Russian Roulette: As Croupier at This Particular Casino Table, I Invite You To Place Your Bets

The Russia-US-NATO-OSCE meetings this week have come and gone. The Russian verdict was succinctly delivered by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Ryabkov, who explained even before the OSCE session was over that the talks have come to “a dead end” and it was unlikely the Russians will participate in any follow-on talks.

This opens the question to what comes next.

Official Washington feels certain that what comes next is a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which could come in the next few weeks and thereby fall within the timetable for such an operation suggested by State Department officials when they met with NATO allies ahead of Biden’s December 7 virtual summit with Putin. The logic put out then was that January-February would be very suitable for a land invasion given that the frozen ground would well support tank movements. One might add to that argument on timing, one further argument that was not adduced: in midwinter it is questionable how long the Russians would want to keep 100,000 soldiers camped in field conditions near the border; such stasis in these severe conditions is not conducive to maintaining morale.

In what I would call a rare show of failing confidence in the predictive powers of the Biden Administration, U.S. media admit to uncertainty over Russia’s next moves. However, they cleverly present this by pointing to the uncertainty of the analysts and commentators on the Russian side.

A featured article in The New York Times a couple of days ago by their Moscow correspondent Anton Troianovsky says it all in the title: Putin’s Next Move on Ukraine Is a Mystery. Just the Way He Likes It”

Indeed, all the best known Russian experts appear to be stymied, none more so than the ubiquitous Fyodor Lukyanov, host of the weekly television show “International Overview” and long time research director of the Valdai Discussion Club, where his peers in the front ranks of American international affairs specialists have gotten to know him. Lukyanov has in recent days humbly admitted he hasn’t a clue to what comes next. Another leading figure in the Russian foreign affairs think tank community, Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, has shown in recent interviews that he is no better informed about what is going on in the Kremlin and what comes next.

Western experts are also shown by our media to be clueless. Today’s Financial Times article “Russia writes off security talks…” ends with a quote from Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace: “Nobody knows Putin’s next move. And we’ll all find out at the same time.”

By definition, ‘experts’ cannot declare they know nothing and be taken seriously. This reminds me of the saying of my boss for five years at ITT Europe in the 1980s, Georges Tsygalnitzky. Each time we sat down to prepare the annual Business Plan he told us that if we calculated the sales forecasts badly, we could be up to 100% off, but if we failed to deliver a Plan we would be “infinitely wrong.” The same rules apply to government defense planning.

No right-thinking person likes the idea of a major war coming to the middle of Europe, as the Ukrainians consider themselves to be. The United States has still more reason to worry about a looming war between Russia and Ukraine, because the outcome of total rout for the Kiev military forces equates to a bloody nose for Washington: its acknowledged 2.5 billion dollar investment in arming and training the Ukrainian military will have been in vain, and the loss would rival the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in terms of American global prestige. The Biden administration would enter the midterm electoral period reeling from its losses in international relations.

Without wishing the Biden administration ill, I believe their scenario of a Russian invasion is wrong-headed and unimaginative. It fails to come to terms with the Russians’ imperatives on altering the security architecture in Europe as drivers of their current policies, not settling scores with Ukraine, or bringing them back to a common homeland, as Blinken & Company repeat ad nauseam.

So what comes next? In successive articles on this website, I have set out several scenarios, or algorithms. My most recent prognosis in yesterday’s piece was that Putin’s Plan B would likely be purely “military-technical” in the sense of roll-out of medium range nuclear capable missiles in Kaliningrad and Belarus, to place all of Europe under threat of attack with ultra-short warning times, such as Moscow finds unacceptable coming from U.S.-NATO encirclement of its territory.

At the same time, Moscow might announce the stationing off of the American East and West Coasts of its submarines and frigates carrying hypersonic missiles and the Poseidon deep sea nuclear capable drone, all to the same purpose, namely putting a pistol to the head of the US leadership. And now there is even talk of Russia building military installations in Venezuela, likely to host Russian strategic bombers capable of swift attack on the Continental United States without having to fly half the world. And a Cuban delegation is reportedly in Moscow, no doubt talking about possible installation of missiles there. This is all very reminiscent of the goings-on in 1962.

