From Republic.ru, April 2, 2021, https://republic.ru/posts/100026. Complete text:
For a week now, numerous sources have been talking about the deployment of various kinds of military equipment from Russia toward the Russian-Ukrainian border and in the direction of the Crimea. . . . The Ukrainians are also talking about Russia’s preparations for a military operation. Gen. Ruslan Khomchak, who has been commander in chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces for more than a year, said in a recent interview: “We expect an additional concentration of up to 25 battalion tactical groups, which, together with the existing deployed forces and assets near the state border of Ukraine, pose a threat to the military security of our state.”
However, [Russian] presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov tried to calm everyone down: “The Russian Federation is moving troops within its territory at its own discretion, [and] this should not bother anyone, [since] it poses no threat to anyone.*** As for the participation of Russian troops in the armed conflict on Ukrainian territory, Russian troops have never taken part in it and are not taking part.” But for some reason, Ukrainians continue to worry as they watch footage of heavy military equipment on trains moving toward their borders. It must be said that the leaders of European countries share this concern.
Trade and threats.
A person who has proved on several occasions that he is clearly in the know about Kremlin affairs said to me during a telephone conversation: “You understand that on March 30, Macron and Merkel insisted on talking with Putin for the sole purpose of warning him about the consequences of an armed invasion of Ukraine. All the other topics supposedly under discussion were a smoke screen. Do you know why the video conference on March 29 was canceled? Because Putin demanded that [US President Joe] Biden participate in the conversation, but the Americans flatly refused. As a result, it took almost a day to talk Putin into it.”
It’s more or less obvious why Putin insisted on the US president’s participation. In negotiations that dealt with conditions and guarantees, he needed all relevant parties present. Apparently, in the end, the heads of the two European states managed to convince the Russian leader that they were also speaking for the US president. If Merkel and Macron so insistently sought a conversation with Vladimir Putin, it’s probably an indication that they are convinced of the seriousness of the Russian leadership’s intentions, and they do not consider all of this loud saber-rattling along the Ukrainian border to be a bluff at all. . . .
The answer to the question of why Vladimir Putin needs another major escalation is extremely simple. First, the ruling regime in Russia today has already entered such a stage of its development (decay) that permanent outbursts of external aggression that force the leaders of the Western world to run for their phones in a panic are an absolute necessity. Because it’s the only way to get your “partners” to at least listen to you, if not give you your due. And this boosts self-esteem and makes the hoi polloi view the ruler with great reverence and respect. In addition, it has long been known that people are more willing to tighten their belts to the beat of drums and stirring marches. Any griping, grumbling or even open discontent is immediately countered by an angry patriotic shout: “Everything for the front, everything for victory!” [a World War II slogan attributed to Joseph Stalin – Trans.] In addition, among the Russian top brass there is a clear sense of unfinished business, of a task not fully completed. It is clear that in 2014, we had to stop halfway. This immediately begs the question: If the West still does not find a way of influencing Vladimir Putin, then how far is he ready to go?
The limits of Putin’s resolve.
The temptation is very great, of course, to reply that the Russian leadership is unlikely to come out in favor of full-scale hostilities. I would like to believe that European leaders, together with their overseas partners (Putin is not the only one who has them), are greatly exaggerating the threat – that in fact, all this grinding of tank tracks began for the sole purpose of luring the enemy to the negotiating table. . . . But the annexation of the Crimea completely shattered our understanding of what the current Kremlin leadership is capable of, and now the answer – to almost everything – is that [the threat] does not seem at all an extravagant exaggeration. Therefore, the fears of the world community (and most of all Ukraine, of course) seem to me quite justified. Moreover, the progovernment military experts are not mincing words. Here, for example, is the opinion of Col. [Viktor] Baranets, a columnist for Komsomolskaya Pravda: “Ukraine is actually the one engaged in pushing its forces to its border with the self-proclaimed LPR and DPR. Allegedly, there are already about 80,000 military personnel in the region. Kiev is believed [to be engaged in] a similar activity regarding the Crimea, as well. In this case, Kiev may lose its entire Army, and half of its country to boot.” And here is what Igor Korotchenko, a military expert who constantly appears on various news analysis programs on Russian television, thinks about this: “In the event of a full-scale attack by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the self-proclaimed republics, Russia will have only one way out: to intervene in the conflict and to protect the almost 600,000 Russian citizens living in the Donetsk Basin today. At the same time, [Russia] will be facing sanctions and other actions from the West, so there will be nothing to lose. In such a situation, Moscow will have to force Ukraine into a peace and drive its troops across the Dnepr, which will become the neighboring state’s new border.” So, based on these plans, Kiev’s left bank will now be Russian territory? Well, that is still unlikely. For that matter, cutting off Ukraine from all sea access is a very ambitious task. But is it doable? And, if it is doable, then at what cost, given the obvious increase in the Ukrainian Army’s proficiency in recent years?
It is absolutely clear that Vladimir Putin needs a rapid and solidly victorious war with tangible results. But a long and protracted one, with great losses, is the last thing he needs. It will only aggravate all the domestic political problems. It’s another question whether the president of Russia is aware of this reality.
Either way, it is already quite obvious that a serious escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is unavoidable. . . .