The west is still in the dark on what Vladimir Putin will do next. The Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border continues but in televised meetings with Sergey Lavrov, his foreign minister, Putin was told that there is a case for ‘continuing and intensifying’ diplomatic discussions with the West.
For Putin — who smarts at what he sees as the humiliation of the end of the Cold War and the decline of Soviet power — there is a satisfaction in watching the West scramble to respond to his actions. The Biden administration wanted to prioritise competition with China, but Putin is succeeding in forcing him to concentrate on European diplomacy — something that will please both Moscow and Beijing. Putin will also take satisfaction that he has exposed differences in the Western alliance. The US and the UK clearly take a subtly different position than France, and Germany remains deeply conflicted because of its commercial and energy ties with Russia.
One of the reasons to think Putin will not launch a full-on invasion of Ukraine is that it would prompt a unified western response; universal revulsion. It would also lead to a significant increase in defence spending by all major European powers. These are the reasons why there is still a sense in Whitehall that Russia will opt for something smaller-scale than that. But the truth is that no one can be certain right now. Putin is still keeping everybody guessing and inflicting huge damage on the Ukrainian economy at the same time.
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