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Why would Putin invade when Project Panic is working so well?


THE government machine seems to be upgrading its preferred operating mode from Project Fear to Project Panic. Whether it’s the wheels coming off the economy, the energy crisis, the (welcome) unravelling of net zero or the Partygate fall-out, we seem to be a very long way from considered and consistent decision-making by our leaders. In this context the current spate of headlines about the Russian threat to Ukraine is setting new records.

The simple reality, unpalatable though it may be, is that there is nothing we can do (short of Armageddon) to prevent the Russians doing whatever they want. It’s also far from clear that the Russians want to fight. Ukraine is huge and the Ukrainian armed forces are not insignificant. Moreover if, as is likely, they base much of their defence in urban areas, Mr Putin’s choice is a bloody stalemate or widespread destruction. The Russian people and armed forces know this. Memories of the sieges of Leningrad (Mr Putin’s home city) and Stalingrad – as they then were – are etched deep in the Russian psyche. The battles for Grozny in 1994-6 and 1999-2000 demonstrated two alternative outcomes, massive casualties for the attackers or complete devastation of the city, but a ‘win.’ Such is the nature of modern urban combat.

It’s extremely unlikely that Mr Putin wants to suffer huge casualties but it’s equally unlikely that he wants to demolish (say) Kiev and then suffer the cost of rebuilding it. Ukrainians, unlike the Chechens in Grozny, are after all part of the Rus peoples. Reunification through slaughter is illogical, and Mr Putin is nothing if not (ruthlessly) logical.

What he has demonstrated, most importantly to the Ukrainians, is that their future lies not with the Western edifices of the EU and Nato – neither of which has the capacity or will to protect them. Despite sanctions, Russia can amass a substantial armed force to protect their interest. The EU doesn’t have one and Nato’s is entirely dependent upon an uninterested US. Yes, at some level the subversion of the expressed democratic desires of some Ukrainians to join the EU and Nato is uncomfortable, especially if it’s delivered through a brazen demonstration of force. But that’s the consequence of decades of failed defence policies, exacerbated in the UK by an Army hierarchy that abhors tanks.

All that the frantic jetting about, convening of crisis meetings and rhetoric has demonstrated is that neither the EU nor Nato is willing or able to defend Ukraine. Whether Nato can defend its eastern members is an open question too. The rundown in the European members’ military power (with the unsurprising exception of Poland) has lasted for decades and is not easily reversible. Were one a Marxist Leninist, one could point to this collapse of capability and reasonably conclude that, as predicted, the internal contradictions of capitalism are indeed leading to its downfall. In which case risking serious setbacks on a Ukrainian battlefield makes no sense.

In which case an invasion tomorrow seems unlikely; sure, the ground may be frozen but it will thaw in a couple of months, creating a logistical nightmare (as the Russians well know). Why would they risk that when they can wait a couple of months and then have a six-month window to invade? In any case, they’re already winning. They have panicked the opposition (us), demonstrated to Ukraine the current weakness of the west and, courtesy of the gas price spike, made a profit out of it. Why would Mr Putin change a plan that is working so well? 

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here.

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