In the past couple of weeks, nearly every one of my peers in the community of analysts – Russia watchers has weighed in on Russia’s possible plans to invade Ukraine. We have been given detailed breakdowns of the forces and equipment which Russia has moved into the border region with Ukraine, and we have heard every imaginable scenario for the use of these forces when the weather turns colder, as in February, for example.
Others of my peers have reckoned in great detail the political and economic price which Russia would be compelled to pay if it were reckless enough to invade and seek to neuter Ukraine in one way or another. One analyst has described Russia’s possibly dividing Ukraine in two at the Dnieper River and forming a Russia-friendly state to the east of that divide, while allowing the rump state of rabid Ukrainian nationalists to go to hell on its own.
For its part, the Kremlin has vehemently denied having any designs on Ukraine and claims that Washington is behind this fake news which is intended to encourage the Zelensky government to do something quite stupid such as stage an all-out attack on the Donbas, using the latest weapons which it has received from Washington and its allies, in the mistaken belief that it will be backed up by Washington if things go awry. In short, this would be a replay of the scenario in Georgia in 2008 when the very same Biden who is now US President was feeding false hopes of support to the then Georgian President Saakashvili .
In my own unpublished ruminations about what is or is not going on at the Russian-Ukrainian border and what it means for peace or war in the coming months, I directed my attention to the issue of ‘red lines’ that Vladimir Vladimirovich has called out in various forums over recent weeks, though these red lines were never spelled out. Both in what he said and in remarks by unofficial spokesmen for the Kremlin like television news director Dmitry Kiselyev, I assumed that the Russian build-up of forces at the border was meant as a signal to the United States to desist from its stationing weapons and troops on Ukrainian territory in an attempt to achieve by stealth what it could not achieve by formally bringing Ukraine into NATO: to use the territory as an advance platform against Russia within the overall policy of “containment.”
Now, in the latest remarks to come from the Kremlin, it would appear that we all, my peers among Western commentators and I, have been wrong-footed. Putin has said as clearly as conceivable within the traditional language of international diplomacy that if the USA puts offensive missile systems onto Ukrainian soil, thereby cutting the warning time of attack on Moscow to 5-7 minutes, then the Russians will station their hypersonic attack missiles on surface and submarine vessels within 5-7 minutes striking distance of Washington, D.C.
In short, what we potentially now have before us is the Cuban Missile Crisis Redux. Only this time the gamblers with the fate of the world are playing with the cards face up.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2021
P,S. – One reader of this essay on my LinkedIn account asked me to document the new position statement by Putin regarding what it will do if its red lines in Ukraine are crossed by US and NATO. Good question! Putin made this explicit warning on November 30 during the online forum for the international business community, Russia Calling. It was partly reported by Reuters, I stress PARTLY: https://www.reuters.com/markets/stocks/putin-warns-russia-will-act-if-nato-crosses-its-red-lines-ukraine-2021-11-30/ Moreover, as a splendid example of how mainstream media use weasel language to conceal from their readers what our ‘adversaries’ are saying, the article on this subject in the December 1st edition of the “Financial Times” also tells us everything but the main point about Russia’s planned response to the new potential threat, namely positioning its hypersonic missiles to give equally short warning time to those who threaten Russia via Ukraine, meaning Washington, D.C. Other, less prestigious news outlets were more forthcoming. I think in particular of The Daily Mail.. It bears mention as well that such positioning of Russian hypersonic missiles just off the shores of the United States, in international waters 200 miles out, was outlined by Putin as Russia’s new capability arising from the various state of the art weapons systems he announced to the world in his State of the Nation address a couple of years ago. Since then Russia has gone on from prototypes and tests to full serial production and deployment of these missiles which may be carried on board surface vessels in shipping containers or on attack submarines.