Source: Ed Sherdlu

With Russian soldiers hovering along the Ukrainian border for the past two months, the West worries, what’s next? Will Putin invade? Does he want to take over Ukraine? Or is the Ruski strongman simply flexing his muscles to scare NATO into blackballing Ukraine.

Although Putin seems to be in control, he is playing a very dangerous game he cannot afford to lose. If this current crisis does not play out significantly in Russia’s favor, Moscow’s super strongman could be in big trouble at the Kremlin.

To understand why Putin is beating his war drums along his Western border, delve deep into the Russian psyche. For them, everything is about Mother Russia and the projection of both national and personal strength. Russia was always given more credence than was justified during the Cold War.

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It was the false perception of Russian strength, creating fear in the rest of the world, that produced results for them. As a retired very senior CIA source told me after the Soviet Union collapsed, “they were really never more than a Third World country with First World nukes. And with their primitive telephone system and small percentage of military personnel on duty who were sober, they probably would have never been able to launch many of their missiles anyway!”

In Russia, perceived personal power is the greatest of all assets and much more important than reality. In the eyes of Russians, perceived power in a leader is seen as 100% total control or a 0% failure. There is no middle ground.

Khrushchev received significant secret concessions from Kennedy to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba, but that crisis heralded the end of Khrushchev’s time in the big chair at the end of the table. The only thing that surprised Soviet watchers was Khrushchev walking out of the Kremlin as opposed to being carried out in a box due to lead poisoning.

Gorbachev was toast the day he flew home from Reykjavík without concessions from Reagan.

Machismo works well in Moscow. Putin makes no secret of his multiple mistresses, including a beautiful news anchor on Moscow TV and the $100 million Kleptocrat Svetlana Krivonogikh with whom he has an all-but-admitted daughter.

Russians love troikas. It’s Putin’s dream to install a new 3-person statue overlooking Red Square. Lenin – Stalin – Putin. Visualize it: Lenin, closed fisted rallying the Workers of the World. Stalin in uniform defeating Hitler, and a cast-bronze Putin bare-chested on a horse, showing off his six-pack pecs.

Although the West may think Putin is omnipotent in Russia, he must constantly demonstrate greater and greater power internally. Recent public protests in the Moscow streets are a PR disaster for Putin. Biden’s green-lighting Putin’s gas pipeline boosted his creds with party bureaucrats but was not nearly enough to satiate the old-line Communists. Nothing less than effectively rebuilding the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact will satisfy them.

Uncle Vladimir’s European Socialism Reassembly Plan is nothing new. A few years ago, Russia feared Georgia’s newly formed links with the West. After Kremlin diplomacy failed, Putin solved the problem at the point of a bayonet. Belarus read the tea leaves and quickly fell in line.

But Ukraine would not cower to Putin’s demands. After poisoning the Ukrainian president did not work, Russia’s invasion and seizure of the eastern third of Ukraine produced results. The message was very clear: “Do what The Big Guy wants, or we will crush you.”

Obama did what the world expected in response to that Russian invasion. He sent blankets and Band-Aids. When Putin started threatening a further full Ukrainian invasion a few years later, Trump sent bullets and bombs. Putin put his next planned power-play on hold as a result.

But now Biden and Company are in charge in Washington (well, sort of…) and Putin must flex his muscles again. He has assembled a huge army on the Ukrainian border. The forces are structured for invasion, not defense. For example, his armor and artillery units are all positioned directly on the border. The 120,000 Russian soldiers are ready to invade at a moment’s notice. If they were in a defensive posture they would be dug in with the artillery and support units positioned to the rear. Not only are the Russian forces ready to surge across the border, but they are also making no attempt to camouflage their positions or hide their intentions. Putin wants Western satellites to photograph the assembled invasion forces.

Why is Putin doing this? Because more than anything else, Ukraine’s political movements toward the West and desire to align with NATO are seen as signs of Russian weakness in the twisting corridors of the Kremlin. Moscow’s leaders, no matter who they are, do not survive public perceptions of weakness. Just ask Gorby. Who cares if 10,000 Ukrainians die? That would be a slow day during Stalin’s pogroms.

But what’s the best way for Putin to pump up his power profile? His first choice would be to avoid invading Ukraine. If he can get Biden to guarantee a Russia-friendly Ukraine, it would be seen by the Moscow apparatchiks as a repeat of Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace in Our Time” humiliation by Hitler. As a result of the British Prime Minister’s surrender at Berchtesgaden, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia and conquered 14 million people without firing a shot while Chamberlain enjoyed a series of rather delicious quaint afternoon teas at 10 Downing Street.

There is an interesting parallel between Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Putin’s invasion of the Crimean portion of Ukraine. Hitler justified the Czechoslovakian annexation because many people there spoke German. Putin claimed Crimea should be his because many citizens in Eastern Ukraine spoke Russian. If Putin needs an excuse to overrun the rest of Ukraine in 2022, most of the rest of Ukraine also speaks Russian.

(Perhaps we could convince Boris Johnson to take back New York City because they speak English, or at least a vague version of it in Da Bronx.)

Putin has only two choices. He must either intimidate his way into everything he wants at the negotiating table or he must unleash the Kraken-ski and invade.

If the bully boy threats work, Putin will be seen as a hero in Moscow and increasingly feared in the rest of Europe. If Putin must invade to get what he wants, he will still be seen as a hero in Moscow and increasingly feared throughout the rest of Europe. Those two benefits are much more important to him than any negative sanctions the world could ever impose. Our response? If Putin does invade, Biden will provide little more than bluster, blankets, and Band-Aids.

The third option, to withdraw without a publicly perceived victory, is simply a nonstarter for Putin.

As a result, there is no possible victory for the West. We missed that chance years ago during the Russian invasions of Georgia and Crimea.

Bottom line: America and Western Europe are weakened because Putin plays hardball while Obama and Biden play Pattycake.