This is an extract from a piece written in November 2017.
I reckon Putin is scared stiff of the West, just as Stalin was. However, he is in a worse position, because Stalin managed to establish a cordon sanitaire from Poland to Bulgaria. All those countries are now in the EU and NATO and, worse for Putin, so are the three Baltic states, which were formerly part of the Soviet Union. This means that Russia’s only access to the southern Baltic is through the Kaliningrad exclave, and this requires the cooperation of Lithuania.
Putin pretty well has Belarus in his pocket, but Ukraine is more of a problem. The Ukrainian-speaking west, north and centre tend to be westward-looking, but Putin would hate to lose this part of his attenuated cordon sanitaire. From his point of view, it is of value that the east and south are largely Russian-speaking and in some areas a good part of the population regards itself as ethnically Russian. Crimea has been grabbed back by Russia and two oblasts in the south-east, Donetsk and Luhansk, have declared themselves independent of Kiev. The loss of these may not be disastrous for Ukraine economically – their industries are in severe decline – but they might be used to launch one part of a pincer movement on southern Ukraine.
Now this may not be a practical possibility for Putin at the moment, but if he can shift resources from the Middle East conflict, he might turn his attention to Ukraine. Why do I think this? Well he is maintaining a military presence in the pro-Russian breakaway state of Transnistria, formerly part of Moldova.
Theoretically, the Russian troops are being withdrawn, but it does not seem to be happening. I reckon that Transnistria could be used as a jumping-off point for a takeover of Odessa oblast and of course the major port city of Odessa. A simultaneous invasion from the east and possibly from Crimea might result in the rapid annexation of the whole of southern Ukraine. This would leave Ukraine landlocked and greatly weakened, unable to pursue its desire for a closer association with the EU.
AFJ November 2017
(posted here 12/18)