The Russia-US-NATO-OSCE meetings this week have come and gone. The Russian verdict was succinctly delivered by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Ryabkov, who explained even before the OSCE session was over that the talks have come to “a dead end” and it was unlikely the Russians will participate in any follow-on talks.
This opens the question to what comes next.
Official Washington feels certain that what comes next is a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which could come in the next few weeks and thereby fall within the timetable for such an operation suggested by State Department officials when they met with NATO allies ahead of Biden’s December 7 virtual summit with Putin. The logic put out then was that January-February would be very suitable for a land invasion given that the frozen ground would well support tank movements. One might add to that argument on timing, one further argument that was not adduced: in midwinter it is questionable how long the Russians would want to keep 100,000 soldiers camped in field conditions near the border; such stasis in these severe conditions is not conducive to maintaining morale.
In what I would call a rare show of failing confidence in the predictive powers of the Biden Administration, U.S. media admit to uncertainty over Russia’s next moves. However, they cleverly present this by pointing to the uncertainty of the analysts and commentators on the Russian side.
A featured article in The New York Times a couple of days ago by their Moscow correspondent Anton Troianovsky says it all in the title: Putin’s Next Move on Ukraine Is a Mystery. Just the Way He Likes It”
Indeed, all the best known Russian experts appear to be stymied, none more so than the ubiquitous Fyodor Lukyanov, host of the weekly television show “International Overview” and long time research director of the Valdai Discussion Club, where his peers in the front ranks of American international affairs specialists have gotten to know him. Lukyanov has in recent days humbly admitted he hasn’t a clue to what comes next. Another leading figure in the Russian foreign affairs think tank community, Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, has shown in recent interviews that he is no better informed about what is going on in the Kremlin and what comes next.
Western experts are also shown by our media to be clueless. Today’s Financial Times article “Russia writes off security talks…” ends with a quote from Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace: “Nobody knows Putin’s next move. And we’ll all find out at the same time.”
By definition, ‘experts’ cannot declare they know nothing and be taken seriously. This reminds me of the saying of my boss for five years at ITT Europe in the 1980s, Georges Tsygalnitzky. Each time we sat down to prepare the annual Business Plan he told us that if we calculated the sales forecasts badly, we could be up to 100% off, but if we failed to deliver a Plan we would be “infinitely wrong.” The same rules apply to government defense planning.
No right-thinking person likes the idea of a major war coming to the middle of Europe, as the Ukrainians consider themselves to be. The United States has still more reason to worry about a looming war between Russia and Ukraine, because the outcome of total rout for the Kiev military forces equates to a bloody nose for Washington: its acknowledged 2.5 billion dollar investment in arming and training the Ukrainian military will have been in vain, and the loss would rival the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in terms of American global prestige. The Biden administration would enter the midterm electoral period reeling from its losses in international relations.
Without wishing the Biden administration ill, I believe their scenario of a Russian invasion is wrong-headed and unimaginative. It fails to come to terms with the Russians’ imperatives on altering the security architecture in Europe as drivers of their current policies, not settling scores with Ukraine, or bringing them back to a common homeland, as Blinken & Company repeat ad nauseam.
So what comes next? In successive articles on this website, I have set out several scenarios, or algorithms. My most recent prognosis in yesterday’s piece was that Putin’s Plan B would likely be purely “military-technical” in the sense of roll-out of medium range nuclear capable missiles in Kaliningrad and Belarus, to place all of Europe under threat of attack with ultra-short warning times, such as Moscow finds unacceptable coming from U.S.-NATO encirclement of its territory.
At the same time, Moscow might announce the stationing off of the American East and West Coasts of its submarines and frigates carrying hypersonic missiles and the Poseidon deep sea nuclear capable drone, all to the same purpose, namely putting a pistol to the head of the U.S. leadership. And now there is even talk of Russia building military installations in Venezuela, likely to host Russian strategic bombers capable of swift attack on the Continental United States without having to fly half the world. And a Cuban delegation is reportedly in Moscow, no doubt talking about posssible installation of missiles there. This is all very reminiscent of the goings-on in 1962.
