Putin Has “Blinked”. Or Winked?

Ukraine and the West did not succumb to the threats of war and Putin got in a
"can't leave, can't stay" situation. Now he is enacting Plan B and this is about Donbass, not Kyiv.

Image by Victoria_Borodinova/ Pixabay.com amended by author

Mr. Putin has "blinked" on February 14.

For months he had been pulling and lining up troops along the Russian-Ukrainian and later Belarusian-Ukrainian borders. He openly threatened Ukraine and the West with some "military-technical response to Western aggression”. He drove himself into a corner by demanding in January 2022 guarantees of Ukraine’s not joining NATO and even the impossible withdrawal of NATO to the borders of 1997. It was undisguised blackmail by warfare, a challenge to the whole world, boldly looking into its eyes. Whoever averts his eyes or blinks is morally weaker, not accepting the challenge and gonna lose. In boxing, it's called “staredown”: two fighters look into each other's' eyes before they have to climb into the ring.

Mr. Putin has no respect for the West. He regards the West as pampered, weak, gutless, divided, too democratic, and incapable of any decisive action. And he's right, because he got away with a lot – annexation of Crimea, Russian military involvement in Donbass, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and many other things …

But not this time.
At the end of January 2022 the collective West has somehow managed to pull itself together and responded to Mr. Putin on all his claims with a strong and unanimous rejection. The first time Mr. Putin has commented publicly about that and the geopolitical crisis he created at a formal meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on February 1.

Then there were a few visits to Moscow made by President of France Emmanuel Macron, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who tried to somehow pacify the Kremlin boss. The Americans regularly published intelligence reports on Putin's plans. White House national security advisor J. Sullivan said that the invasion into Ukraine can happen “any day now” on February 6. In mid-February, many countries asked their citizens to leave Ukraine, and the Americans and several other countries announced that they would evacuate almost all staff from their Embassies in Kyiv. However, despite some panic, Ukraine and the collective West did not meet Putin's demands.

And that's where invincible Mr. Putin has "blinked”.

On February 14, 2022, Russian Foreign Minister Mr. Lavrov has reported to Mr. Putin that there is still room for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

On February 15th morning Russia’s defence ministry announced it would be pulling back some troops from the Ukrainian border. And it does not matter that the Russians have not yet withdrawn their troops. They won't take it completely away.

However, Mr. Putin has “blinked” and everyone saw it. The West, Ukrainians, Russians and Mr. Putin’s cronies.

What will happen next?

The simplest thing that first came to my mind I already had shared on January 22nd:
The sides set out their positions at negotiations, and now someone has to do something or retreat. The collective West will not do anything for sure and there is no reason to retreat yet either. Mr. Putin will have to do something – to attack Ukraine, withdraw troops from the Ukrainian border (which is a “loss of the face”) or "retreat halfway", which is the most probable - for example, the Russians will withdraw half of a 100,000-strong group from the border and then keep on their blackmailing.

On Feb 18 President Biden said Russia would target Kyiv in the coming week, citing US intelligence. It was interesting for me that Mr. Biden refers to intelligence service conclusions since I found out a few days earlier that US intelligence agencies had no idea about deciphering Mr. Putin’s motives.

I think the West as always is wrong about Mr. Putin’s real intentions. There will be no invasion of Ukraine (big one, targeting Kyiv) NOW.

Mr. Putin is only staking everything when he is confident of winning. And NOW the West is very united in helping Ukraine against Russia and is very focused on the problem of a possible war. The West helps by money and arms NOW - even the peaceful Dutch are handing over to Ukraine sniper rifles, radars, helmets… The West will certainly impose tough combined sanctions, etc NOW in case of Russian aggression, which then will take a very long time to remove because of Western bureaucracy.

Putin understands all this and will not confront the West. NOW.

However, he also understands that over time the focus of the collective West will shift from the conflict in Ukraine to something else, including domestic problems. Therefore, strategically he goes in the direction of "NOT NOW". An enough portion of troops will be remained at the borders with Ukraine to keep Ukraine and the collective West in tension for, unfortunately, a long time.

Mr. Putin can afford to wait, although, of course, keeping the army in the field for a long time is expensive and dangerous (it relaxes and decays) pleasure. However, Mr. Putin may well go (and has already gone) on some expenses to satisfy his political ambitions. Now almost 200,000-strong army is concentrated around Ukraine and the forces of 3 Russian fleets are deployed in Mediterranean and Black Sea. The Americans and the British are moving their embassies from Kiev to Lviv, Russians are keeping the army on the Ukrainian border. Everyone pays for their own illusions.

Putin's calculation is based on the fact that in time the collective West will get tired of supporting Ukraine, give it up, and go about its favorite “doing business as usual”. And this will most likely be the case until Mr. Putin steps down (dies, for example) or Ukraine (or Russia) collapses. Both countries have a good chance for that, but Ukraine has a better one.

Now about Plan B.

This is pure tactics and Mr. Putin is considered to be the master of it. His strategy (wrong from my point of view) remains to strangle Ukraine and return it to the source (USSR-Russia).

Putin cannot afford to stoop to a simple withdrawal of some troops. This is weakness and a loss to the West he does not respect, even if it is only temporarily. He must do something to show to the world, the West, his own elites, Ukrainians and Russians that he is the Great, Terrible, and Unpredictable Putin. And such an opportunity exists because it has been prepared by him beforehand.

