“We believe that President Putin has made the decision,” Mr Blinken said on Sunday, “but until the tanks are really rolling and the planes are flying, we will take every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can do the trick.” president can still discourage Putin from taking this further.”
Information passed to Biden by intelligence agencies left unclear whether Putin’s orders would lead to a mass invasion or a more gradual approach that would give the Russian leader more opportunities to close the cracks just beneath the surface in the Western alliance against him. . For example, he could test the proposition that Germany or Italy, the two western European countries most dependent on gas supplied by Russia, could waver in their resolve.
Those were the scenarios most discussed this weekend at the Munich Security Conference, the annual meeting of government ministers, business leaders and strategists, where diplomats, government ministers and business leaders played out Mr Putin’s choices.
“If he plans to escalate, I don’t think it’s a sudden blitzkrieg to Kiev and the impeachment of the Zelensky government,” said Ian Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group, a geopolitical consultancy. much more likely to recognize the independence of the breakaway” around Luhansk, in the east.
“You hope, if you’re Putin, that this leads to more timidity from some NATO allies, less alignment with NATO, more opportunities for Russia to get what it wants without having to go all the way to Ukraine,” Bremmer said. †
A few weeks ago, some US officials shared that sentiment. Mr Putin, they noted, presumably wanted to achieve his goal – regime change and halt Ukraine’s drift to the West – as cheaply and with as few casualties as possible. All he wanted was a friendly, pliable government like the one he has in Belarus, a senior US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of ongoing diplomacy. Belarus President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko has linked his country’s security to the presence of the Russian military. (“They will be here as long as necessary,” said Lukashenko, who is considering inviting Russia to return its nuclear weapons to Belarusian soil.)
It would, many suspect, be a refinement of Russia’s hybrid warfare playbook. “Putin has developed more than a decade of aggressive action, demonstrating that he knows how to refine grayscale warfare that is hard to attribute,” said Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat close to Mr. Biden.