By Paul Goble
Moscow’s open movement of forces toward the Ukrainian border this spring was intended to achieve three goals, but because it was never intended as the beginning of a thrust that would lead to a major war between Russia and the West, Vladimir Putin failed to achieve any of his three goals regarding Ukraine this time around, Jerzy Targalski says.
In 2014, Putin used stealth to advance Russian forces toward and into Ukrainian territory; but this time, the Polish defense analyst says, he flaunted what he was doing in the expectation that such a display of force would be sufficient to achieve his goals. It wasn’t and he didn’t (polskieradio.pl/397/7836/Artykul/2725777,Политолог-об-эскалации-ситуации-на-границе-с-Украиной-Путин-проиграл-на-всех-фронтах).
First of all, Putin wanted to use his actions as a test of the new US president and to find out whether Joe Biden would support Ukraine or cave. Washington didn’t cave. In fact, Biden’s proposal for a meeting with Putin, while the Kremlin leader may have welcomed it at one level, worked very much against Russia’s plans.
It significantly strengthened the position of Ukraine, Targalski says, because it meant that talks about Ukraine were going to involve the US and the UK facing off against Russia rather than France and Germany who would likely be more willing to compromise with whatever Moscow wants.
Second, Putin wanted to force Kyiv to agree to the Steinmeyer plan for elections in the Donbass. Such elections, in which Russian citizens would vote and the OSCE would supervise, would in Putin’s plan lead to the reincorporation of the Donbass into Ukraine but as an entity more loyal to and controlled by Moscow.
That would have weakened Ukraine beyond recognition. And because his bluff didn’t work and the Americans didn’t back down, Kyiv continues to refuse to consider such an arrangement, a second defeat for the Kremlin in this round, the Polish security and defense analyst continues.
And third, Putin had as his goal the sowing of fear and panic among Ukrainians in the hope that they would force Kyiv to accept Moscow’s conditions in order to avoid a major war. But buoyed by Western support, the Ukrainians organized to resist so that Putin and his associates would know that any invasion would cost him dearly.
“I consider,” Tagalski says, “that Putin lost on all three fronts.” Had Putin been prepared for a major war, he might have been willing to pay such a price. But it is clear that he “does not intend to set off a full-scale war now.” Hence when his bluff failed, he pulled back, yet another defeat but not one he planned for.