On Monday, there were signs of a possible last-minute openness to a diplomatic off-ramp in the Kremlin, but the spectacle of an estimated 130,000 troops on high alert outside Ukraine’s borders
suggested a feint as much as a blink by Putin. Russia announced Tuesday that some of its troops
would return to base after completing recent drills, but stressed that other major military exercises would continue.
In the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, confusion reigned — not for the first time — as President Volodymyr Zelensky,
a young leader facing the highest stakes, sarcastically dismissed Western projections of a possible Russian invasion on February 16. And in contrast with the foreboding signs elsewhere, couples flocked to Kyiv’s bars and restaurants to celebrate Valentine’s Day despite the looming threat of war.
In Washington, the mood music grew even darker. While believing that Putin hasn’t finally made up his mind, multiple officials suggested Russia could move against Ukraine at any moment. And one source familiar with the matter predicted an invasion was more likely this week than not — and said Moscow could maintain its current force posture for quite some time even if it doesn’t cross the border.
There is a palpable sense that Russia and the West have reached a historic fork in the road. Down one route lies a return to the confrontation and tensions that prevailed for decades during the Cold War. Down the other might lie a diplomatic fudge that no key player seems able to frame given stark Russian demands.
A crisis America doesn’t need
At a moment when many Americans are facing rising prices for basic goods and gasoline
and are exhausted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ukraine crisis seems distant and esoteric. But a Russian invasion could force up energy prices even more and rock stock markets, on which many rely for their retirements.
The crisis is largely a creation of Putin and his personal and disputed version of history that holds that Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union until its breakup in 1991
, should be part of greater Russia. It also stems from his deep resentment about how the Cold War ended and the admission of former Warsaw Pact nations, which had been aligned with Soviets, into NATO. In effect, Putin is holding Ukraine hostage with a demand for the withdrawal of those NATO forces from Eastern Europe — a concession that would contradict 70 years of the West’s doctrine that independent nations choose their own destinies.
If America’s long support for democracy and free-market capitalism is to mean anything in a new era when its power and example are being challenged by autocracies like China, it has no alternative but to stand up for Ukraine.
Waiting on Putin
In essence, the world was left wondering and worrying Monday what one man — Putin — will do next. There are plenty of reasons why the Russian leader may step back at the brink. An invasion might swiftly overcome Ukraine’s forces. But the country is bigger than Germany or France and an insurgency — perhaps supported by US weapons and funds — could be a disaster for Russia. The sight of Russian troops being killed could further hurt Putin’s declining popularity. But a…
Read More News: Analysis: A world on edge awaits Putin’s critical move