What will happen in Eastern Ukraine
Danger of war in Ukraine : This is how the West could stop Putin
Corona dominates thoughts and feelings. That is understandable. But does long-term employment dull the minds so much that even the danger of war in Europe cannot free German politics from this imprisonment of its consciousness?
Vladimir Putin is currently testing that. 2000 kilometers east of Berlin he has troops deployed and uses the same records in his propaganda as before the attacks on Crimea and eastern Ukraine: Russian compatriots are threatened there; he will defend their rights.
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Hardly anyone in Berlin seems to be affected by that. The government and its foreign policy makers say, they are alarmed. But they are not doing anything that could make their citizens or a Putin feel really alarmed are and take the escalation seriously.
That's the actual problem.
Nobody really knows Putin's intentions
From a distance it is impossible to say with certainty what Putin is up to. Does he want to use the distraction caused by Corona to conquer the city of Mariupol and a land corridor to Crimea and thus secure the water supply for the occupied peninsula? In 2014, international protests and sanctions forced him to abandon these strategic land gains.
Or does he want to test the reaction of the new US President Joe Biden? Maybe he is only interested in a domestic political demonstration of power in the election year.
The Kremlin's motto: Let's see what works
Putin may not have decided what his next move will be. He keeps all options open. For years he has acted according to the motto: Let's see what works.
One can therefore rely on one thing. What he does in the end also depends on how Germany, Europe and the USA react. Or not. He calculates the costs, benefits and risks of his approach.
That is why it would be fatal if he drew the conclusion from the local corona lethargy: They don't care whether I march in or not. That would increase the danger of war, which is currently still a potential one.
Europe and the US have many options - if they are united
What can Germany, Europe and the USA do to ensure that Putin stops threatening and does not risk an attack? Show determination and unity. And use the wide range of instruments available to the West, from threats of sanctions to support for Ukraine.
In practice, of course, this is not that easy. It is true that the EU and the USA are 15 times as strong as Russia economically. But as long as they do not agree on the means and measure, Putin feels safe.
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The German reaction seems indecisive to the USA. Joe Biden phoned Ukrainian President Zelenskyi about Putin's march and assured him of support, including military aid. Many Germans see this as a dangerous escalation.
Arms deliveries can also ensure peace
The US certainly does not intend to defend Ukraine with its soldiers. It does not belong to NATO. But from the point of view of their experts, arms deliveries can help to keep the peace. Pro-Russian tank units, they say, retreated a few kilometers behind the front when they learned that the US had delivered anti-tank defense to Ukraine.
Everyone knows Ukraine cannot win an open war against Russia, even with considerable Western help. But the West can add to the potential cost of a Russian attack, thereby deterring Putin. Fallen coffins are no help in the election year. The Russian people also know that every ruble that goes into a war in Ukraine is missing from their own supplies.
Economic sanctions are also most effective when threatened. There is also a wide range: putting Nord Stream on hold, freezing bank accounts of Russian officials involved in the war in Ukraine, or even excluding Russia from international payments in the Swift system.
Putin tests the West again and again. The reassuring thing about tests, whether in the pandemic, at school or in international crises, is that you can pass them.
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