Putin Invades Ukraine? A Vest Pocket Analysis

By Shlomo Maital    

Spike the guns?

  The quality of media reporting on Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine has been terrible, as usual.  No real historical context, and sadly, very little authoritative voices from Ukrainians themselves.  And repeatedly, President Biden has bargained with the Russians, without any Ukrainians at the table. 

   Today, on an NPR podcast, Open Source (Christopher Lyden), at least we heard from a real Ukrainian voice (a leading novelist) and an academic Russia expert.

     Here is a vestpocket analysis of what is going on, based on what I heard.  300 words.

      Russia invaded part of Georgia in 2008.  Georgia is the birthplace of Stalin, and once a part of the USSR.  I visited Georgia and climbed a mountain there.  It has many buildings from the Soviet era – but it has its own long proud history, language, culture, and religious practice. 

      In that invasion, Russia and Putin learned how antiquated and obsolete its military had become.   The price of oil in 2008 reached $145 (!) before falling to $100.  Russia was drowning in petrodollars.

     This was a huge opportunity for Putin.  Russia has (still) a superb educational system and brilliant engineers and scientists.  The petrodollar flood could have been put to great use, to make Russia into a modern hi-tech power.  This would involve dumping the oligarchs and cleaning up the corruption — nobody will launch a startup if you know it will be stolen from you by Putin-backed tycoons. 

    But Putin chose instead to back the oligarchs, scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours.  And the petrodollar windfall went into the military.

    Today Russia has super-modern jet fighters (Sukhoi), modern tanks, electronic warfare… in some cases, American generals admit, better than the US.   The Russian invasion of Ukraine could split the country in two, taking the more Russian-speaking Eastern half including Kiev, and the Russian military will show off its new hardware.   

      NATO will not send soldiers to Ukraine, only equipment. 

       What can be done?

       Something really simple.  Germany sits weak-kneed on the fence, dependent as it is on Russian gas, in a cold winter.    

       What if the West offered to supply natural gas to Europe (LNG, liquified natural gas, shipped to Rotterdam)?  Cut off the Russians’ gas, and let the Russian people chew on bullets rather than bread.

       This is feasible.  Merely making the offer, and organizing the logistics, will deter Russia. 

     Putin turns 70 this fall. He seeks to define his legacy.  Stirring up trouble appears to him to restore Russia’s position as a world power.  There is a better way – leverage Russian brainpower to make it a world hi-tech power.  But Putin chose not to.  He blew his wad on military hardware. 

      So his legacy will be that of a paranoid who led his people down a path of war and suffering.  And he is not the first, nor the last.