From Russia, with Love

No doubt you have been wondering: Just how well-connected is this guy? Whence comes his trenchant analysis, insightful reportage and other good stuff? Well, I can tell you this much: even my sources have sources. Beyond that, I could not say. Secrecy and discretion are all. I hope you are suitably impressed.

Or if not impressed, amused. A smile is important even in harsh times. Or especially then. This should be kept in mind, I think. Because when writing a blog, there is a tendency to pretension. The thought that people will – or even may – read what you write is exhilarating, when you think about it. So it’s best not to think about it.

With that preface as perspective, I am pleased to report that I did indeed come into a piece of information that may be of interest. Now that Russian plans for quickly conquering Ukraine have been thwarted by the Ukrainians themselves, with broad but limited support by NATO and partners, the question arises: how does this end? In my previous post I speculated about what the government of Ukraine must insist upon and what it might properly concede. But what of Russia? Which really means: what of Putin? Is there an outcome short of complete victory that Putin would accept instead of further intensifying his military efforts?

Maybe Russian television can give us a hint.  I paid a visit to my dentist this week.  She is, or was, Russian; she was born in Leningrad and grew up in Georgia.  She has lived in the United States for decades, is staunchly anti-Communist and anti-Putin.  But her sister still lives in St. Petersburg and sees and hears the news as broadcast in Russia.  And believes it.  The two sisters speak by phone, but the gulf in their knowledge of the ‘facts’ about the war in Ukraine soon had them shouting at each other.  

The Russian sister sent my dentist an item from the Russian online news service, including a map that Russia said is what Polish TV was showing.  According to Russia, this map represents Poland’s or the West’s goal of partitioning Ukraine.  Russia therefore can be credited with launching its “special military exercise” to save Ukraine from this fate.  The map shows a much-diminished Ukraine, with its northwestern part acquired by Poland, a southwestern bit going to Romania, and, interestingly, large eastern and southern areas absorbed by Russia.  

Here is the map:


Even as we walk through the mirror-world of propaganda, this map may tell us something of Russia’s own end goal.  We know damn well that Poland had no designs on Ukraine’s territory, as clearly as we know Ukraine’s government was not rotten with Nazis.  But the matter-of-fact collateral acceptance that much of Ukraine, even after this supposed Polish aggression, would be part of Russia, may indicate Russia’s core aims.  

As I stated in my first post on this war, on March 8, the realistic endpoint for Russia probably is partition.  I said it is likely that “Putin eventually proposes a division of Ukraine in exchange for cessation of all hostilities.  Russia would retain the areas it is about to subdue: the eastern provinces, the Azov and Black Sea coasts including Odessa, and the southern tier extending to Transnistria which already is separatist.”  Putin would love to restore Russia to the Soviet Union’s position and role in the Cold War that he feels should not have been lost.  Part of that was the partition of Germany into East and West, the former controlled by the Soviets.  

So never mind the bizarre accusation of Polish aggression, but look at the areas of Ukraine that the map shows belonging to Russia, appropriately in red.  That is Putin’s goal.  Russia’s failures thus far on the battlefield mean that he will settle for less, but only at the margins.  He will not abandon his aim of acquiring more Ukrainian territory than Russia controlled pre-2022; he will escalate rather than pull back to pre-2022 borders.  

To date, it seems NATO and its partners believe that the broad but shallow military assistance they are giving Ukraine, plus the gradual effect of economic sanctions, will be enough to repel the Russian forces from Ukraine.  I doubt that.  Currently, stalemate seems more likely, and that’s without accounting for Russian escalation.  

Whose side is Time on?  For the West, the more time that passes, the deeper the economic sanctions will bite.  Will that be enough to force Putin’s hand, and in which direction: negotiation or escalation?  For Putin, the more time that passes, the higher the death toll will mount, especially of Ukrainian civilians.  The West has trouble bearing high, continuing death tolls.

How many Ukrainians is NATO willing to sacrifice to preserve its reluctance to supply Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons systems, on the fear of escalation?   Does the West believe things are going well enough now to justify merely holding its course?  The Ukrainians beg – literally beg – to differ.

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