Ralph Peters recently commented that Vladimir Putin’s personality makes it very possible that he will overreach. I believe he already has. First, even though some critics have complained about a weak initial response by President Obama, (Peters believes the response was too weak), I think that Putin is rather taken aback by the US response, which has been incrementally tough.
First, Obama did the correct thing in hitting Russia with economic sanctions. Russia’s economy, insufficiently diversified, is its weakness. Additionally, the incremental approach is best, for it does not allow Putin to declare that the US and NATO are unjustly harming the Russian people, just as the Versailles Treaty allowed Hitler.
The US deployed warships to the Black Sea. Again, I do not believe that Putin expected this. Given his past negotiations with President Obama, Putin thought the US president would flinch, he expected concessions and platitudes. He actually got harsh words, even from European leaders. Additionally, the US and other NATO nations began military exercises in Poland, in an effort to communicate US resolve in providing security to its Eastern European allies. Eastern Europe, unlike some nations in Western Europe, feel no sense of entitlement when it comes to their security and the US’ role in that security; these nations have felt Russia breathing down their necks since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and most of them greatly appreciate the US’ help. Indeed, most of the countries in Eastern Europe have backed the US all along the way during the War on Terror. They are valuable and faithful allies. We should return the favor.
Vladimir Putin may have backed himself into a corner. For now, he is riding a nationalist wave in Russia. These things burn out quickly, particularly without a foe to fight. If Putin backs down, he may seal his doom in a country rife with domestic problems; a dying population, is not the least of those problems. If he invades Ukraine, he invites more economic sanctions and perhaps even military intervention on the part of Europe, something that Putin definitely does not want, despite his tough talk. Putin will not be talked down via rational debate. NATO will have to stand firm, and use action to stop him. Again, he does not want confrontation, as he knows he can’t win in a direct military confrontation with a united NATO. His tactics, ever since he took power over a decade ago, has been to divide NATO. If Putin perceives that NATO will not stand up to him, he will not hesitate to pounce. Russia has undergone significant military improvements since 2008. It’s 2008 military campaign in South Ossetia resembled the Nazis’ test run of their Blitzkreig tactics and newer military equipment in the Spanish Civil War. But now, Putin has no good options. His most powerful weapon remains his state run media, such as RT, and a credulous American and Russian people. His Edward Snowden operation was a masterstroke, but it’s wearing thin and it won’t make up for one stumble by Putin, who’s played the game as well as it can be played for quite a while. But the game may now be up.