Donetsk” and “Luhansk” People's Republics are two regions in the eastern part of Ukraine known as Donbass, where Russian-backed separatist forces have been fighting Ukrainian army since 2014. Western mediation produced in 2014 what was to be known as the Minsk Protocol. The Protocol foresaw the reunification of Donbass with Ukraine, but with Kyiv granting the two regions wide-reaching autonomy. An agreement served as the basis for peace efforts that to this day remained unfulfilled. A few years ago Russia has issued passports to hundreds of thousands of Donbass residents, but didn’t recognize the rebel republics. Ukraine calls these territories “temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”.

I think that if Putin decides to invade (and he has to because Ukraine and the West did not succumb to blackmailing by warfare), Russia will bring troops into these two self-declared “Donetsk” and “Luhansk” People's Republics at the east of Ukraine and not in Kyiv. This is plan B.

When? Plan B is already being enacted now.

1. On Feb 15, 2022 Russian Parliament (Duma) has voted to ask President Vladimir Putin to recognize the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics in Ukraine as independent nations. Mr. Putin hasn’t signed that appeal yet, but can do that anytime. Russia's envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said on Feb 15 that Moscow would "respond" if Russian citizens started being killed anywhere, including Donbass.

2. On Feb 18, 2022 “Donetsk” and “Luhansk” People's Republics leaders in eastern Ukraine announced the evacuation of residents of these regions to South-East Russia because of a threat of Kyiv’s military assault and a spike in shelling in the area.

3. Denis Pushilin, a head of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” announced the evacuation in a video posted on social media and named the date of the announcement – Feb 18th. However, file metadata show the post was recorded on Feb, 16th which means the guy had Putin’s schedule in his hands.

4. The number of artillery bombardments has greatly increased in recent days in Donbass. Ukraine and rebel republics trade shelling allegations and Russians are very concerned about that, too.

5. Donetsk and Luhansk are in a mess right now. There are evacuations, explosions (real or staged), reports of gas pipeline damage, etc. Ukraine called on world leaders to condemn the “provocation”.

6. In the meantime, Russian troops are already in Donbass since 2014, which means there can be no failure of bringing in troops (officially) now there, which is something Mr. Putin likes the most.

Thus, the casus belli for an invasion is ready and it is impeccable.
Ukraine is attacking, "people are scared and fleeing from the shelling". Russia can't bear that and enters troops to protect "its" population which already has Russian passports. Who can object to that? Can anyone hinder that - UN, the US, NATO? Ukraine? The Ukrainians are probably not shooting at all. Brilliant combination.

The collective West is now looking at the large number of troops along the Ukrainian borders, but it is a decoration. The West has set itself up for a major war with a takeover of Kiev and knows what it will do in this case. So does Ukraine. However, both will face a quick official entry of Russian troops into the already Russian troops-controlled territory of Donbass. There will be no big war, Mr. Putin doesn’t need it. Russian troops will triumphantly enter Donetsk and Lugansk to protect the Russian-speaking population from aggressive Ukrainian “banderites” and conduct a military parade after.

The collective West comes to its senses, expresses one more "concern" and divides into supporters of “people of Donbass”, their opponents and those who want to sort things out first. No considerable sanctions will be imposed since the Russian troops are present in the region de facto for 8 years and now came to Donbass for a sort of decent reason - to protect the population. It can be called a “peacekeeping mission”. Ukraine will not fight for two rebellious republics since it does not have enough strength. Neither will the West, it has no reason to do so. Putin wins tactically again.

Strategically, Putin will apparently have to annex both self-appointed Ukrainian republics to Russia, and their restoration and maintenance will cost the people of Russia a lot of money later on. Well, that's up to them.

And then what?

Mr. Putin has a choice and can regulate the pressure on Ukraine and the collective West which is so concerned about Ukraine. He will withdraw more or less of the troops to their barracks and leave some along the Ukrainian border to keep on blackmailing Ukraine by war, having Donbass as part of the Russian Federation as well. Such a constant-acting threat of war is in itself worse than any economic sanctions for Ukraine.

Now Ukraine is deprived of access to international financial markets, Ukraine’s currency (hryvnia) is depreciating fast, nearly all private domestic and foreign investments have been ceased, the tourism and business travel industries have ground to a virtual halt… It seems that the threat of a full-scale Russian invasion has already costed Ukraine billions of dollars. A constant-acting threat of war will be a very difficult and perhaps even fatal test for Ukraine.

It is fair to say that the above is the ideal picture to which Mr. Putin will aspire to. However, he has enough problems inside Russia, so life will show how feasible his plans are.

I have to mention the Ukrainian side in this confrontation with Russia.

Ukraine has done everything possible during last 30 years of “independence” to become a victim, having the Russian empire as its neighbor. To this day, the ruling elites lie and rob the country, the people fight each other, get poor and leave the country (only 37 million left out of 50+ million in 1991). The main factor of uniting Ukrainians for 8 last years is a war in Donbas, the main driver of inner reforms still is the IMF, and the national idea is “Putin – khuylo”.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with Mr. Putin - Ukraine really is a "failed state" because in 30 years of "independence" the Ukrainians (not Putin) have completely destroyed their morals and have not created a new statehood. Mr. Putin just reveals that. He came into this world in particular for that purpose.


Update on Feb 21,2022:
Today Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognized 2 Ukraine's breakaway territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, and ordered the deployment of troops for what the Kremlin called "peacekeeping functions".

P.S. Dear Reader! I am very much interested in your opinion on the subject of this article. Please, write a comment or ask a question if you want to clarify something.
Igor Chykalov
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