What Does Putin Seek to Achieve by Threatening Ukraine?

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With the Genocide Olympics in Beijing no longer a distraction, the world’s attention is increasingly focused on the crisis in Ukraine.

While there are other major events unfolding around the world—including the Canadian government’s use of force on peaceful truckers in Ottawa and communist China’s growing threats against Taiwan—one of the most critical geopolitical situations in the world involves the staging of some 200,000 Russian military personnel and hardware around the periphery of the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

And therein lies the crux of the matter, for Ukraine was once a part of the greater Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and some observers believe Russian President Vladimir Putin has a long-term objective of consolidating (“absorbing”) countries that were formerly part of the old USSR into the Russian Federation.

But is this Putin’s real objective in the saber-rattling that has been ongoing for the past several weeks? What else might Putin be seeking? Speculation toward that end is rife.

The following are some possible Russian objectives.

Fully Absorbing Ukraine Into the Russian Federation via a Kinetic Attack

This is the objective that the U.S. and European political classes appear to believe—and possibly desire. Legacy corporate media in the United States, in particular, have been claiming that a Russian attack is “imminent,” with some such as Reuters even speculating based on anonymous U.S. intelligence sources that Feb. 16 was going to be “the day of the attack.” The UK Daily Mail on Feb. 20 claimed that Putin has actually issued orders to the Russian military to “invade Ukraine.”

‘Annexing’ a Portion of Eastern Ukraine

A low-grade civil war has been ongoing between Ukrainian government forces and Russian separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014.

Would Ukraine agree to Russian annexation of the Donbas as a condition for defusing the current crisis?

Probably not, as Ukraine still claims governance of the Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014 but not formally recognized by the U.S. State Department, as noted in this press statement a year ago by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “Crimea is Ukraine.”

However, NATO—and particularly the U.S. and German—pressure may force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hand in this scenario, although his agreement would delegitimize his own government in the eyes of most Ukrainians.

The Germans are highly incentivized to resolve the crisis so that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline can begin supplying natural gas uninterrupted to the German people (and others in Western Europe). Germany already receives 35 percent of its gas imports from Russia and is keen to obtain much more to make up for green energy miscalculations and the associated energy policy mistakes made under former Chancellor Angela Merkel in terminating nuclear plants and shutting down “non-green” coal plants over the years.

The real pressure on German and other European governments is that, according to the official Russia Times News account on Telegram, “Europe now has only 4.7% of its gas reserves left for the remainder of the winter season.”

Russia to Germany gas pipeline
A ship works offshore in the Baltic Sea on the natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 from Russia to Germany on Nov. 11, 2018. (Bernd Wuestneck/DPA via AP)

Splitting of NATO

A key Russian objective in the current crisis is believed to be Putin’s desire to divide the NATO coalition, rendering it less effective as an integrated and cohesive geopolitical and military force in the future. While most nations that comprised the old Soviet Bloc in eastern Europe—such as Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania—have joined NATO in recent years, geopolitical differences of opinion persist on a number of issues.

One issue that divides the alliance is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. As the BBC reported, Germany (and of course Russia) fully support the pipeline while the United States, the UK, and Poland strongly oppose it. And although aspirational but not yet a NATO member, Ukraine is against the pipeline, too. Once again, the geopolitics of oil determines the fate of nations.

Also, don’t forget the evolving French view on the issue of European security. As reported by the Strategic Culture Foundation, “[French President Emmanuel] Macron explicitly said that new security arrangements in Europe are absolutely needed.” The subliminal message from Macron is the need for a new non-NATO security agreement for the European Union.

Stopping NATO Expansion

Putin does not want Ukraine to join NATO. In fact, he was adamant about that on Feb. 15 when he “demanded that the issue of Kyiv’s relationship with NATO be resolved in its entirety immediately,” according to Al Jazeera.

Any condition to resolve the current crisis would undoubtedly have to include something more than simple verbal assurances by the United States and NATO that expansion of the alliance will stop at the doorstep of Ukraine.

Is he looking for a signed treaty of some kind that would include that guarantee?

Ending Western Sanctions

Russia was sanctioned by the United States and other countries after the Russo-Ukrainian War in 2014 that resulted in the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. An example includes the sanctioning of all the main Russian politicians (and Putin cronies) involved in that war and companies that do significant business with Crimea.

Other sanctions were imposed on the finance, oil technology, and defense technology sectors of the Russian economy. The collective effects of those sanctions have led to a significant drop in foreign direct investment in Russia, an exodus of scientific and engineering talent to the West, and reduced Russian economic growth.

Ending Western sanctions would be a logical Russian objective in a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.

Ending the Ukrainian Threat of Interrupting Russian Gas Flows to Western Europe

A main economic foil that Ukraine has against Russian diplomatic and other pressures is the threat of stopping the flow of Russian gas through pipelines that pass through Ukraine. A map provided by Jack Posobiec on Telegram shows the network of Ukrainian pipelines that carry Russian gas.

