The Russians have in recent weeks begun rattling their sabres once again on Ukraine’s borders. Large movements of troops and military hardware have been spotted massing on Ukraine’s eastern borders as well as in Crimea. Russian media and official government spokespersons have been voicing menacing threats, usually centred around imagined or manufactured “aggressive” actions by the Ukrainian forces along the demarcation lines. No doubt more devious plots are being hatched to stage provocations to justify Russian troops moving into Ukrainian territory to break the stalemate that has been in place since 2014.
Of course, this is all part of Russia’s and Putin’s hybrid war and disinformation campaign and could be the prelude to a potential new offensive aimed at seizing new ground as well as relieving the severe water shortage crisis in Crimea. Historically, most of Crimea’s water came from mainland Ukraine via a canal from the Dnipro River. This was cut-off after Russia’s seizure of Crimea, and Russia has been struggling ever since with little success to provide adequate water supplies to the Crimean citizenry. For the Russians, the most obvious solution would be to seize more ground north of Crimea and along the coast of the Sea of Azov. They could then re-open the canal or create a land link with mainland Russia along the Black Sea coast and install a new water pipeline.
What Putin may be beginning to realize is that his foray into Ukraine has been a disaster and if things don’t change for the better, Russia’s economic well-being as well as Putin’s one-man rule will both be in serious jeopardy. The cost of Putin’s military adventurism in Ukraine, Georgia, Syria and other places has put a huge strain on Russia’s economy, not only to sustain his aggressive policies, but to withstand the ever-increasing sanctions being imposed on Russia by the rest of the free world.
Internal dissent in Russia is increasing as the average Russian becomes ever more impoverished, while the controlling oligarchic elite enrich themselves shamelessly. The younger generations of Russians are not prepared to support the corrupt and chauvinistic shenanigans of Russia’s leadership the way previous generations did. Russia, once an economic global power, has now sunk to 59th place in the world in terms of GDP per capita. Technologically, scientifically and industrially, Russia is falling further and further behind Europe, the Americas, the Far East and the rest of the developed world. It is turning into a “third world” country, albeit with a large military and nuclear weapons.
This is hardly surprising as no one would ever consider Putin to be an expert in economics or world trade. The only thing Putin is really good at is power politics and rapacious imperialism. He has no ideology or political platform other than to stay in power at whatever the cost. There is no moral or ethical underpinnings to his actions. He has a psychopathic mind-set, incapable of dealing with reality. War, suffering, death, destruction, murder and assassination are all acceptable in his distorted ethos, so long as his aims and goals are being achieved. Despite his public assertions about the superiority of Russian society, he treats his fellow Russians with contempt, and does not hesitate to sacrifice their lives and well-being to achieve his geo-political ends.
I believe that all the recent maneuverings of military forces on Ukraine’s borders is Putin testing the waters before he decides to risk a more direct invasion of Ukraine. In particular, he wants to know how serious the U.S., NATO and Europe’s support of Ukraine is before he makes the next move. Back in 2014, Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the Donbas elicited little direct action aside from cliché condemnatory rhetoric from the rest of the world, and Putin is obviously hoping that the same would hold true with any new Russian aggression.
So far, the U.S. and other leading free-world countries have expressed strong verbal support of Ukraine, but it remains to be seen what that would translate into in case of another attack. Would they intervene directly with their own troops? Would they provide advance military equipment and supplies to the Ukrainian forces? Would they provide Ukraine with access to the sophisticated surveillance and intelligence technology that they have? Would they expand on sanctions and effectively isolate Russia economically from the rest of the world? No doubt, this is what Putin is considering as he tries to decide what he will do next.
In the meantime, the free world needs to do more than just provide verbal assurances to Ukraine. The leaders of the free world must personally contact Putin and ensure that he understands that there would be real, dire and specific consequences if he dares to attack. The U.S. and NATO should send some of their powerful naval forces on patrol into the Black Sea and let the Russians know they are ready to provide tangible support to Ukraine if necessary. Above all, they must draw a real “line in the sand” and make clear to Putin that crossing it would spell the end of him and his regime.