Staunton, Dec. 4 – The Russian and Western analytic communities are almost unanimous that Vladimir Putin’s placement for the second time in less than a year of 100,000 plus Russian troops on the western border of the Russian Federation presages a new Moscow move against Ukraine, Pavel Luzin says.
But there are at least three other reasons why the Kremlin leader may have placed them there. First, he has forced the West and especially the United States to pay attention to him. Like the North Korean dictator, he takes actions to attract attention and force his opponents to speak with him (ridl.io/ru/voennaja-trevoga-2021-goda/).
Second, such actions are a useful distraction for the Russian people and especially for members of the Russian elite from the intractable problems Russia now suffers from. They suggest to both that the Putin regime is still capable of action even if it is not action that benefits them directly.
And third – and this may be the most important neglected possibility of all – Putin may be planning a military move against Belarus. Putting troops where he has allows for that possibility and absorbing Belarus has been much higher longer on Putin’s priority list than getting involved in a major war in Ukraine with the inevitable Western response.
In support of that argument, Luzin says that the thing Putin most fears in the case of Ukraine has not come to pass. Ukraine has not made itself into an attractive “anti-Russia,” and so he has no compelling reason to move against it now, especially if even more Western sanctions are a certainty if he does.
Moving against Belarus, however, is a different matter. The West would be unlikely to respond as harshly. Indeed, it might even welcome at least privately a move that removed from office the man who in most Western capitals is still mistakenly referred to as “the last dictator in Europe.”
Putin has shown himself a master of misdirection in the past. Western analysts should at least be alive to the possibility that he may do so again.