One reader of this essay has written in, saying that news of Russian submarines posted off the coast of New York and Los Angeles could sink the S&P. Yes, indeed, and this financial damage is an aspect of policy that the Russians have taken into account. The sensitivity of Wall Street to bad news was mentioned specifically by Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov earlier in the week in Q&A. The American middle classes may be indifferent to foreign affairs generally but they are very attentive and politically active when the value of their 401k pension fund is hit. It is not for nothing that wealth fund managers in the City of London, board members of leading U.S. banks and insurance companies are readers of my essays as reposted on my LinkedIn account.
I imagine that Russia’s Plan B could begin implementation in the next couple of weeks and would be given three or four weeks to take effect on Western public consciousness. If the United States and NATO still resisted coming to terms over changes to the Alliance that satisfy Russian demands, then I envision a Plan C which would indeed be kinetic warfare, but quite different from the invasion that figures in U.S. public statements and approaches to its allies.
Without putting a single soldier on the ground in Ukraine or contemplating direct overthrow of its regime and occupation, Russia could by “military-technical means,” such as missile and air attacks destroy the Ukraine’s command and control structure as well as “neutralize” the most radical nationalist militias and other hostile units now threatening Donbas. The destruction of Ukraine’s military infrastructure would by itself put an end to Washington’s plans for extensive war games there later in the year. We may assume that Russian forces will remain massed at the border till such operations are completed.
The clean-up of Ukraine, ending its potential to threaten Russian national security, would be a very strong signal to all of Europe to back off in practice even if no formal treaties are signed with Russia at present.
In an exchange with a close colleague in Washington this morning, we agreed a bet on whether my prediction holds. And in this casino of international politics, I invite readers to place their own bets on what comes next.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
17 thoughts on “Russian roulette: as croupier at this particular casino table, I invite you to place your bets”
My bet would be: accepting Serbia into CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and emediatly provide it with S400,…
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I think so because one of the main outcome from the negotiations is that: every country has the right to decide which alliance to enter 😉
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One of the main outcome from the negotiations is that the West emphasis on the right of the countries to decide of which allience to enter or leave. After accepting Serbia into CSTO, next step might be Montenegro – meaning, they would apply for “dismembership” from NATO…..that would be the first two steps to internaly initiate dissolution of NATO….fallowed by Hungary and Slovenia….just guessing 😉
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Another point of view is that this theather regarding NATO-Russia-US only serves as distraction from China.
I do not wonder that during this “crises” with Russia …. China is making deals with Golf countries, with Cuba, Nicaragua, Syria and with Turkey …. 🙂
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I would not bet on Russia’s next move but my belief is that Russia will attempt to reclaim Ukraine is a territory which is vital to the security of the Russian statehood by peaceful means first. It would not be an invasion or destruction of Ukraine as a sovereign state. If I read Vladimir Vladimirovich moves correctly, he will make an televised offer to Kiev (and ask to be broadcast by Ukrainian TV) to denounce its NATO ambitions and to renounce extremist, anti-Russian nationalism based on a delusional and self-defeating policy of egging on the West into militarist adventures against Russia which the Ukrainian people do not support. He will tell them they are free to do anything except one thing…. engage in fratricidal scheming against Russia. Putin’s address to Ukrainians will undoubtedly raise the themes of common history, Christian traditions and the glorious victory of both nations united against a common enemy in a terrible world war. Now, of course Kiev might want to suppress the speech which would instantly turn into a political debacle for Zelenskyi. If the speech goes on it will have a great effect and may force the government in Kiev to a marked change in posture. But I am sure (knowing the Slavs, being one myself) it will create a new situation on the ground. What happens next I don’t know. All bets are off, as they say.
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Dear Mr. Soloview, I am also betting a lot of money on your bett 😉 . Because I also think that the UA society has deep historic cultural ethnic and social connections with Russia. And for me it is unimaginable that UA citizens will fight Russia citizans after all the marasmus they were faced after artificial Maidan. No dreams and promisses where met. I happened to see some “important” guy on RT TV from US, telling the audienca that Russia will need 600 thousend troops to conquer UA. I personally think …. it will requare no troops….just smart approach and time.
