Russia threatens to invade Ukraine.
We are not talking here about a microscopic and insignificant island.
The crisis is serious.
Putin is tempted because Russia, for centuries, has seen Ukraine as an extension of itself, and lots of Russian speakers live there.
He sees that the United States is paralyzed by the Iraqi and Afghan fiascos, and that the American people, who do not even know where Ukraine is, do not want to know anything.
He sees that American society is weakened, torn, paralyzed by political partisanship, eaten away from within by this wokism that cultivates hatred of institutions and self-shame.
He spoke about it recently in a speech that our leaders would do well to read.
He sees that the allies of the United States are divided, and he has a formidable card up his sleeve: 40% of the gas consumed in Europe comes from Russia.
He also thinks about it because he does not fear the economic sanctions with which he is threatened.
Putin does not think like a Western politician obsessed with the polls and the next election.
He has no serious opposition on the domestic scene, and sanctions would give him a pretext to govern even more authoritarianly.
More fundamentally, Putin has a carnal, mystical relationship with the Russian land, which for him includes Ukraine. Every inch of national soil is sacred.
Why ? Because Russia has been invaded repeatedly since the 13th century up to Hitler, including Napoleon.
From there, two main readings – I simplify radically for lack of space – are possible.
One is to say: Putin has shown his muscles so much that he would look crazy if he backed down.
His way out to save face would be to sit down and negotiate.
If he obtains more powers and more international recognition for the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, he could be satisfied and even claim victory.
In this completely defensible vision of things, Putin would be the one who miscalculated, bluffed too much, but who managed to minimize the losses, even who snatched a draw.
But there is a second reading that I find more convincing.
Russia had its own debacle in Afghanistan during the 1980s. It knows that permanently occupying a country is incredibly more difficult than invading it.
Putin is too realistic to invade a vast country like Ukraine.
It can invade Donbass – a predominantly Russian-speaking, coal-rich region of Ukraine – and annex it, as it did with Crimea in 2014.
Sanctions haven’t changed that. Folder filed.
This second reading has a variant: no invasion, no real negotiations.
Unrest would continue in Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine, with Moscow pulling the strings from afar.
Ukraine would then live under the permanent fear of Russian bad humor and would behave accordingly: with docility.
In short, whatever happens, Putin cannot lose.