The tense situation between Russia and the West continues unabated. Although Russia and Vladimir Putin have repeatedly rejected the alleged plans to invade Ukraine, the truth is that the Russians have positioned themselves militarily with more than 100,000 soldiers on the border with the former Soviet country.
Last week, US authorities leaked information about a possible February 16 invasion earlier this week. But the invasion has not yet happened.
The United States and NATO continue on the same path and say that an invasion could happen at any time. Some voices claim that Putin has gone too far and has pushed himself into a corner.
The online newspaper interviewed a Russian expert from NUPI and the former Norwegian defense minister, asking them if Putin had an exit strategy.
Does Putin really have an exit strategy?
I think exit strategy is the wrong word to use. I think Russia and the Kremlin will say what they have already said in plain text. They want to pressure the West to take into account the demands of the security guarantees that Russia provided in December. The Kremlin has now said that NATO and the West have not met these demands, and that they then have to implement “military technical measures,” Julie Wilhelmsen, a Russia expert and senior researcher at NUPI, tells Netavizen.
– Now the Kremlin seems to be very strict. They are usually not willing to take risks without reason. But for now, I think they realize that there is a lot at stake, and they have accumulated rhetoric as if the very existence of Russia was at stake. Wilhelmsen says they are ready to use military technical measures.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked what military technical measures meant, and then replied with “military materiel”. Military equipment can range from establishing military bases closer to the border with Europe, increasing the military presence in eastern Ukraine to deploying nuclear missiles. It says it covers the entire military spectrum.
Putin knows that will never happen
Former defense chief and retired general Safir Diesen, now a researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI), does not believe the conflict will end with a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
– Does Putin really have an exit strategy, and if so, what is the design?
– That’s the big question. It is natural to think that Putin knew in advance that the West and NATO would reject the demands he first made. It would be the western side to relinquish sovereignty and allow Russia to dictate its sphere of influence in Europe. Dessen told Netavizin that it is reasonable to believe that Putin never believed that these demands would be met.
Then the question: What does he intend to use this refusal he saw coming? He must have had an idea about this. I don’t think he would use that as an excuse to invade Ukraine. It would be very costly, said the former defense minister, both politically and financially.
So what is his exit strategy? He could, of course, say: “I have now categorically terrorized the West, so it will be a long time before anyone will dare accept Ukraine’s membership in NATO, although they said that it is possible in principle.” But Putin is well aware that Ukraine will never join NATO. He knows full well that NATO does not want to violate the principle that each country decides whether it wants membership. But this is not the same as what NATO is considering including Ukraine or Georgia as members. Putin knows very well that this will never happen. If that was the goal, he’d never have to start this whole circus to avoid it, he says.
– If this is not Putin’s intention either, Putin may be intending to use this in domestic politics. He can tell his people that he has put an end to Ukraine’s membership in NATO because NATO does not dare to do so after settling with Russia. There are many Russians who don’t understand the difference that NATO doesn’t want to meet the requirements that sovereign nations decide they want for NATO membership themselves, and that NATO won’t actually take Ukraine as a member, says Dessen.
Claims denied by Russia
- In December last year, Russia made a number of shifting demands on NATO and the West, also listing drafts of any new security agreements. The subject of revision in the requirements is that NATO should not continue its eastward expansion into the countries of the former Soviet Union.
- Russia is also asking NATO to issue an official statement that Ukraine can become a member of the alliance in the long term. In 2008, NATO, led by the United States, opened the door for Georgia and Ukraine to become long-term members.
- However, France and Germany questioned this statement at the time. The West has responded and rejected Russia’s most important demands.
Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus?
Wilhelmsen points to some examples of the kind of “military technical measures” that Russia could implement. It refers, among other things, to a statement issued by the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin and his regime.
Lukashenko said yesterday that he is ready to place Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil. It is a typical martial art movement. A few days ago, Russia’s State Duma asked Putin to recognize the breakaway regions of Lugansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as independent republics. If he did, Russia could fictitiously deploy soldiers and weapons in eastern Ukraine at the invitation of the breakaway republics. It could be another military technical move, Wilhelmsen says.
