, something odd is certainly going on. In just two weeks, a full-scale panic over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sold to Western media, and normally sane journalists and analysts are talking about war – with Russia, of all places. .
Okay, if you read the fine print, they are actually saying that the Russians are going to invade Ukraine and that the United States and its NATO allies will NOT fight to stop them. Ukraine is not part of NATO and it will unfortunately have to see it collapse. But they will be very, very angry, and they will punish the hell out of Russia. So the!
This story of Russian forces massing at Ukraine’s borders for an invasion first appeared in US intelligence circles in mid-November. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky realized that this could mean more American weapons for Ukraine, and soon he and his people sang from the same score.
The 92,000 Russian troops who are now believed to be near the Ukrainian border are really not a very impressive number, considering the Ukrainian military is 255,000 strong, but the same US intelligence sources say the Russians plan to increase the number on the Ukrainian border at 175,000 soldiers. in January and go for it. How do they know it? Sorry, it’s a secret.
Stop focusing on numbers. If an invasion was truly scheduled for January, forces could be anywhere in the vast expanse of Russia right now and still show up in time for next month’s holiday. All additional Russian troops “near” Ukraine are now there as a symbol, not as part of a military plan.
This is historical symbolism and stereotypes, and the dominant stereotype in Putin’s mind is the fact that virtually everyone on the “A” list of potential world conquerors has invaded Russia, from the Horde of Gold (Mongols) to Napoleon via Hitler. This sort of thing is bound to leave a mark.
Putin, like any educated Russian, therefore feels uncomfortable with the way NATO has come closer and closer to Russia. The military border with NATO was a “safe” 1,500 km. west of Moscow during the Cold War, but subsequently moved.
When some of the former Soviet “satellites” from Eastern Europe joined NATO in 1999, it brought NATO forces within 800 km. from the western border of Russia. Then the West-backed nonviolent overthrow of the pro-Russian Ukrainian president for the second time in 2014 created the possibility that Ukraine itself could join NATO as well.
Moscow is only a six-hour drive from the E101 highway from the northern border of Ukraine (although tanks take a little longer). NATO has been sufficiently aware of Russian sensitivity on this matter not to invite Ukraine to join, but the prospect weighs heavily on Putin’s mind.
Putin therefore wants a written promise that Ukraine will never join the Western alliance. NATO countries would never allow it anyway, precisely because there is a risk that it could drag them into war with Russia, but Biden does not want to put it in writing.
Both men are at an age where a fundamental change of mind is unlikely. On the other hand, as Cold War veterans, they both understand that Russia and the United States must never do anything that risks drawing them into direct military conflict.
This is the best possible guarantee that this nonsense will not end badly. If you want another, it’s that the ensuing Western sanctions would really cripple the Russian economy. They could even undermine Putin’s still significant popularity in Russia itself. There can be all kinds of threatening gestures, but Russia is not invading Ukraine.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based freelance journalist whose comments are published in 45 countries.