I’m merely an armchair observer on all of this, so if you want any scholarly insight into what’s going on, please look elsewhere. But having said that, it seems as though the conditions are there, at least, for a Russia to make a major land grab in Ukraine. I say this because Trump has been completely silent on what’s going on between Russia and Ukraine.
It definitely seems to me, at least, that Putin could see that silence as tacit acknowledgement from Trump that Putin can do whatever he likes in Ukraine without any threat of the United States doing anything. Hence, it definitely seems the ball is in Putin’s court. Putin could start a general war in a wide swath of Ukraine stretching for Odessa in the west to the border between Ukraine and Russia in the east and do some serious damage to the existing order in Europe.
Putin, as I recall, has repeatedly bragged that his military could take Kiev in two weeks, should the mood strike him. Of course, the reason why he hasn’t attempted that is he knows that while he could take Kiev, he probably wouldn’t be able to keep it. It would be Afghanistan all over again, only on a much larger scale and with much higher stakes. Putin knows Soviet involvement in Afghanistan contributed to that empire’s downfall and he’s smart enough not to repeat the mistake.
Hence, that’s why Putin’s been very, very cautious in what he’s done with Ukraine. He’s used “little green men” to do is bidding and what makes the recent navel scuffle in the Black Sea so out of character is how brazen it is. Under any normal American administration, the president would make a strong speech condemning the action and that would be enough for Russia and they would back off.
But, oddly enough, Trump has been completely silent on what’s going on between Russia and Ukraine and, as I mentioned, that might be enough for Putin to push things a little bit farther than he might otherwise. And, yet, Russia remains a weak regional power outside of its many, many nuclear weapons and as such its economy probably couldn’t handle a general war between Ukraine and itself. Putin is wily enough that he probably is content — hopefully — with the point he’s made and now he’ll just wait for his buttboy Trump to be his lap down at the G20 meeting.
That seems to be what is going to happen. But given how weak Trump is in regards to Russia, on a geopolitical level, Putin might see the Trump Administration as a historic opportunity to get as much as he can from Ukraine while he can. Or not. Who knows. Putin works in murky blackbox ways and anything is possible.
The convention wisdom was, at least at one point in the last few years, that should the Russians start a general war with Ukraine that the first phase of the war would see a quick victory on the part of the Russians once they took Kiev. They would then hunker down on a huge chunk of Ukraine and attempt to organize the puppet state of Novorossiya. Then the rump state of Ukraine would organize a counter attack with a flood of arms from Poland and other interested states. But all of that worked on the assumption that the United States would take a lead role in all of this.
It’s very possible in today’s weird political climate that the Russians might — just might — feel they could risk a general war with Ukraine because the United States is pretty much a Vichy state at this point. But, again, I just don’t know. I honestly have no idea what is going to happen.
I think nothing is going to happen. Putin’s made his point and he’s just going to wait until just the right moment to come out of his spider hole to do a little mischief. But that could be years in the future.
Shelton Bumgarner is a writer and photographer living in Richmond, Va. He is currently working on his first novel. He may be reached at migukin (at) gmail (dot) com.