Staunton, February 2 – Some commentators are suggesting Vladimir Putin launched his latest round of aggression in Ukraine because he has gotten a green light from Donald Trump. Others are opining that Putin doesn’t really want an accord and is demonstrating his power to do what he likes.
And still a third group, egged on by Moscow, has concluded that Ukraine is to blame and has launched a military campaign on its own territory against Russian forces as a way of torpedoing any chance for a broader agreement between Putin and Trump, one in which they fear the West would sell out Ukraine.
But such analyses miss a point that has been repeatedly demonstrated over the past three years and misunderstand Putin’s psychology and at least his perception of what the psychology of the new American president is about such conflicts in the world and how they can best be solved.
And they fail to take seriously the all too real possibility that Putin’s aggression is designed to bring Trump to the table for a deal on Ukraine and a deal on a wide range of other subjects as well, a possibility that Putin’s own spokesmen have shown is precisely what is on the Kremlin leader’s mind.
As “Business Ukraine” reports, Putin launched the latest attacks in Ukraine within hours of his conversation with Trump, sparking conspiracy theories among some and reminding others that Western leaders have always rushed to talk with Moscow whenever there has been an upsurge in violence in Ukraine, hopeful for a settlement even though Russia says it isn’t involved (facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10154069829020764&id=318925220763&substory_index=0)
That pattern reflects the recrudescence of a Congress of Vienna mentality in Moscow. Such thinking holds that great powers like Russia and the US should sort things out concerning smaller countries over the heads of and without the participation of the latter. That noxious idea was advanced again this week by the notorious Andrannik Migranyan (nationalinterest.org/feature/what-russia-expects-the-trump-administration-19269).
Unfortunately such thinking is not confined to Moscow. Indeed, many Western leaders have adopted the same position either out of “realism” or because they have allowed themselves to fall into a trap set by the Russian side. And now Putin clearly thinks that he has in Trump someone who will go even further in pursuit of “a big deal.”
Any doubts that this is exactly what Putin is hoping for were put to rest by his press spokesman Dmitry Peshkov who said the following: “The situation in Ukraine is causing extreme concern. The Ukraine settlement has not been discussed during a [phone] conversation between Putin and Trump, but the need for an early settlement of the Ukrainian crisis was highlighted."
And he continued: "As for the current aggravation on the contact line, I think this is another reason for the early restoration of dialogue and cooperation between Russia and U.S., including in order to "solve the Ukrainian issue," an obvious indication that Moscow wants and expects – Migranyan even used that latter word – a grand bargain.
That it must not happen, that Moscow must not be rewarded for its aggression, should be obvious from the sad history of appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s. But in order that Putin’s plans be blocked so that he won’t simply attack yet another country later in order to maintain his standing at home and boost it abroad, it is important to understand just what he is doing and why.
Fortunately, there is a growing appreciation of this reality in Ukraine. See, for example, the brilliant article by Halya Coynash today which argues that the “Avdiivka Offensive [is] Aimed at Kremlin ‘Dialogue’ with Trump & Undermining Minsk Agreement” (khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1485989554).
But it is critical that this understanding spread to the West and especially now to Washington because Washington not Kyiv is Putin’s real target in his war in Ukraine.