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Just hearing now of a large scale cyber attack on Ukraine—from CBC. So what am I to think?: CIA offensive asymmetrical warfare looms large and prominent—and desperate to maintain the West’s narrative.
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The idea of an invasion in Jan/Feb to me is a complete misnomer, again common sense would suggest not. Who starts a war in winter, a Russian winter at that!? Land may be frozen over but it still rains and snows and a 40 ton tank soon churns it up. This theory points to a completely fundamental flaw in the way the West thinks about and approaches warfare, one which has seen them lose war after war or just get bogged down for years against often less than mediocre enemies.
As you rightly point out Russia doesn’t need to invade. The US has it wrong in that aspect but then they judge the world by what they would do themselves and their military is out of date compared to Russias and its military doctrines, such as they are, haven’t moved out of the 20th Century yet. America doesn’t win wars because it doesn’t know how to fight them. Much like the British before them they spend too much time invading 3rd world countries, without airforces or modern missile systems, destroying infrastructure, murdering civilians by the 100s of thousands, bombing the country back into the stone age and then stealing the resources. They haven’t fought a peer war since 1946.
Stand off weaponry, high altitude bombing and drone warfare with some long range artillery can finish the Ukraine military. The Russians can simply then say to the Ukrainian people ‘you’re welcome, dont mention it but if you ever attempt to build any kind of military again we will come back and destroy that too’ thus leaving it up to NATO to decide whether they want to be attacked in the same manner. I would expect some special forces and even snatch squads to be at work for a while, de fanging the nazis, oligarchs and trouble makers. The West will no longer have any leverage in the Region again. I don’t expect the Russians to stay, they can’t afford Ukraine, the West broke it, they should pay for it. As to what happens in the east I’m not so sure, will Putin wish the Ukraine to ‘unite’ perhaps with special or federal status for the Eastern, culturally Russian parts, or subsume them into the RF? Crimea will stay where it is of course but I would expect the Russian black sea forces to be much more active and threatening to the neer do wells that keep doing’ FOM excercises.’ Whether Russia would choose to also destroy the new ‘ports’ that the UK and US are building in the area again, I couldn’t tell. It would make sense to do so as the UK one is presumed to be primarily an intelligence and spying hub, it would seem stupid to me to leave them standing and it would send a pretty stern message to both if they were taken out. As to the wests reaction? Who cares, they can’t really create a prolonged period of pain for the Russians.
I do wonder about what will happen afterwards, vis a vis the relationship with China and how much Russia will then help them militarily in the SCS, Russian weaponry in Chinese hands in that arena could completely change the balance of power, as it could in the hands of the Iranians especially in relation to the Straights of Hormuz, I guess these are things are for future conjecture. The West only has itself to blame for whatever happens, quite frankly the Russophobes in London and DC deserve it.
Having said all that maybe VVP has something else up his sleeves!
Best wishes Gilbert I always enjoy your posts.
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Reading the commentariat in the Wall Street Journal, one is struck by the subtle, “let’s not get carried away”, message. The articles repeat and even create a enormous panoply of shibboleths, describing the Abomination that is Russia and the Sainthood that is the United States, but then, at the end, they council patience and restraint, restraint even up to effectively doing nothing. I am too tired right now to get the references, but I will. The authors are what I like to refer to as the “hold my coat” crowd, as in, “Okay, I’ve had enough. Hold my coat while I beat the hell out of that guy!” I guess the Military Industrial Complex, worth a trillion dollars a year, is a delicate flower that must not be molested by reality.
Whatever. I think that there are plenty of people in the Russian Military up to and including Shoigu who want to exterminate the Nazi’s in Ukraine. My bet, as is yours I think, is on the extensive vaporization of anything military in Ukraine with simultaneous occupation of the West. The blow when it comes will be sudden and beyond imaginable big. An annexation of the Western Provinces with prejudice. Will they throw in surgical strikes at military targets in other countries? It will probably not be necessary.
Your articles are a pleasure to read. Thanks.