Ending this threat to the flow of Russian gas to Western Europe is a Russian objective to be achieved by kinetic means (war) or via binding diplomacy.

Cementing the Evolving Sino-Russian Partnership

Communist China and Russia are beginning a new strategic partnership, as explained in the “Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development,” an English version of which was posted on the Kremlin’s official website.

One excerpt is particularly noteworthy: “[China and Russia] are seeking to advance their work to link the development plans for the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative with a view to intensifying practical cooperation between the EAEU and China in various areas and promoting greater interconnectedness between the Asia Pacific and Eurasian regions.”

Economic cooperation—and integration?—is a key feature of the new alliance. That involves energy production, too, as Russia and China previously concluded a 30-year gas deal in 2014, as reported by the BBC.

And another large gas deal was recently signed on Feb. 14, as reported by OilPrice.com: “Moscow’s state-owned oil giant, Rosneft, signed a US$80 billion 10-year deal to supply the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) with 100 million metric tonnes of oil.”

As a condition for continuing that latest gas deal (and possibly other Chinese promises under that joint statement), could Xi Jinping be exerting some pressure on Putin to conduct “geopolitical brinkmanship” in Ukraine?

China has much to learn about just how far the United States and NATO will go to ensure Ukrainian sovereignty, as the Chinese Communist Party has its own sights set on “absorbing” Taiwan into mainland China.

As Claudia Rosett has reported in The New York Sun, Putin has already forced President Joe Biden to shutter the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, which undermines U.S. commitments to Ukraine’s sovereignty.

What else will Putin achieve before the crisis ends, and what will the United States and NATO do?

Xi and China’s People’s Liberation Army will be watching closely!

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin exchange documents during a signing ceremony following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 5, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AFP via Getty Images)

The Main Objective Achieved

To set the stage, here are a few facts about the Russian economy from Heritage Foundation’s 2022 Index of Economic Freedom:

  • Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021 was $4.1 trillion, which compares poorly to the United States’ $23 trillion GDP.
  • Foreign direct investment (FDI) was $9.1 billion in 2021, which compares poorly to the United States’ $173 billion FDI in China.
  • Western economic sanctions have led to a brain drain and capital flight. It’s noteworthy that Russia Times reported the net capital outflow from Russia was $28.2 billion in the first half of 2021.
  • Russia’s economy depends heavily on exports of oil and gas.

Expanding on that last critical point, Russian oil and gas exports have been trending down in recent years, according to OilPrice.com. The oil and gas sector’s share of the Russian economy has dropped from 21.1 percent in 2018 to 19.2 percent in 2019, to just 15 percent in 2020.

While the recent decline might be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, most can be attributed to price pressures from U.S. domestic production stemming from the Trump administration’s pro-energy policies. Much of that decline in revenues has been reversed due to the rise in the crude oil prices in 2021, largely as a result of the Biden administration’s termination of the Keystone XL pipeline and other anti-production policies aimed at the U.S. oil and gas industry. However, Putin would like to increase oil and gas exports to Western Europe if at all possible in order to increase revenues.

Putin understands the basics of the effect of competition on commodity prices: the more alternatives (and supplies), the greater the pressure to reduce prices. Which brings the discussion to the major economic objective that Putin’s Russia has already achieved during the current crisis in Ukraine.

Putin was well aware of the looming oil-and-gas competition posed by the planned Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) pipeline, which would provide gas from reserves off the shore of Israel to Greece and then to the rest of Europe.

According to NS Energy, the EastMed pipeline would have “an initial capacity to transport ten billion cubic meters per year (bcm/y) of gas to Greece and Italy and other south-east European countries.”

That competition with Russian gas was certainly not welcomed by Putin and his cronies.

However, while the world’s attention was focused on the spiraling Ukraine crisis, the U.S. State Department quietly conveyed the Biden administration’s decision to reverse the Trump administration’s previous position of support for the pipeline to the governments of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus in late January, according to the Jerusalem Post.

“’The American side expressed to the Greek side reservations as to the rationale of the EastMed pipeline, [and] raised issues of its economic viability and environmental [issues], a Greek government source told Reuters,” the Post reported.

Talk about mealy-mouthed nonsense! The principal country benefiting directly from this cancellation of U.S. support for EastMed is Russia! No wonder this was done without fanfare. First canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and now this action–both of which benefit Putin. Was this in response to what Putin may have “asked” or simply Biden cravenly demonstrating his willingness to be flexible in ending the Ukraine crisis? Vodka shooters all around in Moscow—and in Beijing, too!

Regardless, Putin has already achieved his main economic objective. His other possible objectives outlined above and anything else—whether achieved through diplomacy or a kinetic war—are gravy.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Stu Cvrk

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Stu Cvrk retired as a captain after serving 30 years in the U.S. Navy in a variety of active and reserve capacities, with considerable operational experience in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. Through education and experience as an oceanographer and systems analyst, Cvrk is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he received a classical liberal education that serves as the key foundation for his political commentary.



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