Staunton, March 19 – The tradition of Russian leaders to launch “a good little war” to shore up support at home and Moscow’s recent media campaign suggesting that the Ukrainian leadership facing problems at home plans to attack the Donbass has led some in Moscow and the West to suggest that Vladimir Putin will soon initiate such a conflict, Aleksandr Zhelenin says.
But both because the situation in the world and in Russia’s neighbors has changed and because the costs of such a conflict, especially as it would likely grow into a major war, are so high that no leader as calculating and Putin is would risk starting a war five months before Duma elections, the Rosbalt commentator aruges (rosbalt.ru/world/2021/03/19/1892689.html).
Indeed, if one considers whom Moscow might attack and what that would almost certainly lead to both on the field of battle and among the hard-pressed Russian population at one, he argues, “one would have to be completely insane to decide on such a step” at the very least anytime this year.
Indeed, the very reasons some say the Kremlin might consider such a step – demographic collapse, mass impoverishment and unemployment, and rising protest attitudes among Russians – are all reasons to think that neither Putin nor those around him are going to take such a step which likely would make all of these things worse.
These conditions might tempt some around Putin to think that they could reverse the situation as they did briefly by their Anschluss of Crimea in 2014. But they certainly recognize as well that “the world surrounding Russia has changed.” And that raises the question as to just whom Moscow could attack.
The Baltic states are out given that they are members of NATO with its Article Five and that Western leaders as US President Joe Biden’s recent remark shows have taken the measure of Putin and aren’t going to roll over if he attacks members of the Western alliance. Those who think otherwise are kidding themselves.
That leaves Ukraine as the only possible target. But Ukraine in 2021 is not Ukraine in 2014. Its military is larger, better equipped and led, and most important is formed by soldiers who know who the enemy is and is backed by the population. Seven years ago, there was confusion and uncertainty among Ukrainians. Now, there isn’t.
“Of course,” Zhelenin says, “the Russian army outnumbers the Ukrainian one, but the possible size of losses if a full-scale war begins would be unacceptable for the Russian leadership, especially in a year of parliamentary elections.” There isn’t going to be a “small” war, and no one wants a large one either.
Putin achieved what he did in 2014 because he surprised his opponents. There is no chance that he would be able to do so again; and he and those around him know it. Indeed, up to now, Putin has never launched an attack without being confident that he would immediately gain the upper hand. With Ukraine now, “there is no such certainty.”
The Kremlin leader could send enough forces into Ukraine to win the battle there; but given the price he would pay at home among Russians furious about his expensive adventurism at a time of domestic stringency, it would hardly be worth it. And that price would only be higher because the West almost certainly would back Kyiv against any new Russian aggression.
Window on Eurasia — New Series