Diesen does not rule out the threat to deploy nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil as a possible part of Putin’s exit strategy.
It is one of the opportunities that Putin should get out of this without looking like defeating his prestige. Then he could use the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons to enforce disarmament control or a disarmament agreement that Russia could take advantage of. The only reason Russia was previously willing to enter into disarmament agreements is that the basics cannot afford a nuclear or conventional arms race. On the other hand, he could only refrain from breaching the INF, Diesen says.
Read also: Putin: – Of course we don’t want a war
Diesen refers to the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty), which was concluded between the United States and Russia during the Cold War. The agreement bans America and Russia from deploying ground-based, intermediate-range and nuclear missiles, but Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin formally withdrew from the agreement in 2019.
He will pressure the West to enter into a compromise
Wilhelmsen believes that Russia realizes that the West and NATO will not meet all the demands that have been made.
– But for me who has read the Russian speech for a long time, Russia now insists and is ready to threaten by all means at its disposal to pressure the West to reach a compromise on issues such as Ukraine’s membership in NATO, the construction of NATO forces along the eastern border or the deployment of offensive weapons in Europe . I don’t know if the invasion was a military-technical move they would take, because it is customary to “play Putin” choosing something else when Western intelligence specifically classifies it, she says.
The NUPI researcher says it is difficult to say how much concessions, from the West and NATO, should satisfy Russia.
– But it is clear that what was stated in the response of NATO and the West was not enough. But she says that I believe that military assistance to Ukraine in NATO and NATO to Ukraine is a red line.
Putin may have miscalculated
Diesen says the possibility of Putin committing a serious miscalculation cannot be ruled out.
Another possibility is that Putin made his calculations wrong, and that he already believed that the West would agree to such an arrangement as long as it was saber-rattling enough. Then he put himself in the corner. But is a motivated politician like Putin likely to make such a mistake? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a head of state made such a mistake. It’s happened before. The thing with authoritarian leaders like Putin, is that in the end they surround themselves with yes people who never present counter-perceptions. In such a climate, it is conceivable to make a serious error in assessment. This means that what he does now is improvisation and he keeps doing it to see if there are any opportunities available, he says.
The disappointment in Ukraine can be great
Wilhelmsen also says that the massive and visible support of the West and NATO for Ukraine is not necessarily as real as one gets.
One of the future problems in the West’s relationship with Ukraine is that NATO is unlikely to invite Ukraine into membership, and that this rhetoric that NATO and the West support Ukraine is not real. It is not realistic for NATO countries to send their soldiers to die on Ukrainian soil in a war against Russia, as the speech suggests. The disappointment in Ukraine can be great, says Wilhelmsen.
It is really unlikely that Europeans would want to respond to a possible Russian deployment of nuclear missiles that threaten Europe with the deployment of many US nuclear weapons. Then Europe could become a target for Russian missiles in the construction phase, where the basic security of European countries plays a role, something they are not interested in risking for Ukraine’s sake, she said.
You can have more escalation between the US and Russia with Europe on the scene, which is frightening, says Wilhelmsen.
The American discourse may be directed at the West
The United States and NATO are making strong statements that Russia may consider implementing concrete measures in stages as a pretext to attack Ukraine. Diesen says the US is also using the rhetoric for what it deserves in the ongoing conflict.
What are the Americans’ ideas for portraying it as if war could break out at any time? I don’t think for a moment that the American believes in it himself. This rhetoric may be directed at the domestic market here in the West, that Europe should begin to realize that Russia is no joke, that Europeans should spend more on defense and stand more united. It could be an American idea. Another motivation might be to send a signal to the Russians that the United States is taking this very seriously, and that they should not think that they have greater room for maneuver than it really is, says Diesen.
It’s no secret that President Joe Biden, not just Donald Trump, believes other NATO members spend too little on defense.
“Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer.”