One reader of this essay has written in, saying that news of Russian submarines posted off the coast of New York and Los Angeles could sink the S&P. Yes, indeed, and this financial damage is an aspect of policy that the Russians have taken into account. The sensitivity of Wall Street to bad news was mentioned specifically by Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov earlier in the week in Q&A. The American middle classes may be indifferent to foreign affairs generally but they are very attentive and politically active when the value of their 401k pension fund is hit. It is not for nothing that wealth fund managers in the City of London, board members of leading US banks and insurance companies are readers of my essays as reposted on my LinkedIn account.

I imagine that Russia’s Plan B could begin implementation in the next couple of weeks and would be given three or four weeks to take effect on Western public consciousness. If the United States and NATO still resisted coming to terms over changes to the Alliance that satisfy Russian demands, then I envision a Plan C which would indeed be kinetic warfare, but quite different from the invasion that figures in US public statements and approaches to its allies.

Without putting a single soldier on the ground in Ukraine or contemplating direct overthrow of its regime and occupation, Russia could by “military-technical means,” such as missile and air attacks destroy the Ukraine’s command and control structure as well as “neutralize” the most radical nationalist militias and other hostile units now threatening Donbas. The destruction of Ukraine’s military infrastructure would by itself put an end to Washington’s plans for extensive war games there later in the year. We may assume that Russian forces will remain massed at the border till such operations are completed.

The cleanup of Ukraine, ending its potential to threaten Russian national security, would be a very strong signal to all of Europe to back off in practice even if no formal treaties are signed with Russia at present.

In an exchange with a close colleague in Washington this morning, we agreed a bet on whether my prediction holds. And in this casino of international politics, I invite readers to place their own bets on what comes next.

Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book is Does Russia Have a Future? Reprinted with permission from his blog.

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2021

4 thoughts on “Russian Roulette: As Croupier at This Particular Casino Table, I Invite You To Place Your Bets”

  1. Well, Gilbert’s post is considerably more pessimistic than some of his previous posts. And I pretty much agree with all of it.

    Except the part about February and frozen ground. I read an article yesterday that said it’s been a mild winter in Ukraine and much of the ground is still muddy. OTOH, a military expert quoted said that while that might complicate things, Russian forces are trained and used to such conditions. Mud is a nuisance, not a show-stopper.

    Gilbert is also right about the morale of the Ukrainian troops. They’ve been sitting in those trenches for a year now. Perhaps some of them have been rotated out back to permanent bases and replaced – exactly like the so-called “Russian invasion” troops have been from those training bases that gave rise to the fake “Russian invasion” stories we’ve all read. But there’s a difference between being in a barracks and being in a field somewhere. Having been in the US military back in the 60s I’m aware.

    One thing Gilbert and every other commentator misses about the “Russian invasion” is that it’s quite probable that it’s being *invited* by the Biden administration. The CIA and the neocons *want* Russia to invade so they can further their geopolitical agenda – regardless of what happens to Ukraine. They want to sacrifice Ukraine on the alter of their agendas, just like the US has done to countless “allies” over the years, such as the Shia of southern Iraq after the 1991 Iraq war.

    As for the loss of credibility that the US would suffer when Russia destroys Ukraine, the CIA and the neocons probably figure that would be offset by dumping all the blame on Russia. They also assume such a war would force the wavering EU back into the NATO fold.

    None of these outcomes need to be true. They just need to be believed in by the CIA and the neocons, just like they believed (or at least told everyone) that “the Iraq war would pay for itself” and that the US would go on to overthrow Iran.

    It’s even possible the CIA and the neocons have planned an every worse outcome than just a war between Ukraine and Russia. I previously assumed that, given the military balance reality between Russia and NATO, that the US and NATO would stay out of any conflict in Ukraine. Supposedly Biden has assured everyone that the US will *not* fight Russia over Ukraine. But it’s not that simple.

    I wasn’t aware of the number and extent of NATO military exercises scheduled for Ukraine in 2022. According to Global Research, nine maneuvers will be carried out in 2022 and the number of military personnel participating in them will almost double compared to 2021 – to 64,000. The number of aircraft and helicopters will more than triple – to 361, and warships almost 4 times – to 256. Many of them begin in February – precisely when the prediction of a Russian invasion is being touted.

    “Expect Escalation of Conflict in Donbass and Ukraine Soon,” Says Foreign Correspondent

    Zelensky Opens the Way for Foreign Troops to be Permanently and Legally Based in Ukraine

    Military exercises will be held both in Ukraine and abroad.

