Russia Gains Much From Threats to Invade Ukraine, But Knows That Actually Doing So Would be a Disaster

Photograph Source: Kremlin.ru – CC BY 4.0

The essence of the crisis in Ukraine is that Russia can gain many benefits from its unspoken threat to invade, but none at all from actually doing so. “Russia will keep piling on the pressure,” a veteran analyst of Ukrainian affairs, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me. “But I can see no upside for Putin in carrying out an invasion.”

Russian troops might be able to capture Kyiv in a week, but this would only be the start of a long war that Russia would find it impossible to win. A more limited Russian offensive in east Ukraine – such as seizing a land corridor between the Russian separatist Donbas and Russian annexed Crimea – is scarcely a more attractive option. It would push the rest of Ukraine further into the embrace of Nato, which would be exactly the opposite of what Russia wants.

President Putin may be vindictive and unpredictable, but he has never overplayed his hand as Russian leader in military conflicts from Chechnya in 1999 to Syria in 2015. In all cases, Western hopes and expectations that he was plunging into a quagmire were disappointed.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).