The Offramp

Biden stating Putin is going to invade Ukraine oddly offered Putin an offramp from invading Ukraine.

For several months, Putin has been saying he wasn’t going to invade Ukraine. Meanwhile, his forces prepped to be in position to invade Ukraine. This has done good things for Putin.

+ He dominated international politics, made himself a big player, and received meetings with Scholz, Biden, and Macron. He raised his profile at home quite significantly.
+ He flexed military muscles by showing capability on the world stage.
+ He upstaged his frenemies in China during the Olympics.
+ His current military adventurism is roughly unchanged from before, save increased artillery attacks.
+ Ukraine was destabilized slightly more. The Ukrainian people are a little more scared. Putin the judoka has put his adversaries off balance.
+ NATO and the EU were partially destabilized. Fissures and weaknesses were exposed.
+ Military unit training has been accomplished with forces at or nearly 200k strong.

And he hasn’t actually invaded Ukraine any more.

On the negative side:

– It has driven the Baltics, Poland, and Finland closer to NATO. Joining NATO is now an open discussion in Finland, a subjection previously rarely brought up.
– It exposed fissures within the EU regarding military action, however those fissures are being addressed. Conversations long delayed are now being held.
– Scholz sort of affirmed shutting down the Nordstream 2 pipeline, albeit in no strong language (or even in direct language at all).
– Biden’s diplomacy first policy actually worked.
– The demand for NATO to forever foreswear expanding east was roundly rejected.
– The EU is replacing a lot of Russian natural gas with American.

And on the neutral side:
o The Nordstream 2 isn’t sanctioned yet.
o Uniformed troops on the Ukrainian border haven’t invaded Ukraine.

If Russia deescalated right now, he notch a few more wins. All along he’s said he would not invade, Biden and Johnson have said or implied he would, and if he doesn’t, he’s right and they’re wrong. Biden finally stuck his neck out and said Putin is going to invade. If Putin backs out, Biden will eat crow.

Putin has also pushed his boundaries. He can now develop more troop deployments to his western border with even less risk of receiving sanctions.

Putin can claim he’s no warmonger, that it’s the US and the west, etc. That plays well in Russia.

He’s still actively in Ukraine, albeit with unmarked troops instead of main military units. He’s still actually invading Ukraine and fighting a war of separatism. He’s moved the goalposts from, ‘Russia! Stop invading Ukraine!’ to ‘Russia, don’t invade Ukraine any more.’

He’s gained military intelligence and basically sand-mapped invading a near-west ally.

I don’t know if Biden making this statement was intentional, a probe to deflate the balloon, or a serious statement. A strong judo response is to roll with your opponent’s energy. An successful geopolitical implementation of that would be to now deescalate the situation in eastern Europe. This is largely the theory Germany has held, and they might be right. Furthermore, not-invading now would add frission to the Germany-US detente, which serves Russia’s purposes well. If Putin’s motivation to come to this point, he would have succeeded. He would have played matters to come to this point quite well. While he would not have come away with a pure win, he’s certainly not coming away with nothing. He scored a waza-ari.

But of course, Putin could just invade Ukraine openly. It’s not like anything stopped him before.

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