    Joint Efforts 2022 multinational exercise. Duration: up to 45 days, February-December 2022.
    Ukrainian-American exercises Rapid Trident-2022. Period: up to 45 days, March – December 2022.
    Ukrainian-British exercise Kozak Mays-2022. Duration: up to 45 days, March – December 2022.
    Multinational exercise Light Avalanche-2022. Duration: up to 45 days, February-December 2022.
    Ukrainian-Polish exercises Silver Saber-2022. Duration: up to 90 days: 1st stage – up to 30 days, February – April, 2nd stage – up to 30 days May – July, 3rd stage – up to 30 days August – December
    Sea Breeze 2022 Ukrainian-American exercise. Duration: up to 45 days, March – December 2022.
    Ukrainian-Romanian exercises Riverine-2022. Duration: up to 45 days, March – December 2022.
    Maple Arch multinational exercise 2022. Duration: up to 45 days, March – December 2022.
    Viking 2022 multinational exercise. Duration: up to 45 days, February-December 2022.

    Now imagine that during one of these exercises, Ukraine launches a new offensive against the Donbass, under cover or even with the assistance of the foreign forces taking part in the exercises. Let’s say that some of those foreign NATO forces get caught up in the Russian response. Russia would undoubtedly be aware of those forces and their location, but as they say, “things happen.” This could result in NATO invoking Chapter 5 of the NATO Charter. This would literally force Biden to commit a US response.

    And then we’re off to the races. There is a possibility that this is exactly the situation the CIA and the neocons have engineered. And this is what everyone commenting on the situation has missed. Yes, it’s a “conspiracy theory.” But it’s a plausible one.

    1. Our leadership wants a nuclear war. Their own term for it is “limited nuclear war,” in which most of the people of the United States will be killed as well as all of the people of Russia and Eastern Europe. They know Russia will respond with mutually assured destruction if we launch nuclear weapons, they know our missile defense system is in its third phase of research and development, still not functional, and they know most Americans will be killed. But under our current policy, that’s a win.

      Oliver Stone asked Putin what he thought about the chances of nuclear war, and Putin responded that he believed “no one would survive such a war.” That’s his understanding. Our leadership’s understanding appears to be that it’s acceptable that no one would survive, or that someone would survive and that the American people have no need to know who, how, or how many.

      It frightens me that so many advocates of peace believe Putin could checkmate the U.S. and NATO by destroying installations, missile sites, or NAZI ground forces in Ukraine.

      U.S./NATO forces are not prepared for or practicing for a ground war in Europe. They don’t even want a quagmire, their usual mode of operation. They are practicing in Europe for nuclear war, and they are doing everything they can to provoke it, by stealth, by accident, by mercenary, or by force. If Putin attacks their installations, that would provide an excuse to end life on earth to whatever extent. In our policy that is a win.

  2. I predict that Russia will use standoff weapons to destroy anything in their near abroad that they find threatening. But that’s just a guess.

    1. Your guess as good as any.
      I think that there are measures in the firld of commerce and trade, not to mention energy — that can be used. Probably will be used in conjuction with military positioning to equalize the level of threat.

      What comes to mind is the purposeful excluding of EU from any conversation. Only conversation are with NATO and US. In fact, the two documents and two conversations, exclusion of EU — all seem to have a purpose to isolate US.
      First, by ignoring EU, Russia has made it clear that it wilm treat each country based on its own behavior — both the insulting, supremacist rhetoric and military volunteering for military garrisoning of NATO offensive weapons, Within EU, individual countries’ politicians can hide behind the collective, and avoid internal criticism.
      There are many countries with a more nuanced position — even though arrival of pro-US Greens to power in Germany and Austria.
      Bottom line, there will be consequences to loose talk and unpunushed threats comming from European countries, especially Baltics that in so many ways depend on Russia for goods and transit. Most use Russian ports to transit from Northern shipping. In short, the propaganda about poor Russia made everyone believe that Russia has no leverage. But it will allow Russia to differentiate friend frim foe.
      With NATO — it is again negotiation with same European countries, but under US influence. Than with US — one on one — there is focus on US needs. This is a process of learning, be sure. Time for action can wait.

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