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You know what’s missing in this whole discussion. Really missing. I mean a gaping hole. *A no-fly zone over Ukraine.* Why hasn’t Hillary Clinton gotten on TV and demanded a no-fly zone over Ukraine? Think about Kosovo, etc. Surely, the great NATO has the air power to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. If it can occupy Afghanistan, surely it can project air power close to home.
The U.S. is flying surveillance jets over Ukraine on the Russian border four times a day. Surely if it can do that, it can institute a no-fly zone.
What would a no-fly zone do? Well, it would permit the Nazi’s to fight the Donbass residents with overwhelming strength. Of course, that’s not completely true, but it goes toward the truth.
Well, seeing there is no no-fly zone, nor will there be, one must get an answer to the question, Why?
It may have something to do with Russia’s overwhelming superiority in air defense and offensive weapons. That’s just a guess. But if any of this is true, the game is already over, and perhaps Nuland et al know it.
NATO is a joke. Laughing will start soon.
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I take a quite different view to those already expressed. Russia, unlike the USA and its allies, believes in a rule of law as set out in The United Nations charter. It has asserted this many times.
The USA is powerful militarily, economically, and in terms of mass communications.
Why is this? Because it largely controls the word’s finance through the “dominance of the dollar”.
Money is a symbol of wealth that has become virtually synonymous with wealth for the purposes of trade.
America PRINTS money and exchanges this for real wealth produced around the world. This enables it to buy influence and power.
If Russia, in alliance with China and others, can provide alternative trading arrangements to the almighty dollar, American influence and power would disappear like ‘snow in a dyke’. No war. No violence. No illegality. Just promoting a greater freedom to trade in currency other than the dollar. In my view, this should be the primary objective. Ditch the Dollar!
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Your idea is similar to mine. Russia declares it will only accept payments from now on in gold, rubles, or yuan. This however would be a two-sided sword, as it would increase the value of the ruble which would benefit its purchase power for import, however, would increase the price of exports.
China, if it could be convinced of the long-term benefits could declare the same, thus putting the squeeze on the US dollar and making this a wake-up call for everyone still using the $ as the default trading currency.
I am convinced that such options have been already been “war-gamed” by both.
Another option, rather more brutal, would be a clandestine action to damage severely a section of the main pipeline transporting the gas to the EU somewhere close to the RF/Ukrainian border and blaming some Ukrainian groups for that.
This would drive up the price of NG even further and allow Russia to completely suspend any delivery to Ukraine. Maybe this would get the EU members to focus on what the benefits are of good relations with Russia vs. following the US agenda.
india also stationed troops at the border for months when its parliament was attacked by terrorists from pakistan.
Russia has zero plans to invade Ukraine (feel free to get the ‘russianbot’ accusations out of your systems now). This entire storyline is completely fake nonsense. The ‘troops massing near the border’ are at routine training grounds 100 and 150 miles from the border; they’re as close to the border with Belarus as they are to Ukraine. On top of that Russia withdrew 10,000 of them just three weeks ago. Russia is literally doing nothing to indicate any plans for an invasion. Aside from the fact that 70,000-100,000 troops is not remotely enough to invade and hold all of Ukraine (Russia would need to use something like a million troops, in other words basically the entire Russian military), troops being pre-positioned for an invasion wouldn’t be sitting lined up out in the open at a long-established military base.
A much more likely scenario is that NATO is attempting to get Kiev to launch another offensive against the Donbass federalists, which will inevitably fail, but the hope is that it’ll prove enough of a threat that Russia will have to overtly intervene to prevent ethnic cleansing. At which point NATO will claim that “see, Russia aggression!”. So they’re filling the news media in the weeks leading up to the Ukrainian assault with bogus stories to predispose people to the idea of Russian aggression, and that Bond Supervillain Putin is up to his nefarious world conquest games again.
After Kiev pulls the trigger, Russia bombs the Ukrainian military to pieces, but fails to substantially intervene beyond that. The Ukrainian state then likely begins to unravel entirely from internal dissent and chaos. Then the ball is in NATOs court as to whether it wants to escalate further.
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