Will Putin cross the Rubicon in Ukraine?
It looks increasingly likely that Donbas is where things will start. But will they end there?
The current crisis, manufactured by Russia is going fullsteam ahead towards its conclusion, at least in its current form. Whatever will happen, will happen in the next couple of weeks, at most. Early in the month I said in this newsletter something I have been saying for a few months in other platforms:
One other possibility is that an official recognition of the separatists “republics” in Donbas and placing Russian troops permanently there on the “invitation” of those puppet regimes could provide an option of walking down the escalation ladder for Putin. Basically making the defacto Russian occupation in Donbas also formal, using some sort of excuse to protect compatriots abroad, a pretext for “preventing impending Ukrainian military action” (which is not gonna happen, Ukraine will not replicate Georgia’s mistake in 2008) etc. That could keep the pressure on Ukraine but also provide a way for Putin to stand down on from a fullscale invasion threat.
Claims by the puppet regimes in Donbas that Ukrainian forces shelled a kindergarden, the car bomb today supposedly targeting a police chief, Russian claims of “genocide” against residents of Donbas, the supposed evacuation of civilians (which may not be happening) from Russian-controlled Donbas because of an “imminent Ukranian military offensive”, and the general ramping of rhetoric in Russian media all point towards a pre-mediated plan to create the pretext for re-invasion under the guise of protecting Russian citizens in Donbas (the result of passportization policies of Kremlin) I talked about above.
The key question is, of course, if Putin decides to cross the Rubicon and re-invade Ukraine, will Russian forces remain within the currently Russian-controlled Donbas as I speculate above or will there be a push further into Ukraine, perhaps, as feared, targeting Kyiv? Will Putin take this “off-ramp” and still claim victory?
The unsatisfactory answer is it’s very hard to know and I do not think Putin himself knows in advance. It’s highly contingent, depending on Ukrainian and Western reactions, developments on the ground etc. Putin may very well prefer not to expand this war but will he be able to contain it once he starts? In other words, this off-ramp might turn into a detour to a full-scale invasion.
Still, if I were to assign probabilities (with wide bands of uncertainty around them) I’d say we are 75% likely to see military action before April 1st. The likelihood of this going beyond Donbas is 50/50 (35-40% going beyond and 35-40% it being confined to Donbas) at this stage.
The bottom-line is, the “best case scenario” increasingly looks like formalizing Russian presence/occupation in Donbas and turning Donbas into another Kaliningrad/Crimea, a military bastion.