When Vladimir Putin gave his solemn pledge to the Americans that Russia would not invade Ukraine, he sentence of reassurance should have been followed up with the words, ‘because we don’t have to’.
Instead of the traditional and blunt Russian tactic of formenting unrest in order to justify sending troops over a border into another state and securing a puppet government, it seems the Russians have taken a leaf out of the American CIA’s playbook and have ex-military civilians and hired guns fighting a proxy war. This is why Radio Free Europe is reporting today that a desperate search is on to prove that Russian forces are behind the coordinated actions.
This explains why General Philip Breedlove has seemlessly reversed his previous position – where he was rushing to every microphone to declare the Russians were building up a military force ahead of an invasion – to one where he now says he does not think Russia will invade Ukraine, that he believes the Kremlin has other ways to achieve its goals and that Moscow will keep a hold on eastern Ukraine without sending regular troops across the border.
This is exactly what the Americans have done in a number of countries over the years to give them deniability of intervention in conflicts, despite the language of the contractors and the origin of the military hardware being used. What has been good for the American goose now appears to be good for the Russian gander. Putin is playing the American game and in so doing he has wrongfooted the Americans and is undermining their efforts to extend their influence further eastward. It seems Ukraine has become the line in the sand where the Russians have decided that western expansion will end its march.
It demonstrates that the Russian approach has matured and is now multi dimensional, which will no doubt cause a flurry of activity in NATO about what this refined approach means for the way NATO armed forces will be organised. It certainly underlines how meaningless a gesture it was for the Americans to send troops for training and the UK to send aircraft to Poland. The west failed to correctly read what the Russians were doing.
If any EU politicians in Brussels are paying attention, they might now realise that their expansionist aims eastwards, which have caused this crisis, will be met with a very different Russian approach to the one seen in the cold war. Now it will be one that sees Moscow commit treasure and support, but no longer any regular manpower.
Such an approach will bog down any EU territorial and governance ambitions in unrest, slow burn conflict and ungovernability. We have just witnessed a sea change, but will the EU notice?