Rasmussen Reports recently published a poll that asked Americans if they are anxious about the massive Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border. The results were clear: 79% of those surveyed are concerned the threat is real and that Russia is poised to launch an offensive against Ukraine. Respondents also had plenty to say about the 46th president of the United States.
Fifty-four percent of those polled “believe that, in his dealings with Russia, [President Joe] Biden is less aggressive than most recent presidents in pushing what’s best for America,” according to Rasmussen. An estimated 100,000 Russian soldiers have been sent to the Ukrainian border. Thus, the question arises, if an invasion is not Russian President Vladimir Putin’s purpose, what does the menacing presence of his troops accomplish?
To answer this and provide some perspective on the topic, I’ve asked Liberty Nation’s Military Affairs Correspondent Dave Patterson for his insights.
Leesa K. Donner – Dave, to most people, you don’t send 100,000 soldiers to the border of another country for any reason other than to invade it. So, let’s begin with the most obvious question. In your opinion, do you believe Vladimir Putin is ready to launch a military action against Ukraine?
Dave Patterson – The simple answer, Leesa, is no. It’s not that President Putin would not like to invade and make Ukraine part of “Mother Russia.” But the cost for him is just too high right now. NATO and the U.S. have made two threats that have the Kremlin’s attention: first, stopping the operation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and, second, prohibiting Russia from using the SWIFT electronic financial system that allows international business transactions.
LKD – Fair enough, but I’m going to make you defend this perspective with a bit of wargaming here. So just to play Devil’s advocate, let’s say Putin throws caution to the wind and invades Ukraine. For instance, how long does his offensive last, and what will be the immediate U.S. response? Tease this out for us militarily.
DP – If Putin were to invade, if his previous behavior is any indication, he would probably send his regular Russian forces into eastern Ukraine, referred to as the Donbas region. Currently, that area is held by Russian-backed Ukraine separatists, who engage in periodic skirmishes with Ukraine military forces. As in 2014, the pretext will be that he is protecting Russians, who are the predominant ethnic group in the area, as was the case with the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The E.U., NATO, and the U.S. would see that move requiring a proportional response that would likely involve sanctions, but not the full weight of canceling the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline, or the SWIFT system expulsion. Russia would incrementally invade Ukraine. It worked before.
LKD – According to the New York Post, “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the pipeline as a powerful geopolitical weapon for Russia.” Many a pundit has made the case that Russia is unlikely to suffer a fuel shortage, and currently, nothing is flowing through the Nord Stream 2. So, what does the Biden administration hope to accomplish with its threat to stop a pipeline that European and German regulators haven’t even given their consent to?
DP – Consider that Russia’s gross domestic product of $1.5 trillion is roughly the same size as that of Texas at $1.6 trillion and slightly more than half the size of California at $2.7 trillion. Yet it is trying to compete with the U.S. at $20.9 trillion in weapons development and fielding. Russia has only one product for sale — petroleum, natural gas — and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is the principal means by which it can increase exports to Europe. Russia currently supplies 43% of Europe’s natural gas and wants to provide more. Nord Stream 2 has the capacity to move 55 billion metric meters of natural gas and will allow Russian exports to grow; otherwise, they will remain stagnant.
LKD – I think what has so many Americans believing that Putin may throw caution to the wind and cross the proverbial Rubicon with Ukraine is the presence of Joe Biden in the Oval Office. When will he ever get another leader that he is likely to best in a stare-down contest than Mr. Biden? In other words, if he’s ever going to go for it, now is as good a time – and perhaps better – than any in the foreseeable future. Your final thoughts, Dave?
DP – I suppose that Putin might do exactly what your question suggests; there is a case to be made. But why? Putin can get everything he wants without the dangerous and expensive adventure of invading Ukraine. He got two telephone meetings with Biden, the president of the most powerful nation in the world. He got a new opportunity to negotiate with not just the United States but NATO and the E.U., and to air his grievances on a global platform. He got the U.S. to talk about deploying as well as not deploying intermediate range missiles near Russia’s borders, a subject that only Moscow thinks is germane. He got a Russia-versus-the West geopolitical discussion to include the Nord Stream 2 pipeline tied up in German regulators’ red tape. But, most important, Putin got China to walk onto the stage singing the Kremlin’s praises as a beleaguered victim standing up to NATO, E.U., and U.S. bullying and threatening Mother Russia, who only wants to ensure that her borders are secure, who only wants assurances that ethnic Russians in their adopted countries will not be oppressed. The Biden administration was played like Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances on a Stradivarius. All Putin had to do was successfully get his message to his audience. And he did.