War between Russia and Ukraine would be a nightmare, along with everything that makes it more likely
By Leonid Gankinhead of the foreign policy department of the Moscow newspaper Kommersant
In the hours following Moscow’s recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, analysts scrambled to predict what the fallout would be for the country and the world. Severing virtually all ties with the West and seeing its economy crippled by sanctions are apparently on Russia’s agenda. But to those predicting an economic and political apocalypse: relax, nothing of this magnitude has happened yet.
In reality, Moscow has only made a probing gesture, testing the waters. There will of course be sanctions – and some have already been unveiled – but hardly “sanctions regime from hell” it was promised.
Why is that? Well, Moscow still has a strong hand. On the one hand, Russian troops could enter the Donbass. The contingent may be small or large, stationed in barracks around Donetsk or Luhansk, or it may deploy to the separation line. And how would he react to a Ukrainian bombardment? No one knows, and this unpredictability means the results are always up for grabs.
The only clear thing is that the risk of a direct confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian forces is skyrocketing. And what will come next? An all-out war between Russia and Ukraine? The march on Kiev that US President Joe Biden has been waiting for so long?
It would truly be a nightmare, and the West must try at all costs to avoid letting it happen or making it more likely. But what will be left to do if all possible sanctions are exhausted? The main arguments and containment measures should be saved for later.
Truly severe sanctions are likely to be well kept in reserve by the United States – pushing the nuclear button in economic terms should be a last resort rather than an opening salvo. Present them in response to the “Russian Aggression” that Washington failed to prevent would be seen as another foreign policy failure for the current administration, and for Biden personally — a failure very sensitive to that. More importantly, such sanctions, especially if they target the energy sector, would also be a blow to the US economy.
A rise in gas prices is not something the electorate would appreciate. Democrats would take a midterm beating in November, not to mention the 2024 presidential election.
This leaves the United States and its allies with only one option: to continue talking with Moscow, which has already demonstrated that it is determined and ready to go very far in the negotiations. Not only will the dialogue on European security guarantees continue, but it could soon experience a new lease of life. The great game continues.
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