Russia really doesn’t know what it’s doing

(The Liberal Patriot) It remains to be seen what Putin will decide to do now – most bets are on Russia moving into Ukraine in some fashion, but it’s not clear that Moscow even knows what it wants or what it is doing.  Putin seems to have painted himself into a diplomatic corner with the absurd demands he’s made toward the United States and its NATO allies – “Give us back Eastern Europe or we’ll invade Ukraine!” isn’t exactly a logical or compelling ultimatum, much less one that opens the door to serious diplomacy.

It’s more like the bullying tactics of troll power that have become increasingly prevalent in geopolitics and in some corners of America’s internal politics.  Under Putin, Russia has acted as a termite in global affairs, chipping away at the international system without any bigger picture or wider scheme in mind. Though Putin and his regime have made political plays for religious and social conservatives in the United States and around the world, his particular brand of Russian chauvinism and corrupt authoritarianism has little real purchase elsewhere.

As Eliot Cohen reminds us, Putin isn’t a strategic grandmaster and that he most likely hasn’t really thought things through when it comes to this self-caused crisis. America can manage this if it continues to seek a balanced approach and maintain unity with a global band of partners that’s tired of bullies like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea trying to get their way through threats and intimidation.

If Russia invades Ukraine again, it could end up being very costly for Russia – especially if America and its allies follow through on the game plan they’ve mapped out.  Should Moscow make this mistake, it will probably result in bloodshed in Ukraine and a new phase of the ongoing cyberwar, as David Ignatius notes.  That would be an unfortunate result, but it would be one that the United States can manage with its allies and partners.

One key to dealing with this crisis successfully and coming out in a stronger position is also to look at other arenas where Russia might seek to cause problems through political warfare, military moves, energy and economic policies that would seek to knock America and its partners off balance.  Because Putin looks like he’s making things up without a master plan, it’s important to anticipate moves he might make in other arenas and make preparations to deal with them.  An ounce of diplomatic prevention backed by a strong proactive defense worked out with allies and partners will be worth a pound of impromptu reactive measures.

Brian Katulis and Peter Juul, Looking ahead of the curve on Russia