Sunday, February 20, 2022


The present feels like a rerun of the past.

World War II started by what is known as the drôle de guerre,  a hybrid lull  (September 1939 /May 1940) after Poland's defeat. The talk was more about the unusual mild weather than about the Nazi menace.

President Putin's current strategy leaves the West, in general, and Ukraine, in particular, in the dark. His Kabuki game with decor and taks distracts and deters. While it is impossible to read the tea leaves, the various Western leaders compete for a sit-in at the Kremlin's enormous white table. President Biden is becoming an accessory in this ongoing saga with an unpredictable ending. Ukraine must feel unloved and deserted.

Russia's GDP hardly comes close to the Benelux numbers. Gas might backlash in Putin's face. The cost of any military intervention would be enormous. While the West looks innocuous now it could return Russia to the stone age later. The diplomatic virtuosity of its foreign minister is unique inter paresRussia's military might does not solely rest on hardware. It is reinforced by a structural orthodox nationalistic mindset which remains impervious to the mindset of Sakharov yesterday or Navalny today. Putin is not a philosopher king. He acts like a control freak, obsessed by the correction of history wherein Russia felt cheated.

Until now he was able to become a major Influencer benefiting from the de facto laziness of former President Trump, Germany's Ostpolitik ambition and China's mostly laissez faire.  His incursions in the Caucasus and Crimea belong already to the realm of the oratory. If he were to launch a hardcore operation into Ukraine, he risks a sustained backlash. If he recognizes the separatists in the East, he infringes again upon existing situations, invalidating them by way of proxies.

For the time being NATO got a new life. It remains to be seen how long this will last. Given the nervosity which runs deep in the Baltics, the credibility of the alliance needs to be further beefed-up. Paradoxically NATO's nemesis might be its ultimate rescuer.

This overstreched, sad European winter is the perfect setting of the re-emergence of another phony war. Like its predecessor, chances are that it might also arrive at the worst outcome. One must hope that Putin will choose for the more economical option, the one that might bring him some satisfaction, and for the West some relief.  There is no need to spell such an outcome out when half measures look bad on paper even if they present a less undesirable outcome.

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