Putin’s next invasion will be sooner than you think

28 February 2022

Washington Examiner, 28 February 2022

by Michael Rubin / Photo credits: Washington Examiner

While they may be taking heavier casualties than Russian President Vladimir Putin expected, wresting Russian forces from Ukrainian territory will be difficult so long as Putin remains alive. Putin has centralized Russia to such an extent that chaos will likely fill the vacuum when he passes.

Putin certainly wants to reconstitute the Soviet Union, if not its broader sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. For analysts who ask why Ukraine and why now, two factors drive Putin’s timing. The first is fear of democracy on Russia’s borders . There is a logical flaw among those who say that Russians are culturally averse to democracy and also that Putin understands the Russian psyche: If the latter is true, then Putin’s hypersensitivity to "people power" revolutions in neighboring states shows the former is not.

The second issue is economic. A decade ago, Russia analyst Anna Borshchevskaya noted that Russians increasingly compared Putin to former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev because of growing economic stagnation. Putin’s mismanagement of the Russian economy has not changed. Russia’s economy is smaller than Italy’s. Statistics obscure the true reality: Russia’s hydrocarbon wealth benefits Putin and his cronies, but it does not trickle down to ordinary Russians. Russian median income is below that of equally autocratic Belarus, Bosnia, and even Lebanon. Simply put, Putin knows his military adventures and flag-waving distract Russians.

While the international press focuses on Russia’s military might and Ukraine’s ability to resist, however, they too often ignore the economic cost of Putin’s aggression. Sanctions, especially when the West applies them gradually, giving the Russian economy time to adjust, are not the major problem. Rather, every time Putin grabs territory — Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, and now the entirety of Ukraine — he must subsidize it. This simply speeds up the cycle in which Putin turns to military aggression to cover economic weakness.

Putin has no choice. Pillaging Ukraine will not work. Ukraine might be a breadbasket, but it requires farmers, who are either conscripted into the fight against Russia or fleeing as refugees. The disruption of war will negate any possible profit Putin seeks. Russians may cheer militaristic news broadcasts, but thousands of mothers will soon recognize their sons are not coming home. Fresh graves are already likely being dug in the cemetery outside of Pskov . Many more Russian families will soon see that shortages and their quality of life will worsen.

Putin, incapable of effective economic stewardship, will then turn to the only recourse he has: continuing the march. That means northern Kazakhstan, Moldova, or even the Baltic states. After every Russian invasion, the United States and its unserious NATO allies stand down. This is a mistake. It is time to recognize the inevitability of further Russian aggression and act now before it is too late.

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