Will Putin’s troops invade Ukraine?
Putin says he is not planning to do so. However, he has every reason to deny it at this time. Most analysts predict that if he does plan to invade he will orchestrate some sort of pretext first. Such a strategy needs his denial of plans in advance.
Zelensky also says an invasion is unlikely. However, one of his main concerns is that this threat does not create panic in his own society. It could also cause an economic collapse. Another question is whether or not Zelensky could move towards Putin and Russian imperialism, rather than US imperialism. After all, it is the former that is a more powerful force in the region and a past president (Yanukovich) did orient in that direction. That is purely speculation, though.
Biden says Putin is planning to do so. However, he has a number of motives for saying this. Among other things, if that is the general impression of Putin’s plans and then no invasion happens, Biden will project this as a tremendous example of how his “tough diplomacy” prevented an all-out crisis.
What do other analysts say?
One writer in Foreign Affairs, which represents the most serious strategists for US capitalism, starts by painting three different scenarios. Scenario Number One: “The first scenario would involve a coercive diplomatic resolution to the present crisis. Russia could move to formally recognize or annex the occupied Donbas region of eastern Ukraine…. On their own, however, such moves would not represent gains for Russia; they would merely further calcify the status quo, and Russia would forfeit the potential to insert a pro-Kremlin “fifth column” into Ukrainian domestic politics.” Scenario Number Two: “A second scenario would involve a limited Russian offensive, with limited airpower, to seize additional territory in eastern Ukraine and in the Donbas, perhaps as an extension of recognition or full annexation. [It would also entail seizing Ukraine’s remaining sea port.]…. This would be an enormous operation requiring all the forces Russia has assembled in Crimea and along Ukraine’s eastern and northern borders. This would also require seizing and holding contested terrain. Russia would be forced to engage in a costly effort to occupy major Ukrainian cities, exposing its forces to difficult urban warfare, a protracted military campaign, and a costly insurgency.” Scenario Number Three: “Therefore, the third and most likely outcome is a full-scale Russian offensive employing land, air, and sea power on all axes of attack…. A long-term occupation would be unlikely in this scenario. Storming and pacifying major cities would entail a level of urban warfare and additional casualties that the Russian military probably wishes to avoid. Russian forces would be more likely to capture and hold territory to establish and protect supply lines and then withdraw after obtaining a favorable diplomatic settlement or inflicting sufficient damage.”
This writer for Foreign Affairs answers with a qualified “yes” to the question.
On the other side is Dmitry Trenin of the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Institute. In this interview, Trenin shows himself to be a thoughtful analyst for US capitalism, something like a Moscow branch of the US Council on Foreign Relations (which publishes Foreign Affairs). Trenin’s short answer is: “In the immediate future, say, the coming month, I think the answer is no. As for the longer term, I have questions for both sides.” Overall, though, Trenin predicts a shake-up in world relations.
One problem that might face Putin is that if he does not carry out some sort of military intervention, then it might appear that he is backing down. That would weaken him at home and abroad. So he needs to at least be able to claim some sort of victory. It’s entirely possible that Biden & Co. will give him a pretext for this. After all, an invasion of Ukraine would most likely lead to a sharp increase in gas prices. No matter what the cause, the president always gets the blame or the credit for nearly everything that happens in the US economy, so this would create a real problem for Biden and the Democrats, especially with the midterm elections coming up.
Trenin also claims that NATO missiles located in Ukraine is not such a big deal militarily. According to him, Russia could respond by placing nuclear tipped hypersonic missiles in submarines in the western Atlantic Ocean. In that case, the flight time to the US east coast would be more or less the same as a missile from Ukraine to Russia (about 4-5 minutes).
But does Biden even want Ukraine to join NATO? If it did, this could obligate US troops to come into direct conflict with Russian troops in an area where the Russian troops would have a clear advantage. Another article in Foreign Affairs hints as much: “The NATO alliance is ill suited to twenty-first-century Europe…. NATO suffers from a severe design flaw: extending deep into the cauldron of eastern European geopolitics, it is too large, too poorly defined, and too provocative for its own good…. Today, the alliance is a loose and baggy monster of 30 countries, encompassing North America, western Europe, the Baltic states, and Turkey. This expanded NATO wavers between offense and defense, having been involved militarily in Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya. The sheer enormity of the alliance and the murkiness of its mission risk embroiling NATO in a major European war.
“To simplify its strategic purpose and to improve its defensive capacities, NATO should publicly and explicitly forswear adding any more members.”
My own personal view is: ??? In a previous article back in December I imagined the conversation between Putin and Biden. In it the view was that they would reach an implicit understanding, enable each other to save face, and avoid the worst. I still think that’s possible, as is an all-out invasion by Putin’s forces. A direct military conflict between Russian and US troops I think is highly unlikely.
One further issue that is hardly being discussed at all, but which might become far more important: Will China invade Taiwan? If it does, US imperialism could get directly involved. This scenario would be a disaster first and foremost for the people of Taiwan, but also for all of humanity, as well as the rest of life on the planet (even if it did not entail a nuclear war). That question needs a lot more serious discussion.
One final note: This article is extremely limited and one-sided in that it views the entire matter from the point of view of “geopolitics” – relations between the major powers. All too many socialists start and stop at that point, ignoring the internal dynamics of the countries involved – Ukraine in this case. Oaklandsocialist’s previous article focuses a lot on that. This article complements the former one.