I am no expert on relations between Ukraine and Russia, but I do have an interest in it and a little bit of time on my hands, so here we are. Take it for what it is. Just me rambling in general terms about what’s going on.
The key thing, for me, is the dynamic between Putin and Trump. It would make a huge amount of sense for Putin to do what he’s long been interested in, taking a huge chunk of Ukraine (even bigger than he already has), and do it in a way that would benefit his best bud Trump. Right now, a lot rests with the Ukrainian response. If they simply declare martial law and, well, that’s it, then things will get and stay tense for a while but gradually fade back to where they were before today’s incident.
But if you really wanted to be paranoid, you’d say that Putin will see the declaration of martial law as a provocation in itself and respond accordingly. So, while Putin has historically show a huge amount of caution about any direct attacks against Ukraine, he might see the writing on the wall for Trump and decide he would rather strike now while he has Vichy Trump in power. What’s more, by attacking Ukraine in a big way now, he would likely give Trump the cover he needs to fire Mueller, pardon half a dozen people and tweet up a storm that “now is on the time to worry about witch hunts” as Ukraine and Russia have at it in a big way.
This nightmare scenario works on the pretty big — and potentially erroneous — assumption: that Putin is actually interested in risking his long-term survival in a costly, needless war with Ukraine. It also assumes that Putin’s weighed the global order and sees a huge upside in attacking Ukraine and, say, taking Kiev and attempting to form a puppet state out of a huge chunk of seized Ukrainian territory. The thing is — Putin has shown zero indication that he actually is interested in doing that. He just wants to keep Ukraine off balance and unnerved enough to prevent it from fully uniting with the West. Or, at least, that’s my personal interpretation of things.
If Putin is going to act, it seems logical that he would act almost immediately. Like, tonight. But as best I can tell, he’s not going to do anything and, as I mentioned, it seems like tomorrow will be pretty perfunctory. Ukraine declares martial law, there’s some saber rattling and…nothing happens. And, really, the only reason why I am a little nervous is the connection between Putin and Trump. Like I said, logic would say that Putin will attack now not only because he’s wanted to attack Ukraine in a big way and Trump is likely to look the other way, but a really big war in Ukraine would be just the excuse, the cover, that Trump needs to not only wrap up the Mueller investigation, but have people “rally round the flag.”
At least, that would be the miscalculation that might lead us all down a major war between Ukraine and Russia. Or not. I won’t even go so far as to say “things are in flux.” Given the existential threat to Putin’s regime a long-term occupation of a huge chunk of Ukraine would be, it’s very possible simply nothing will happen. Everything will be on paper and generally we’ll forget about the incident quite quickly.
But who knows. As of this moment, it definitely seems as though there is an outside chance it could go either way.